Rodney A. Smolla Named Dean of the Washington and Lee School of Law

Lexington, VA • Monday, February 19, 2007

Rodney A. Smolla
Incoming Dean, Rodney A. Smolla


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President Kenneth P. Ruscio announced today the appointment of Rodney A. Smolla as Dean of the Washington and Lee University School of Law. Smolla is currently Dean and George E. Allen Professor of Law at the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond. Smolla will succeed Acting Dean Brian C. Murchison on July 1, 2007.

"Dean Smolla is a distinguished scholar, a leader in legal education, an attorney who has argued in front of the Supreme Court and a proven administrator known for his collegial and creative leadership," said Ruscio. "He is committed to the values of our University and our School of Law and we look forward to working with him in the years to come."

"The Law School at Washington and Lee is indeed one of the jewels of American legal education," said Smolla. "For many years I have admired the School's balanced sense of proportion and duty, as expressed in its emphasis on all three of the great and inspiring missions of legal education: teaching, scholarship, and public service. I am humbled and pleased to be joining the School as its next dean."

His appointment at the Washington and Lee School of Law was hailed by several legal scholars.

A prolific writer, Smolla is regarded as one of top public law scholars in the country. His principal area of expertise is the First Amendment. His book Free Speech in an Open Society (Alfred A. Knopf 1992) won the William O. Douglas Award as the year's best monograph on freedom of expression. He was the Editor of A Year in the Life of the Supreme Court (Duke University Press, 1995), which won an ABA Silver Gavel Award. His book Suing the Press: Libel, the Media, and Power (Oxford University Press 1986) won the ABA Silver Gavel Award Certificate of Merit.

Smolla has published scores of law review articles, including articles in the Duke Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the University of Virginia Law Review, the Washington and Lee Law Review, and numerous other law reviews and journals.

Smolla's writings also demonstrate a substantial commitment to teaching and to the bar. He is the author of three treatises: Smolla and Nimmer on Freedom of Speech (West Group, 2 volumes, 1996); Federal Civil Rights Acts (West Group, 2 volumes, 1994); and Law of Defamation (West Group 2nd Edition 2000, two volumes). He is also the author of a casebook on the First Amendment, titled: The First Amendment: Freedom of Expression, Regulation of Mass Media, Freedom of Religion (Carolina Academic Press 1999), and co-author of a casebook on constitutional law: Constitutional Law: Structure and Rights in Our Federal System (with Professors Banks and Braveman, 5th Edition, Lexis Publishing 2005).

Smolla is adept at explaining complex legal ideas for general audiences and has written two trade books detailing well-known cases: Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt: The First Amendment on Trial (St. Martin's Press 1988), and Deliberate Intent (Crown Publishers 1999), which describes his involvement in the notorious Hit Man case, where he successfully represented the families of three murder victims in a suit against the publisher of a murder instruction manual used by a hit man for instructions in carrying out the murders. The book was made into a television movie by Fox and the FX Cable Network.

Smolla is also in high demand as a media commentator, appearing frequently on television and radio programs, and often quoted in newspaper, magazine, and internet news stories. He has contributed on several occasions to the New York Times Book Review, and is a regular contributor to the on-line magazine Slate.com.

In addition to being a renowned scholar and teacher, Smolla has also been a nationally prominent advocate in cases involving constitutional law, civil rights, mass media, and defamation and privacy law. He has participated as counsel or co-counsel in litigation matters in state and federal courts throughout the nation; he has also presented oral argument in numerous state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States.

Smolla graduated from Yale University in 1975 and the Duke University School of Law in 1978, where he was first in his class. He then served as law clerk to Judge Charles Clark on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. After practicing law in Chicago at Mayer, Brown, and Platt, he taught at several law schools before joining the William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law, where he was Director of the Institute of Bill of Rights Law from 1988 to 1996. Smolla joined the University of Richmond in 1998 and was named Dean there in 2003.

Smolla is married to Michele B. Smolla. Their blended family includes five children.

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