There was a shocking arrest for many in the Texas bar this week when former dean of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law John B. Attanasio was charged under prostitution laws. Attanasio, 60, is free on $500 bail for the class B misdemeanor.
Attanasio served three terms as dean from 1998 to 2013. The decision not to renew his contract caused quite a stir, including the resignation of Leslie Ware, a member of the Dedman Law School executive board, in protest of not being informed of the plan by the University. A letter protesting the decision and asking for reconsideration was sent by fifty-six prominent alumni, including two former Texas Supreme Court judges, a federal judge, a former federal judge, the current U.S. attorney and the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Attanasio was considered a successful fundraiser and popular dean. Many speculated that he was latest victim of the annual survey at U.S. News and World Report, where the school continues to flounder below where many believe it should be in the rankings.
Attanasio is currently the Judge William Hawley Atwell Chair of Constitutional Law and professor.
Ironically, there is an ongoing debate in academia over the constitutionality of the criminalization of prostitution if it involves consenting adults. Most however believe that such laws are constitutional and remain a matter of state law. Only one state, Nevada, allows for prostitution. Roughly 50 countries, including allies like Germany and France, have some form of legal prostitution under close regulation by the state.
It is not clear how the school will respond if he pleads guilty to a misdemeanor. Recently, we discussed the case of a professor who actually assaulted women on campus, pleaded guilty to assault, but was not terminated or even apparently seriously reprimanded by the University of California.
The school issued the following statement:
Dear SMU Law Faculty and Students,
I am writing to share the below message with you that Dr. Turner has just sent to the University’s Board of Trustees. This will also be shared with the media in response to inquiries.
“SMU learned from media reports today of the arrest of Law Professor John Attanasio in Collin County. In accordance with University policy, SMU does not comment on matters under active investigation by area police. Professor Attanasio will not teach his class this week. SMU will gather information and follow University procedure to determine any appropriate action under its policy in such matters.”
This week’s session of Professor Attanasio’s class is cancelled. Students should not come to class.