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A Barbara Aldave Andy King In the Spirit of St. Mary San Antonio Law School Dean a Progressive Voice in the Legal Wilderness BY BOB ELDER THE DEAN HERSELF IS THE ONLY WOMA AND CERTAINLY THE ONLY DEAN TO B THE LIFE OF MARY, 1 n the world of law schools, where the secular trinity is grades, passing the bar exam, and finding a job, the St. Mary’s University School of Law stands out as something very different. For starters, the law school’s dean, Barbara Bader Aldave, doesn’t base her mission as a legal educator on any of the usual standards. Yes, it’s important to Aldave that students leave St. Mary’s with the basic tools to practice lawbefore her tenure as dean started al most seven years ago, St. Mary’s had a reputation as a school that turns out lawyers who know their way around a courtroom. But Aldave is attempting to give law students practical experience through the school’s extensive legal clinics as well as through course work. Each year dozens of students pass through a clinical program unrivaled in Texas for its scopethere are nine lawyerclinicians overseeing the studentsand in its unapologetically progressive tone. The St. Mary’s program is unusual from the top down. The clinics’ co-director, Jon Dubin, is a black lawyer from New York, a former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund litigator who left a highly regarded job at Harlem Legal Aid to come to St. Mary’s. The other co-director, David Dittfurth, is a white professor, a motorcycle rider with a faintly patrician bearing who has been at St. Mary’s twenty-two years and servedand occasionally sufferedunder two deans before Aldave. The dean herself is the only woman ever to lead a Texas law school, and certainly the only dean to base her law school’s mission on the life of Mary, mother of Jesus. The latest suit from the school’s immigration and human rights clinic attempts to unravel the mystery of an American man’s 1990 death at the hands of the Guatemalan military. Somehow it seems to fit in San Antonio. The city is home to the largest concentration of public-interest legal work in the state, some ninety miles and a cultural world away from the state capital. MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is based in San Antonio; it’s the only true public-interest law firm in Texas. At the opposite end of the political spectrum are the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank funded in part by arch-conservative James Leininger, a medical supply magnate, and its legal offshoot, the Texas Justice Foundation. “I don’t think any school has changed this dramatically,” clinic co-director Dubin says, “and no school has developed a clinical empire this rapidly anywhere in the country.” There’s a tradition of public-policy work and organizing in the city, and its leaders are nationally known: the late Willie Velasquez, head of the Southwest Voter Research and Education Project; seventy-fiveyear-old Maury Maverick Jr., who did groundbreaking civil rights cases in Texas when few others would touch them; MALDEF’s Albert Kauffman, lead lawyer in the Edgewood school-finance suits who is now tackling the Hopwood law-school affirmative action case; Norma Cantu, a former MALDEF attorney who now heads the office of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Part of the tradition has its roots in the Chicano-based, South Texas-bred activism of thirty years ago. But even the conservatives feel there’s something special about their city. “Maybe we’re far enough away from Austin not to be too cynical, but close enough to be bothered by it,” jokes Allan Parker, a former St. Mary’s law professor now wrestling legal issues for the Texas Justice Foundation. What San Antonio lacks, says Aldave, is a private bar that lends a hand. “There’s no tradition here in San Antonio of pro bono service, and no tradition of philanthropism,” she says. Maury Maverick is harsher. “With the exception of lone-wolf lawyers who help the poor and unpopular, the legal profession in Texas has become a sea of selfishness since the rise in power of larger and larger law firms,” he says. “And big San Antonio firms are the worst of all.” “A big reason is because law schools graduate technicians who may have had a lot in the head but not much in the heart,” Maverick says. “Dean Aldave has reversed that trend.” ldave acknowledges that her emphasis on clinicsand .a push to expand from the nuts-and-bolts, Texasand bar exam-centered courses St. Mary’s was known forhas caused divisions in the school and among San Antonio lawyers, more than half of whom are St. Mary’s alumni. In a 1993 speech Aldave dryly noted that she’s been called a “liberal,” a “feminazi,” the “Wicked Witch of the West” and, perhaps worst of all, a “Yan N EVER TO LEAD A TEXAS LAW SCHOOL, ASE HER LAW SCHOOL’S MISSION ON MOTHER OF JESUS. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 14, 1996