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Geoffrey Hazard, Influential Arbiter of Legal Ethics, Dies at 88

Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., one of the nation’s most respected authorities on legal ethics who struggled to upgrade the integrity of the legal profession, died Jan. 11 in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. He was 88.

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, New York Times

Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., one of the nation’s most respected authorities on legal ethics who struggled to upgrade the integrity of the legal profession, died Jan. 11 in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. He was 88.

The cause was heart failure, his wife, Elizabeth O’Hara Hazard, said.

Hazard taught law at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, the University of Chicago, the University of California, Berkeley, and, most recently, the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

His journal articles were cited in a number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions by both conservative and liberal justices, and his law school students included at least one member of the court, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Judge Anthony J. Scirica, a former chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia, called Hazard “one of the law’s wise men.”

“Few lawyers in the last half-century have had a more profound impact on the state of the law than Geoff Hazard,” Scirica wrote in 2010 in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. “And few have had the ability to bridge and connect the worlds of the academy, law practice and the administration of justice.”

From 1984 to 1999, Hazard was the director of the American Law Institute, a Philadelphia-based research and advocacy organization of lawyers, judges and academics.

He wrote, co-wrote or edited some 20 books on civil procedure and professional responsibility, several of which became cornerstones of legal education.

Along with Monroe H. Freedman, a professor at Hofstra University, and Marvin E. Frankel, a former federal judge, Hazard was “part of a small group in his generation that developed the modern field of legal ethics,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University and an expert in the field himself.

“Before them, the subject was mostly a collection of platitudes, a backwater that law schools largely ignored,” Gillers said in an email. “Geoff’s work examined and explained the close connection between ethics rules for lawyers and the quality of our justice. He emphasized the duties lawyers have to society, courts and even their adversaries, as well as to clients.”

Hazard was in the vanguard of reformers who hoped to improve the reputation of the legal profession, which he conceded was not always held in high regard. “Ethical lawyer,” he once said, might be construed as a contradiction.

After all, he wrote in “Ethics in the Practice of Law” (1978), a lawyer’s role “consists largely of providing counsel for clients about how to escape or mitigate the incidence of the law’s obligations.”

That presupposition was challenged in 1980, when a 13-member commission he headed proposed new rules for the American Bar Association. Addressing the premise that a client’s interests are nearly always paramount, the panel maintained that when a client intends to break the law or injure someone, or misleads a judge or a jury, the lawyer’s higher obligation is to the public interest and the courts.

The rules adopted by the association, in 1983, agreed that lawyers should resign rather than knowingly assist or participate in crimes, but, departing from the panel’s recommendations, they asserted that lawyers were not necessarily obligated to reveal a client’s past or potential for wrongdoing.

In effect, the association decided that preserving confidential relationships with clients was, with narrow exceptions, more important than preventing lawyers from being used as shields for criminal activity.

Geoffrey Cornell Hazard Jr. was born on Sept. 18, 1929, in Cleveland and raised in Kirkwood, Missouri. His father was an engineer for Mobil Oil. His mother was the former Virginia Perry.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Swarthmore College in 1953 and graduated from Columbia Law School.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children, James and Katherine Hazard and Robin Hazard Ray, from his first marriage, to Barbara Jackson, which ended in divorce; a son, Geoffrey III, from his second marriage; five stepchildren, Susan Pinto, Jennifer Pinto Martin, Douglas Pinto Jr., Carolyn Pinto Haury and John Starrett Pinto; 24 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. He lived in Wallingford.

Hazard began his legal career in private practice in Oregon. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1964 to 1971; at Berkeley from 1958 to 1964; at the University of Chicago from 1964 to 1971; at Yale, where he was also acting dean of the School of Management, from 1971 to 1994; and at the University of Pennsylvania from 1994 to 2009, when he was named professor emeritus. He continued to teach there through the fall 2017 semester. He taught at Hastings from 2005 until he was named professor emeritus there in 2014.

While Hazard wrote for professional and academic journals in lofty legalese, he could also be blunt.

“Lawyers,” he told The New York Times in 2002, “are allergic to regulation of any kind.”

And he argued that judges’ rights to free speech were circumscribed because “if you put on the black sheet, you have withdrawn your right to talk about politics and indeed to think about politics.”

Hazard acknowledged that balancing law, ethics and morality in the legal profession was daunting.

“Trying to do the right thing, when it is impossible to do so without conflicts in values,” he wrote in 1992 in the Washington University Law Quarterly, “is one of society’s dirty jobs.”

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