Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Former Dean, Retiring Professor Known for Personal Touch in Classroom

Professor James Meeks
Professor James Meeks

When James Robenalt went to his torts class for the first time, his professor, James Meeks, instantly impressed him.

"Professor Meeks pulled me aside after class and said 'I think I had your dad in class. Robenalt, right? You look kind of like him.' I was very flattered," Robenalt recalls. "What an amazing memory and it shows how much he cares about his students."

Robenalt, now a rising third-year law student at Moritz, is just one of the many students who appreciate how much Meeks cares about his students. Over the years, Meeks has affected and influenced generations of students, which is why students, faculty, and staff are sad to see him retire after spending 28 years at Moritz.

"He always looks for the best in people," said Dean Nancy Rogers, who has known Meeks for his full 28 years at the college. "Despite all his accomplishments, there is never a hint of arrogance. I admire him greatly and he has been a tremendous resource for me. He is always willing to offer his counsel whenever I ask."

Meeks joined the faculty in 1978 as dean and served in that position for seven years before he decided to return to the classroom full time. He has taught anti-trust, advanced anti-trust, torts, advanced torts, legal writing, law and economics, and various editions of public utility courses.

Over the years, he has seen quite a few changes at Moritz.

"Probably the two most significant are the changes in the student body mix to include many women and minorities," he said. "The other is the advent of the computer and how that changed how everyone in the law school does things."

Meeks knew he wanted to teach straight out of law school. He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1963, and after a year working for Judge Carl McGowan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he began searching for teaching jobs. He landed at the University of Iowa , where he taught torts, family law, and anti-trust law in his first year of teaching. During his tenure there, he also served as associate dean from 1973 until 1976. He left the faculty at Iowa in 1978, when he came to Ohio State .

"I liked the idea of leading a faculty and trying new things," Meeks said about being a dean. "I was interested in running a law school, and I also taught some classes while I was dean."

Rogers recalls Meeks as an innovative dean, and during his time at the helm, says he was influential in starting the Dispute Resolution Program and the Journal on Dispute Resolution .

"He was very supportive of junior faculty," Rogers says. "He wanted the best for his students and thought he could achieve that by developing the faculty to be the best it could be."

Not content to isolate himself in the law school, Meeks served the greater university during his time at Ohio State . He was special assistant, legal affairs for two university presidents and served as special assistant for research integrity for the Vice President for Research.

One of his favorite projects was in 1985 when he led the investigation of how several deaths at The Ohio State University Hospitals had been handled. Eventually, these deaths were linked to a series of killings at the hand of a medical resident at the hospital. The resident was later charged and convicted in the homicides, including one at Ohio State .

In 1983, Meeks and his wife, Priscilla, were in an automobile accident that was so serious that his doctors did not expect him to live. He was in a coma for two weeks and spent a total of 10 weeks in the hospital. (His wife was hospitalized for five weeks.) Nevertheless, always the professor, Meeks, who had no recollection of the accident, turned the experience into a lesson -- a fact pattern about the difficulties lawyers face when their clients have no memory of an accident.

Meeks plans to spend his retirement traveling, working in the garden, fishing, relaxing, and spending time with his family. He has two children, Jeffrey Meeks and Kathryn Sorrells, both married, and two grandchildren.

But he also plans to continue to teach at Moritz - at least one class a year.

"I like seeing the excitement of new students each year and watching their development as a lawyer," he says.

Students who have taken his class remember the way Meeks challenged them.

"Law school should always be like Professor Meeks' class," said Matt Silversten '01, who took Meeks' torts and anti-trust classes and now works as an associate at Jones Day in Cleveland . "I remember when my friend, Eric, got called on, and after the first question, all Professor Meeks had to keep asking was 'but why?' It made Eric really think without Professor Meeks having to say anything else to him. By the end of the 10-minute conversation, Eric could deduct a complex issue of law just by Professor Meeks asking 'but why?' That is how the Socratic Method is supposed to work. It's a special skill that not every law professor has."

Frank Garritano, a 2004 graduate of Moritz who now works as an associate in the Maritime, Products and Mass Torts Group of Tucker, Ellis & West in Cleveland , says Meeks always was interested in knowing him and the other students in his class.

"He bonded with a lot of people in our class," recalls Garritano, whose class voted to give Meeks the Outstanding Professor Award when they graduated. "That is just the type of teacher he is. He genuinely cares about his students and their endeavors. When he asks about you, he really wants to know the answer."

In fact, it's that Outstanding Professor Award from the Class of 2004 that is one of Meeks' best memories from his time at the college.

"That kind of recognition from one's students is very significant," he says. But when asked what he hopes to be remembered for, Meeks responds, "I'll let them decide that. I just hope I will be remembered for something."

And he will be. Silversten ranks the former dean as the best professor he had in law school. But even beyond being a professor, Silversten believes Meeks is a great man.

"When I see him, I will always call him Professor Meeks," Silversten notes. "I can never call him Jim, I just can't do it. He is Professor Meeks to me. I still have that respect for him, and that is a title he has earned.