Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 12, 2009


Page 15



Dr. James Brown Scott Returns to Law School He Founded




James B. Scott, dean of Los Angeles Law School, had a vision of his fledgling institution, founded in 1897, becoming aligned with a college run by the Methodist Church. That college, the University of Southern California, had opened its doors in 1880.

Scott took preliminary steps toward effecting an alliance, but it did not come about until Los Angeles Law School was headed by its third dean, Lewis Groff.

After the school year ended in 1899, Scott left the state. He had a better job offer.

The June 16, 1899 issue of Decatur, Illinois’ Daily Review announces additions to the University of Illinois’ faculty for the coming school year. The list is led off by:

“Dean school of law, James Brown Scott, A. B. and A. M., Harvard; dean of the law school at Los Angeles, Cal., since 1896.”

 News was apparently slow in reaching Los Angeles. Scott’s defection wasn’t reported in the Los Angeles Times until June 29. Article relates that a letter had been sent by the University of Illinois to Harvard Law School “asking the faculty of that school to recommend a graduate for the important position.” The response was an advisement to hire Scott, and Scott was offered the post, the article says.

The University of Illinois Law School, operations of which commenced in 1867, is in Champaign, Ill., near Chicago. Serving as dean there was, for Scott, decidedly an advancement. He went from heading an obscure, upstart law school, one that might or might not endure, to administering a counterpart that was well-established and prestigious.

Today, by contrast, U.S. News & World Report ranks USC Gould School of Law as the nation’s 18th top law school, while that at the University of Illinois is evaluated as 27th.

While one might assume Scott was paid for his services as dean of the Los Angeles Law School, that isn’t clear. News reports at the time mentioned that instructors at the school, leading lawyers, donated their efforts. If Scott was acting as dean gratis, it’s all the more understandable that he would have seen an advantage in acquiring a paid post in Champaign even if it did entail a relinquishment of his law practice in Los Angeles.

Scott returned in 1926 to the school of which he had been a founder 28 years before. In the lobby of the new law school building on the USC campus, he delivered the dedicatory address on Feb. 5.

Although the law school became affiliated with USC in 1901, and was taken over by it in 1904, it had remained downtown for all that time, in spaces leased in various office buildings including—according to the USC Law School website—the Wilcox Building where this newspaper has its headquarters.

During that revisit to the city where he had practiced law for five years, the 59-year-old Scott was a guest at a dinner of the University Club, a private men’s club of which he also was a founder.

Scott was, by that time, going by the moniker “James Brown Scott,” and his name was preceded by “Dr.” He had acquired his doctorate in civil and canon law (J.U.D.) from the University of Heidelberg prior to his service as dean of the Los Angeles Law School, but back then he went by “Mr.”

My wife and I had a torts professor in Texas (also the dean and a leading scholar) who eschewed such pretentiousness. He held a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Harvard…but when people asked him if he should be addressed as “Dr.,” W. Page Keeton would respond: “Hell no. I ain’t no doctor. I’m a lawyer.”

While Scott was viewed with reverence by the law school in 1926—he was then a leading authority in the area of international law—he became, as years went on following his death in 1943, a figure without meaning to the institution. A painting of him—which I assume once hung on a wall of the law school, was at some point relegated to the basement.

Then-Associate Dean John “Tom” Tomlinson is quoted in the Spring, 2003 issue of the magazine “USC Law” as saying of Scott’s likeness, recently come upon in a scavenge: “He didn’t float in a 1959-ish flood in our old building, and his forehead has a hole right through it.”

The painting was otherwise severely damaged.

I made reference a few weeks ago to old cities on the East Coast having a reverence for history which we lack here. A similar painting of Scott at Harvard, where Scott merely obtained his law degree and never taught, remains intact and still hangs.

That painting at Harvard is by his former student, who became an attorney, Sara I. Wilde. The resemblance in the two works virtually mandates the conclusion that she also painted the marred depiction of Scott for USC.

Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company

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