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Hofstra's Monroe H. Freedman dies; eminent legal scholar was 86

Monroe H. Freedman, a former dean of Hofstra

Monroe H. Freedman, a former dean of Hofstra University's law school known as the father of modern legal ethics and "the conscience of law schools" nationwide, died Feb 26, 2015. Photo Credit: HANDOUT / Handout

Monroe H. Freedman, a former dean of Hofstra University's law school known as the father of modern legal ethics and "the conscience of law schools" nationwide, died Thursday.

Freedman, 86, who lived in Manhattan, set off a momentous movement in law schools for greater focus on students' study of ethics with his 1975 book "Lawyers' Ethics in an Adversary System."

He was a fiery backer of civil rights and social justice movements, and he once fought to have the FBI release a file it kept about his activities, including his membership in the NAACP.

Freedman "was known as the conscience of law schools" because of his ethics work, said Eric Lane, dean of Hofstra's Maurice A. Deane School of Law. "He was the leading force in the country to have ethics as a topic that would be part of the pedagogy for law schools" -- and ultimately in the bar exam that prospective lawyers must take.

Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz called Freedman "an incredible teacher and a nationally renowned scholar."

"He also was a fierce advocate for social justice whose life and career were defined by a passion and profound respect for the power of the law to change and improve lives," Rabinowitz added. "His energy, zeal and determination inspired students to become better lawyers and better people."

Friday, flags on Hofstra's campus were lowered in his honor. They will be raised again on Monday.

Freedman spent a total of 42 years at the law school. He joined the faculty in 1973 as the school's second dean, a position he held for four years. He was giving classes as recently as last fall.

In 1998, he received the American Bar Association's highest award for professionalism in recognition of "a lifetime of original and influential scholarship in the field of lawyers' ethics."

His last book -- "Understanding Lawyers' Ethics," co-authored with Georgetown University law professor Abbe Smith and first published in 1990 -- has been required reading at law schools including Harvard, Georgetown and the University of California, Berkeley, among others, according to Hofstra. The book is in its fourth edition.

Freedman was born in Mount Vernon and graduated from Harvard University in 1951. Three years later, he graduated from Harvard Law School, where he remained to teach for two years. In 1958, he joined the faculty of The George Washington University's law school and taught there for 15 years before moving to Hofstra.

"He was an icon in the school and for me personally," Lane said. "He had a great sense of instilling in students a responsibility for social justice. He was one of the big towering defenders of people under oppression."

In the 1960s, Freedman served as chair of the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union, was counsel to several civil rights organizations and was a consultant to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

An evaluative report in his FBI file, dated Dec. 14, 1967, and which he successfully fought to have released, said: "Freedman has been a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and of the American Civil Liberties Union. He has been extremely outspoken, and his irresponsible mouthings have received an inordinate amount of publicity."

Beginning in 1963, he was the first volunteer general counsel of a gay rights organization, representing Franklin Kameny's Mattachine Society, according to Hofstra. At the request of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, Freedman became the first executive director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, serving from 1980 to 1982.

The names of survivors were not immediately available.

Services will be held Sunday at noon at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 180 W. 76th St. in Manhattan.

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