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Law Professor Robert O. Dawson dies at age 65

Robert O. Dawson, a beloved School of Law professor and legal reformer, died at his home in Fentress, Texas, on Feb. 26, 2005. He was 65 years old.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Robert O. Dawson, a beloved School of Law professor and legal reformer, died on Feb. 26 at his home in Fentress, Texas. He was 65 years old.

“Bob’s list of professional accomplishments is awesome, and his impact on our students will last for generations. But no list can measure the greatness that was in Bob’s heart. He was a dear friend. He was smart and friendly. And he cared about people. This is a loss that stings. We give Jan, Kate and Julie our love and sympathy during this difficult time,” said UT Law Dean Bill Powers.

Professor Dawson held the Bryant Smith Chair in Law at the Law School, where he taught for 37 years beginning in 1968. From 1974 through 1998, he served as the director of the Criminal Defense Clinic which he co-founded.

He and his co-supervisors worked with more than 1,200 students on criminal defendants’ cases. Those students handled more than 7,200 cases.

He also served as co-director of UT Law’s new Actual Innocence Clinic along with clinical law professor William P. Allison and attorney David A. Sheppard. The new clinic teaches students how to screen and investigate claims from prison inmates that they are actually innocent of the offense for which they were convicted. This month, the Texas Law Fellowships named Dawson, along with his co-instructors and students, a recipient of the 2005 Public Interest Award for the important and groundbreaking work done by the clinic.

As a reformer and scholar, Professor Dawson wrote extensively on criminal and juvenile law, with a particular emphasis on Texas criminal practice and procedure and Texas juvenile law. He also drafted much of the juvenile legislation enacted by the Texas legislature during the past 30 years although he was careful to give credit for mentorship to Professor Jack Sampson, an expert in family law. (For a brief narrative of his work with the Texas Legislature, read an oral history interview of Professor Bob Dawson commissioned by the Tarlton Law Library and conducted by Pat Hazel.)

Dawson authored or co-authored many books, including “Texas Criminal Practice and Procedure” (2nd Ed. West, 2001), “Texas Juvenile Law” (Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 5th ed., 2000), “Criminal Justice Administration” (Foundation, 6th ed., 2000), and “The Juvenile Justice Process” (Foundation, 4th ed., 2000).

Professor Dawson was also a national expert in equine law, an interest he shared with his wife, attorney and horsemanship safety expert Jan Dawson, a 1983 graduate of UT Law. Their equine law Web site is hosted by the Tarlton Law Library.

This week at the W. Page Keeton Law Week elections, UT Law students informed the Dean and Mrs. Dawson that they had voted him the Student Bar Association’s Outstanding Faculty Member for 2004-05. Professor Dawson, informed shortly before his death, was reported to have been delighted by the news.

Professor Dawson came to Texas from Washington University School of Law in 1968. He received an S.J.D. in 1969 from the University of Wisconsin and his B.A. from the University of Missouri in 1960.

Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 3, at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home at 3125 N. Lamar Blvd. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at the LBJ Auditorium at The University of Texas at Austin.

By his direction, in lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, Texas 77030; the Texas Center for Actual Innocence, 700 Lavaca, Suite 1550, Austin, Texas 78701; or the American Association for Horsemanship Safety, P.O. Box 39, Fentress, Texas 78622.

For more information contact: Laura Castro, School of Law, 512-232-1229 or cell: 512-825-9525.