Dudley to Retire After 26-year Teaching Career

May 9, 2008

Earl Dudley’s life holds many stories from two long and successful legal careers — first as a litigator and later as a Virginia law professor. He worked for Congress, and clerked for the Supreme Court. He even briefly served as a journalist during some of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history, sending wire stories overseas about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Earl DudleyBut at 11 months old, living in the Philippines in 1941, Dudley almost didn’t get to live any of it. Japan was expected to bomb Manila, and Dudley’s father had sent his family to the mountains to take shelter.

“My mother had me out for a stroll after breakfast when the bombing attack came in,” Dudley recalled.

His mother lost a leg in the attack, and Dudley almost lost his life when he couldn’t be revived by a doctor. A quick-thinking nurse revived him with gauze soaked in whiskey.

“I was very lucky. I had just a shrapnel wound in my left knee,” he said.

Since then, Dudley has made the most of his life. After 26 years at the Law School, he will hang up his teaching hat to greet retirement with equal fervor.

“By leaving now, I am achieving a goal I have harbored all of my adult life, which is to retire while I still love my job,” Dudley said during his retirement ceremony Saturday. “I wouldn’t leave now were it not for the fact that there are so many other things I want to do before I die that this work stuff is beginning to get seriously in the way.”

Dudley came to the Law School to teach full time after 22 years as a litigator, the last eight of which he spent as an adjunct professor, driving to Charlottesville weekly from Washington, D.C. to teach.

He taught many courses during his career, but was particularly fond of three: civil procedure, evidence and trial advocacy.

“No professional pleasure can match what my students have given me,” Dudley said. “The joy of knowing them, working with them, watching them grow as lawyers and blossom as people, staying in touch with them throughout their careers, meeting their spouses and significant others and their children — I know that I have gained far more from them than they could have ever possibly learned from me.”

Dudley’s competitive spirit drew him to the law as a high-school student. He competed in forensics and loved public speaking, a skill that would later benefit his career as a litigator. After graduating from Amherst College in 1961 with a history degree, he decided to become a professor and enrolled in the American Studies program at Harvard. After one year and a change of heart, Dudley left the program.

For the next two years, Dudley worked in New York as a news editor at the international desk of United Press International. But law school beckoned.

“UPI offered me the Little Rock bureau and I had to choose between Little Rock and law school. I chose law school,” he said.

Dudley uprooted his wife, Louise, from New York and brought her to Charlottesville so he could go to law school at the University of Virginia, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Virginia Law Review and earned the Woods Prize for being the outstanding graduating student in 1967.

“When I was in law school I thought a little bit about teaching law, but I was really interested in seeing what law practice was like and so I went into practice, did it for a while, and began to think more seriously toward the end of the period about teaching full-time.”

Dudley’s law career started with a bang. He clerked for retired Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed and Chief Justice Earl Warren. Reed shared a clerk with Warren so Warren could keep up with his overwhelming workload.

“I did almost no work for Justice Reed,” Dudley recalled. “My full-time job was working for the chief. I had an office in Justice Reed’s chambers, got to know him, which was a wonderful part of the experience, but the Chief treated me just like one of the members of his full-time staff.”

Dudley had grown up admiring Warren. “It was a real dream come true to get to work for him,” he said. “I admired him even more after I worked for him than I did before.”

After his clerkship, Dudley went into private practice, serving as a litigator at various firms throughout his career. He loved the challenge of arguing.

“It’s the most civilized way to let your competitive juices flow,” he laughed. “I enjoyed practice a great deal. I didn’t leave it as bitter as a lot of people do these days. I left it because I was enjoying the teaching I was doing so much.”

Midway through his career as a litigator, Dudley was recruited to serve as general counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee under Rep. Peter Rodino, who had previously chaired the impeachment hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Dudley not only served as general counsel, but also oversaw the work of all seven subcommittees and was Rodino’s speech writer.

“He was in great demand because everyone had watched the impeachment proceedings on television,” Dudley said. “He was the hero of the day so he was giving a lot of speeches. I wound up writing the speech that nominated Jimmy Carter for president in 1976. That was a fun part of the job.”

The most important case Dudley worked on in private practice was Morrison v. Olson, which questioned the constitutionality of the independent counsel statute that Congress passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The statute created a way to investigate and prosecute officials high in the executive branch independently of the Justice Department. Morrison ultimately made it to the Supreme Court.

“And we won,” Dudley said. This experience ultimately pushed him into teaching law. “I really liked doing research and writing on my own and it was exciting stuff to write about. That was a major factor in convincing me that I wanted to spend more time doing my own research and writing.”

When he finally landed at the Law School as a full-time professor in 1989, Dudley brought a career’s worth of experience with him to the classroom.

“He treats his students like colleagues and friends, which makes for an exciting and positive classroom environment — his love of the law is infectious,” said third-year law student Katie Schleeter. “He was an important, positive force in shaping my experience here and has made essential contributions to the lives of innumerable UVA students.”

Dean John Jeffries said Dudley’s extensive experience as a litigator brought a new perspective to students.

“All of the courses and seminars he taught were informed by Earl’s vast experience as a lawyer, so that he wasn’t merely teaching our students subjects of importance to the law, he was teaching them how to be lawyers,” Jeffries said during Dudley’s retirement ceremony. “They sought his advice on every conceivable subject, advice which I believe he bestowed with characteristic generosity. And in the end, they loved him.”

Dudley also committed time to public service. He served on the Virginia State Bar Committee on Professionalism and was a member of the boards of directors of the Stuart Stiller Memorial Foundation, the Disability Rights Center and the Center for the Study of Psychiatry. He was a public member of the ethics committee of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and he has been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, as well as a faculty member of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy in programs in various cities.

With his newfound free time in retirement, Dudley plans to write about his family’s genealogical history, travel with his wife, work on his photography portfolio, play as much golf as his back will allow and read the many books that he has forgone over the years because of his schedule.

His family will take center stage in his retirement years. Travelling between Massachusetts, where his son lives, and Arlington, where his daughter lives, Dudley will spend much of his time with his children and grandchildren. 

“I’m going to miss a lot of things,” Dudley said. “I think perhaps most will be the students. They are the joy of the job. I really will miss my colleagues, friends; the classroom is fun. There are lots of things I’ll miss, but not so much that I’m not going to retire.”

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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