Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Professors

Almost every day when I get home from classes and work, I talk with my wife, Claudia, about my day. It isn’t long into talk of stigma statutes or duty of care before her eyes start to glaze over. I really enjoy the material but I really can’t blame her. There is no getting around the simple fact that sometimes the law can be dead boring! It’s times like these that it is important to have professors that bring cases to life and capture your attention. Every single one of my professors are masters of this skill, particularly my property professor, Florrie Roberts.

Professor Roberts is the type of professor who will keep you on your toes. If you answer a question incorrectly, she will bluntly let you (and the entire class) know exactly how wrong you are. Early in the fall semester, Prof. Roberts asked a question about ownership rights for mislaid property. One of my friends raised her hand and attempted to ask the question in three or four well-thought out parts. After she finished giving her answer, Prof. Roberts looks up the class with a huge grin and says “That was a nice try but absolutely everything you said was wrong.” My friend goes beet red! Then Professor Robert’s grin turns into a much softer smile. She looks at my friend and says in a sincerely upbeat and encouraging way, “But that’s okay; luckily I’m here to tell you the answer.” Somehow, she always has a sharp sense of humor that keeps you coming back for more.

Her humor extends to analyzing cases too. Van Valkenburgh v. Lutz, is a famous case on adverse possession that I definitely recommend reading. At first glance, it seems as though the court rules against Lutz because he did not satisfy all of the elements to adversely possess the property. We finish discussing the facts and the courts reasoning when Professor Roberts gets that grin again and asks, “Anyone notice something strange about the court’s reasoning here?” We all look at our books and notes to discover this supposed oddity. At this point in our experience, we all assume that court decisions (especially opinions from the states’ highest courts) ARE the law – completely logical and void of error. Naturally, we miss it. Professor Roberts’ grin gets a little wider as she says, “Anyone notice that the court is essentially ruling that the only way to adversely possess land is if you already own the land to begin with?” Sure enough, within the court’s reasoning they do seem to give two contradictory rules for holding land adversely and under a claim of right.

Okay, it’s not comedy gold but, for me, it was like hearing the answer to a clever riddle that I didn’t even know I was trying to solve. I couldn’t help but laugh about it! Of all my professors, Prof. Roberts’ style always manages to make each case an interesting puzzle with humor, hidden subtext, and sometime nonsensical twists.

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