Deborah Sines and Reginald May were incorrectly identified as husband and wife in a story about Antioch Law School in the District Weekly on May 26. They are not married.
Gerald Purnell, son of a chicken catcher and a maid, will go home this week to the poor, poultry processing village of Berlin on Maryland's Eastern Shore with a law degree. He will be the first black attorney in his home town.
Eileen Harrington, a nun of the pioneering Sisters of Loretto order, said she will use her law degree on behalf of oppressed workers, such as the coal miners in Kentucky, where the sisters bought shares in a large mining company to use as leverage on the miners' behalf. Last month she won a case in a Delaware court to force the company to register the nuns as shareholders.
Harrington and Purnell are two of the 140 new lawyers that Antioch Law School graduated in its seventh class on Sunday. The joyfully raucuous graduating exercise at All Souls' Unitarian Church was as dissimilar to the usually sober style of commencement ceremonies as Antioch is to traditional law schools.
Those receiving degrees included Wally Kasuboski, a Capuchin priest; George Brezna, a one-time philosophy teacher and lobster fisherman, and Ronald Green, a Paterson, N.J., community organizer who said he spent most of his adolsecence "on the 11th floor of a public housing project." Among this year's graduates were Peace Corps veterans, a former New York policeman, a newspaper photographer, teachers, an actress, a dancer, husband and wife couples, and a few grandparents.
Graduate Robert Downing, 29, said he read about Antioch in a Peace Corps bulletin while teaching math and science in the mountains of Lesotho in southern Africa. He chose Antioch because "my complacencies would be abrupted," Downing said. "Antioch gets you in the habit of keeping a short fuse between your ideas and your passion."
Antioch, with its roots deeply imbedded in the '60s, clings tenaciously to the spirit of that era, turning out lawyers who have earned a third of their credits in clinical programs and who, under faculty supervision, have provided free legal services to about 2,000 low-income clients a year.
Unlike members of most other law school classes of '82, Antioch's graduates have extensive experience in filing suits, arguing cases and working as advocates for the hungry, the homeless, the helpless.
They won justice for asbestos victims in a worker safety suit, for neglected children in support cases, for people who said they were cheated in an insurance scam, for poor tenants in unheated apartments, and for retarded persons who were warehoused rather than cared for.
The Antioch class of 1982 reaffirms the principles of Edgar S. and Jean Camper Cahn, founders and husband-and-wife former co-deans of the law school. They were fired by the parent institution, Antioch University, in 1979, but they left a legacy that apparently is still intact: that factors beyond academic and test achievements could qualify persons for the practice of law; that poor and minority persons should get special help to study law; and that law students should practice as they learned while serving disadvantaged clients. Antioch law students must live with a low-income family for one week when they enter the program to experience poverty firsthand.
Purnell, like many of his classmates, came to Antioch with credentials that he said were "at best borderline" for admission by the standards of most law schools. He will go home to practice in the local public defenders' office of Berlin, Md., where "there is tremendous need" for lawyers to represent the indigent. And like a number of other Antioch graduates, he leaves school with a huge debt--$18,000 in student loans--and a family to raise.
"Welcome to our party," Deborah Sines, who graduated with her husband Reginald May, said to the ebullient church full of graduates' parents, children, teachers, clients, and low-income families with whom Antioch students had roomed temporarily.
"We thrive on controversy here," added classmate Eric Rome, referring to the recent five-day student takeover of the dean's office to protest tuition increases and to demand more minority faculty members. "We were trained well to fight in court, to organize in communities or coal fields or wherever we're needed. We're gonna move some mountains!"
There was riotous laughter, cheers and happy tears as the graduates came one-by-one to the church pulpit in a "daisy chain" in which each presented a diploma to a classmate. They praised God, each other, children present and unborn, parents living and deceased. Some thanked lenders who financed their legal education, roommates, and an American Indian graduate thanked Christopher Columbus "for discovering America."
"All we're trying to do is bring rights and justice to those who've been unable to afford it," said the commencement speaker, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark. He urged the graduates not to "fall into this conceit that you and I are the only ones who know the public interest.
"We know that while there is poverty there will be no legal justice. There will be no economic justice," Clark said.
During the commencement exercises, Antioch admissions director Vivian Canty praised the students' courage for entering Antioch in 1979 when the school's continuation was in jeopardy because of the dispute between the Cahns and Antioch University. This class is the last admitted under the Cahns, who are entangled in mutual lawsuits with the university over their 1979 dismissal.
A measure of Antioch's success, according to Timothy Ayres, spokesman for the federal Legal Services Corporation, is that graduates "have had tremendous success going into government work and getting into the agencies because of their practical training and exposure to government. There's a substantial Antioch alumni 'mafia' among government attorneys."
The Cahns' social service law experiment has also influenced other law schools, including Harvard, to put more emphasis on clinical training and legal aid to the poor, according to Clinton Bamberger, former dean of Catholic University and now a Harvard professor and teaching attorney at the Legal Services Institute in Boston . Third-year law students from Harvard and Northeastern universities in Boston earn credit practicing in the institute, founded by Harvard professor Gary Bellow, an early collaborator and friend of the Cahns.
"The legal education system has been captive to the corporate and business systems," Bamberger said. "So it is standing against the tide, and Antioch was not well received by the legal academic community, and neither is the institute," he said.
Although Antioch School of Law, the Cahns' brainchild, is alive and apparently well, it has never run smoothly. Rapid turnover of faculty, financial uncertainty, and criticism of its administration have plagued it for most of its 10 years.
"The mission has remained the same," said Dean Ronald Pollack, 38, who was appointed in 1980. "But we're doing things better in a variety of ways. The quality of the faculty has improved, the clinical program has been revamped, there has been significant improvement in services to the community and also in the pedagogical experience of students."
Antioch still has insufficient space, having outgrown its split campus, with its library in the Meyer House at 1624 Crescent Place NW, and office and classrooms in another historic home, the Warder-Totten residence at 2633 16th St. NW.
Antioch's plans to begin an evening law program have been stalled because the school would need a larger facility in order to be approved by the American Bar Association, Pollack said.
The school has asked Sears, Roebuck and Co. to donate its recently vacated building on Bladensburg Road NE to be Antioch Law's campus. Sears is considering that request along with other bids to purchase the site, a Sears spokesman said.
Although the law school balanced its budget this year for the first time, it still has financial difficulties, partly because the Legal Services Corp., the school's major beneficiary, has reduced funding by 25 percent.
One solution has been to hire a development director, Robert Long, who is charged with beating the bushes among alumni, their parents, foundations, law firms and any other identifiable sources for contributions.
A $680 tuition increase, to $5,750 a year, sparked the recent protest by students who also objected to the predominantly white, male composition of the faculty. The tuition issue was resolved by an anonymous gift of $20,000 for student aid, and the appointment of a student-faculty committee will help resolve the minority hiring complaint.
"The school started as part of the '60s, and there really is a consistency of mission that has managed to hang on as a movement as times changed radically," said Jeff Kirsch, Antioch's director of community legal education. "Most of us at Antioch consider ourselves part of a movement." PHOTO(By Sharon Farmer for the W.P.):Edgar and Jean Cahn, founders, former co-deans of Antioch Law School.