Roger Williams University School of Law, 0214 RIBJ, 62 RI Bar J., No. 4, Pg. 11

Author:Michael W. Field, Esq
 
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Roger Williams University School of Law: Twenty Years of Enhancing Rhode Island’s Culture

Vol. 62 No. 4 Pg. 11

Rhode Island Bar Journal

February, 2014

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0 January, 2014

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0 Michael W. Field, Esq.[*]

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0Few can doubt Rhode Island’s rich legal history. Three hundred and fifty years ago, England granted the colony a charter premised on a then-novel rule of religious freedom and the separation between church and state. A little more than one hundred years later, in 1786, the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize and General Gaol Delivery (now the Rhode Island Supreme Court), issued its opinion in Trevett v. Weeden, wherein the Justices declined to enforce a statute enacted by the General Assembly that required all persons within the state to accept paper money in exchange for debt relief, merchandise, or services.1 By declining to enforce a statute passed by the General Assembly, it was later said the Court may well have concluded the paper money statute passed by the General Assembly was in violation of the Charter issued by King Charles II requiring all laws to conform with the common law of England.2 Because of this conflict between the Charter and a statute, Trevett is generally recognized as one of the first, if not the first, cases where a state court declared an act of its legislature unconstitutional – preceding Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison3 by seventeen years.4

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0While certainly not on par with the granting of the Charter or the legal principle enunciated in Trevett, this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the opening of the Roger Williams University School of Law. In the inaugural edition of the Roger Williams University Law Review, Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger, who later served as the first Chairman of the Roger Williams University School of Law Board of Directors, wrote that “[t]he mission of a law school is not just to educate persons who wish to become members of the bar, but also to contribute to and enhance the legal culture of every jurisdiction which the law school touches.”5 Since its inception, the law school has delivered on the Chief Justice’s vision.

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0The law school has served as a forum for some of the most important issues facing Rhode Island during the past two decades. The first article in the inaugural law review was, Appointments by the Legislature Under the Rhode

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0Island Separation of Powers Doctrine: The Hazards of the Road Less Traveled, written by then-United States Attorney Sheldon White house.6 A little more than a year later, the Law School convened a symposium, “Separation of Powers in State Constitutional Law, ” where constitutional experts from across the country debated Rhode Island’s governance structure.7 While no definitive outcome resulted from these discussions, and although different people may have arrived at divergent viewpoints, there is little question that, in the words of Chief Justice Weisberger, these contributions “enhance[d] the legal culture” that eventually led to the 2004 constitutional amendment.8

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0The School of Law and its law review have featured other important discussions concerning prominent and topical legal and social issues. Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts and now-Federal District Court Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan, among others, penned articles concerning the national health care debate.[9]Attorneys involved in State of Rhode Island v. Lead Industries Association critiqued the first lawsuit in the country where a state sued the former manufacturers of lead pigment in paint under a public nuisance theory.[10]During the pendency of this decade-long case, the law school hosted a full-day symposium dedicated to the topic of tort reform, bringing law professors throughout the country to Rhode Island to discuss this important, yet controversial, topic.11 Other prominent issues addressed through writings, symposiums, and speaking programs have included: same-sex marriage;[12]the war on terrorism balanced with civil liberties;[13]legal ethics;[14] climate change and the BP Oil Spill; and critiques of United States and Rhode Island Supreme Court opinions.15Moreover, the law review’s articles and other faculty publications are cited as authority by countless other law reviews, 16 by court decisions throughout the country, including by the Supreme Courts of the United States17 and Rhode Island, 18 and by the United States Court of Appeals.19

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0Speakers offered through the law school have further enriched our legal community and indeed our State. Four of the current members o f the United States Supreme Court – Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito – visited the law school to speak or teach students constitutional law. Retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor also visited the law school during its 20th Anniversary, and no one who attended Justice Elena Kagan’s sold-out appearance at Trinity Repertory, co-sponsored by the law school, in August 2013, could challenge that this event “enhance[d] the legal culture” in Rhode Island. A month after the Justice Kagan event, David Coombs, a School of Law adjunct faculty member and the lead defense counsel for PFC Bradley (Chelsea) Manning, addressed the law school community concerning Manning’s recently completed court-martial for leaking classified information. Other prominent members of the Rhode Island bench and bar have also en -hanced the legal culture and the students’ learning experience, by teaching courses at the law school. They include retired Chief Justice Williams, former Justice Flanders, Judges Selya and Smith, Justices Flaherty and Procaccini, Senate President Paiva-Weed, Senator Whitehouse, Professor Robert Kent, and current Roger Williams University School of Law Board of Directors’ Chairman Mark Mandell, to name just a few. Our present Chief Justice has also annually welcomed new students, not only to the law school, but also to the profession of law.

xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0xA0When Chief Justice Weisberger wrote in the inaugural edition of the law review that among the missions...

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