The Right Coast

March 29, 2006
Scandal at Columbia (Part II)?
By Gail Heriot

Avery Katz of Columbia Law School wrote to draw my attention to a Letter to the Editor written by Columbia's Dean David Schizer in response to Curt Levey's op-ed:
"Curt A. Levey's column titled "Bollinger on the Spot" implied that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger was personally involved in the recent appointment of Olati Johnson to the Columbia Law School faculty [Opinion,March 24, 2006]. This is not the case. Although President Bollinger is a member of our faculty, he obviously has many responsibilities throughout Columbia University, and was not personally involved in the Law School's decision to hire Professor Johnson. Professor Johnson, a former clerk to Justice Stevens on the United States Supreme Court, has been serving as a Kellis Parker Fellow at the Law School for the past two years. She brings a wealth of knowledge to her scholarship and teaching, and she will teach courses here in civil procedure and constitutional law.The ethics charges referred to in the column arose in a highly partisan atmosphere and involved many disputed issues of fact that were never adjudicated, principally because the complaints were dismissed in the jurisdiction (New York) where Olati Johnson is licensed to practice law. As Mr. Levey himself noted in his column, she is personable, extremely articulate, and exceptionally bright. We're pleased to
welcome her to the faculty."

In addition, Avery, who was chair of entry-level hiring, added the following points:

"1. Olati Johnson is a superb appointment for our law school, and we were fortunate to hire her in the face of stiff competition from other top schools, including Harvard....

2. At Columbia Law School, the president of the university is not involved in entry-level hiring. While Columbia President Bollinger's formal academic appointment is in law, he does not participate in law school faculty deliberations or teach law school classes; and we did not consult him or consider his possible views regarding Olati's candidacy.

3. Our faculty was aware of CFIF's allegations and the associated ethicscomplaints it had filed at the time it considered Olati's candidacy. As lawyers and law teachers, we take allegations of professional misconduct extremely seriously; and before we voted the appointment we reviewed and discussed the CFIF complaints and Olati's formal responses to them.

4. Based on this review, we concluded that CFIF's allegations did not warrant our rejecting an otherwise outstanding appointment. This conclusion was based on the following considerations:

-- Even if the allegations were assumed arguendo to be accurate, our judgment was that, taken in context, they would at most constitute an error in judgment that ought not disqualify someone from pursuing a career in teaching.

--We did not feel we had any reliable basis to conclude that the allegations were accurate. In particular, they arose in the context of an intensely partisan atmosphere; and many of the relevant facts, including several of the assertions stated as fact in the Sun editorial, are disputed.

--None of the ethics complaints that CFIF filed in connection with these allegations resulted in any finding of wrongdoing. In particular, the complaint that CFIF filed in New York state, the jurisdiction where Olati Johnson is licensed to practice law, was summarily dismissed on the merits -- a fact not mentioned in the Sun editorial. [In addition, the editorial does not mention that the complaint filed against Elaine Jones before the Virginia state bar was also dismissed.]"