Hastings College of Law Crime Lecture First Day

After I arrived to our Berkeley Apartment from on October 1, 1969, the phone rang: “This is Dean Muenster from Hastings College of Law,” rang out a familiar voice. “I have reserved a spot for you in our first year class!”

“Hallelujah!” I exalted, “What fantastic news!”

“We’re proud to have someone of your background at Hastings.”

“When can I pick up the class schedule and purchase the texts?”

“I shall put all the paperwork in the mail unless you happen to be in the area.”

“I’ll be there in an hour and save you the postage.”

I drove over the Bay Bridge, parked close to Hastings, ran to the entrance, and announced my presence to the secretary.

“Dean Muenster wants to see you.”

He came out of his office with an envelope under his arm and a smile on his face, “Welcome to Hastings, Mr. Lavery, I am pleased to have you join us.”

“And I’m so glad to be here.”

“We expect you to study law with the ‘Old—Navy’ enthusiasm.”

After completing the forms, handing them to the secretary, locating the books for classes, reviewing each course syllabus, I registered at the health office. Since Hastings was a part of the University of California, residents of California paid a minimal tuition that included health insurance. I wandered through Hastings’ campus, their lecture halls that seated over one hundred and fifty students, the moot court with high bench and counsel tables in front of more than a hundred seats for the audience, and finally the huge law library. Breathing in the atmosphere where I would be spending three years learning from some of the best legal minds in the country, I thanked my lucky stars.

While driving back to our apartment in Berkeley, I sang at maximum volume, “I’ve been waiting so long, to be where I’m going,” from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” At our apartment, I walked past the German shepherd who guarded the landlord’s property, patted him on the head, jolted up the steps to our second floor dwelling, and swung open the screen door.

Grabbing Joan for minute-long hug, “We’re going to celebrate. Hastings accepted me! They cover me for most health issues, have a medical staff, and the law school is fantastic!” We turned up the music, opened a bottle of wine, and danced.

My smile was permanent as I attended classes at Hastings the next week.  The opportunity to improve myself, gain knowledge of the law, and become a lawyer made a giant leap in my self-esteem. If I applied myself, I would be an authority on legal problems and could assist any cause or person with my knowledge and enthusiasm. It was a dream come true.

Reality set in as the grind of reading countless cases, briefing them on a specific set of facts, and understanding how the holding impacted the law, was the most difficult task I had ever encountered. Our professors had earned fame in their field and all but one belonged to the “65 and over club.” Professor William Prosser in Torts, Updegraff in Contracts, Green in Civil Procedure, Perkins in Criminal Law, and Faulkner in Evidence comprised the team. Rene Rubin taught Legal Research and Writing and was the only female on the faculty. Every professor but Rubin used his own treatise. Despite my eighteen years of education, I had never had a teacher lecture me on his own treatise. A bounce in my step remained even in tedious explorations. Hastings College of Law School Crime Lecture First Day 1969

Each text of five hundred pages required us to use a back pack and a brief case for notes. Fortunately, my schedule included only three courses a day. When I stacked my books at the apartment, it occurred to me that I would not be the same person after a year. There was no time for watching sports, movies, or late comedy on TV.

On the first day in Criminal Law, Professor Perkins walked slowly into the largest lecture hall with a majestic approach. His white hair neatly parted, he wore a dark blue, pin-striped three-piece business suit, with white shirt and red tie. He opened his seat chart and noted the empty seats as the bell rang. After he placed the text on the podium and turned the page, a man wearing a dark overcoat, a hat, a scarf, boots, and gloves barged into the class and shouted, “Professor Perkins, this is what you get for flunking me.” He pulled a black gun out. A loud explosion followed by smoke from the barrel shattered the atmosphere. The Professor fell to the ground behind the podium and the disgruntled student fled slamming the door behind him.

Before anyone could chase the criminal, another professor entered and shouted, “Remain in your seats.” As he concluded, Professor Perkins stood up smiling.

“Take out a piece of paper and describe exactly what you have just witnessed. In ten minutes I will inform you to stop writing. Sign your name to the paper and pass it forward. Start now.” After he collected the papers, he began to read the reports. Answers from intelligent law students witnessing the same event demonstrated we had different recollections of the color of clothing the criminal wore, his features, race, age, and the words he spoke. Professor Perkins had made us aware how important and difficult it is to obtain accurate facts on which to make a judgment from reliable sources.

He made a chart on the board indicating all witness statements for a description of the criminal’s eye and hair color, type of boots, their length, color of his scarf, overcoat, hat, trousers, and shirt. After tallying the statements, we learned how difficult it is for a witness to give an accurate account. Taking a large number of statements led to a “fairly accurate” depiction. After our professor asked the criminal to re-enter the scene of the crime, he had different colored gloves on each hand, different boots, his scarf was multicolored, and his hat had different materials in each of the bands around it. No one had accurately described the criminal or his words. The day’s lesson so impressed us, we broke out in a spontaneous standing ovation.

***

When I learned which classmates lived in Berkeley, we made a car pool to save money. Six of us formed a travel and study group, which included the student with the largest car. The passengers shared gas and toll expenses. Jim Tyler, Bill Crowell, Howard Watkins, John Corbett, and a student who dropped out of medical school joined in our funky car pool featuring Bill’s old green station wagon. The former medical student changed his mind after three weeks and reapplied for medical school and told us, “Hastings was far more difficult than medical school.”

Our professors encouraged us to form study groups so we could compare what we had learned. My group was made of intelligent students who came prepared for each session. My car pool added another source of information as we shared our thoughts an hour each way. On the way home  on Fridays sometimes we joyfully shared a joint after a hard week of cramming our heads with legal case studies, briefing precedent setting appellate cases, and keeping meticulous notes.

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