Remarks by Michael Rustad

ThomasF. Lambert Jr. Professor of Law

Luncheon held at Suffolk University Law School,

November 14, 2000

 

I am very honored to be selected to succeed Tom Lambertas the second holder of the Thomas F. Lambert Jr. endowed chair at Suffolk.I am very honored by the presence of Elizabeth Lambert, Paul Sugarman, BobBonin, and Jim Richards who were all close to Tom. I am very honored bythe presence of close friends, family, and colleagues. I would also liketo thank Dean Bob Smith and my colleagues for nominating me to carry onTom's work here at Suffolk.

We all know that there is only one Tom Lambert. I pledgeto carry out Tom's legacy and is life's work in teaching that "tortlaw is the chief guardian of the institutions which are central to our civilization."I pledge to teach future generations of law students that: "No ruleis settled until it is settled right" or "A fence at the top ofa cliff is better than an ambulance in the valley below" or "Tortlaw divorced from Damages is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark."Tom was an inspiring teacher whose classroom was truly kinetic.

Tom had a way with words. I saved many of the handwrittennotes that Tom sent me over the years. I recently came across Tom Lambert'slittle monograph, The Case for Punitive Damages: A New Audi. Tom wrote inmy copy: "This is a few crumbs returned for all the loaves you castupon the waters in making this subject your own. A child has become fatherto the man." Best, Tom. This little inscription reflects a rare andwonderful friendship and scholarly journey that I first began in 1984 whenI enrolled in Professor Lambertís products liability seminar. Tosay that Tom Lambert was a gifted teacher was to say that Pedro Martinezhad a way with pitching.

I would not be a law teacher without Tom's guiding hand.Tom endorsed my application to be clerk for Judge William E. Doyle of theTenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He also wrote a lyrical letter of referencefor my LL.M application to Harvard. Tom was instrumental in recruiting meto teach at Suffolk University Law School in the fall of 1998. I would notbe at Suffolk without Tom Lambert's one-line note to President Sargent to"Grab this guy!."

Suffolk University Law School has been a very stimulatingenvironment for me thanks in no small part to having my office next to Tom'sin our old home at the Donohue Building. It was no accident that in my firstyears of teaching that our offices were right next to each other. However,I could never match the height of the piles of papers and books in Tom'soffice although I tried. Tom had a gentle way of motivating young schoolteachersas he often described himself. In the Fall of 1988, he sent me a short hand-writtennote: "About that punitive damages manuscript in your drawer, betterlet it ripen or it will rot!" He accompanied his note with a descriptionof a grant application. And that was the beginning of my life as a tortsscholar. Tom provided advice on how to develop my Harvard LL.M thesis intoa grants proposal which won the competition. I received a Roscoe Pound Foundationgrant to conduct research on tort law remedies. At the time I began my research,Tom Lambert wrote a letter of endorsement of my project to the trial barquoting Louis Brandeis, "The law arises out of the facts." Tomwas convinced that the attempts by tort retrenchers to dismantle our civillitigation system could best be countered by careful empirical study. Tomwas right about the importance of empirical research. I found no evidencethat the civil litigation system was out of control, as the corporate-insurancealliance charged. Several American Bar Association Presidents and statesupreme courts have cited my research in defense of tort law. Tom thoughtthat another Brandeis aphorism also applied to systematic research in encounteringtort horror stories: "Sunlight is the best of disinfectants."I have used my research in several amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court casesresponding to the tort reformers who questions the constitutionality ofpunitive damages. Tort reform is under attack and needs defenders in Tom'stradition. The principal goal of the tort reformers is to essentially nationalizetort law, which has been an exclusive province of the states.

On a personal note, Tom was not only a teacher, mentorand colleague, but also a good friend. I was his guest at a black tie dinnerheld in his honor at the Georgetown Club. Tom was the keynote speaker andthe room was filled with dignitaries including at least three U.S. Senators.Tom had undergone major surgery only a few months before and I was concernedwhether he had the strength to give his usual "three rousing cheersand a bow" to tort law. I still remember Tom slowly walking to thepodium and I hoped against hopes that he could complete his speech. Tomgained strength and gave a thirty-minute speech that was Tom at his best.At the end of his speech, he received thunderous applause and standing ovation.As the successor to the Lambert chair, I will strive to have the strengthand energy to carry on his tradition. I will use the chair to ensure thatTom's work is appreciated and continues to motive a new generation of scholars.

Tom always said he stood on the shoulders of giants andthat is what I hope to do. Holmes wrote in the Path of the Law that we shouldteach in the "grand manner." At Suffolk we not only teach in thegrand manner, we teach from a grand manor. And a technical masterwork atthat. Tom's life in the law was filled with hope and optimism. He saw thelaw as an instrument to right wrongs and to create a better world. One ofhis favorite quotes from Holmes was that "The truth is that the lawis always approaching and ever reaching consistency. It is forever adoptingnew principles from life at one end and it always retains old ones fromhistory at the other, which have not yet been absorbed or sloughed off.It will become entirely consistent only when it ceases to grow." Thankyou very much for being with me today.

 

Suffolk UniversityLaw School News Release, November 30, 2000

 

 

 versityLaw School News Release, November 30, 2000