One week ago today, during council's chat about the coming bond program, the subject of the UNT Dallas College of Law came up: Angela Hunt wanted to know when the university would take over the old Municipal Building, at which point City Manager Mary Suhm reminded the council, "They're a good way from being where they need to be." A memo to council containing some kind of a time line is said to be forthcoming.
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But this much we now know: Per the missive that just landed in the in-box, U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson will become the founding dean of UNT Dallas College of Law effective April 2013. Says the note, the school's on track to accept its first class in August 2014.
Chancellor Lee Jackson, the former Dallas County Judge, says of the pick in the note that follows: "Judge Furgeson, besides possessing a fine legal mind, brings the kind of broad range of practical experience we were looking for." To which the judge adds this: "Several colleagues have asked me why I would give up a lifetime appointment to take on a start-up law school during these tough economic times, when tuition is rising and demand for lawyers is declining. But the prospect of pioneering a new law school that addresses these issues head-on was too challenging and exciting to pass up."
U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson to Become
Founding Dean of UNT Dallas College of Law
Federal Jurist to Bring "Broad Range of Practical Experience" to new downtown Dallas law school
Chancellor Lee F. Jackson announced today the appointment of U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson as founding dean of UNT Dallas College of Law, effective April 2013, in anticipation of the law school's opening in August 2014. Dean Designate Furgeson is enthusiastic about assuming his new duties as soon as he can fulfill his obligations to the federal judiciary.
"Our extensive search brought us into contact with many highly regarded legal educators," Jackson said. "But Judge Furgeson, besides possessing a fine legal mind, brings the kind of broad range of practical experience we were looking for. He's a distinguished judge well known throughout Texas, a respected litigator, and he shares our vision of providing students with an affordable and accessible high-quality legal education."
A Clinton appointee, Judge Furgeson has ridden the federal circuit in Texas for 17 years, first presiding in El Paso, then Midland-Odessa, San Antonio and now Dallas. Prior to taking the bench, he was a shareholder in the prominent El Paso law firm of Kemp, Smith, Duncan & Hammond, where during his 24 years with the firm, he headed the commercial litigation section and remained committed to the pro bono efforts of the firm.
His résumé reflects years of accomplishment and recognition. Among his many honors, he received the Jurist of the Year Award from the Texas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association's Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity--both in 2004. Texas Tech University Law School bestowed its 2008 West Texas Legal Legend Award upon the judge, who was born in Lubbock and attended undergraduate school at Tech. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a member of the American Law Institute and the American Board of Trial Advocates.
"Several colleagues have asked me why I would give up a lifetime appointment to take on a start-up law school during these tough economic times, when tuition is rising and demand for lawyers is declining," Judge Furgeson said. "But the prospect of pioneering a new law school that addresses these issues head-on was too challenging and exciting to pass up."
Gov. Rick Perry signed SB 956 on June 19, 2009 to authorize the new law school. The law school will be located in the heart of downtown Dallas, where it can develop partnerships with major law firms, countless solo practitioners and the judicial and legal communities centered in the four courthouses within its two-mile radius. It will be part of the continuing renaissance of downtown, serving as an economic generator for the city, where law students can one day live, apprentice and play (if time allows), after attending classes in the Old Municipal Building, a 1914 Beaux Arts structure of historic significance (it's where Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald).
UNT System remains committed to its partnership with the City of Dallas to restore the Old Municipal Building to its former grandeur. The System anticipates this renovation will be complete and ready for occupancy by the law school in 5 to 10 years, depending on the availability of state funds. In the meantime, UNT System will proceed with a $24 million renovation of 1901 Main Street in downtown Dallas (formerly the Titche/Joske's department store), which will serve as the temporary home of the new law school for at least the first three years of its operations.
UNT Dallas College of Law will be the only public law school in North Texas, and will provide the region with an affordable alternative to private law schools, attracting a high percentage of minority students and easing the debt on all students, as they embark on their legal careers.
Judge Furgeson said he is "eager to get on with the business of running the law school," but first is committed to fulfilling his responsibilities to the federal bench. The judge is currently the president of the Federal Judges Association, a voluntary organization of Article III judges devoted to protecting the role of the judicial branch in our constitutional framework. His personal commitment to this leadership role requires him to remain on the bench for the next 15 months, after which his service to the association ends. Until he formally resigns his judgeship, he will adhere to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which will limit his work with the law school.
In the interim, the launch of UNT Dallas College of Law will proceed under the able guidance of UNT System Vice Chancellor Rosemary Haggett. The next three years will see the following developments:
· Appointment of an Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
· Appointment of an Associate Dean of the Law Library.
· Appointment of a Director of Admissions who will begin accepting student applications in the fall of 2013.
· Construction of the new law library and interim law school offices, starting in 2012.
· Hiring of full-time faculty.
· Matriculation of the first class in August 2014.
Judge Furgeson will remain informed about all the developments of the new law school, and when he leaves the bench in April 2013, he will assume full active leadership as the founding dean and begin the next chapter in his memorable legal career.
"Royal Furgeson and I were in law school together, where we became lifelong friends," said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. "He will bring excellent leadership skills to the role of founding dean of this important new law school."
"Because a brand new law school has no track record, the only evidence of its quality is the integrity of its leaders," said Frank Newton, the former Dean of Texas Tech School of Law, who supported the judge's appointment. "In Royal, you have the perfect pick, a confident, gregarious leader whose record of accomplishment adds a clear aura of credibility to the new school."