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Law School community mourns former dean and professor emeritus John Sutton, ’41

John Sutton, '41.

John Sutton, ’41.

The Law School community is saddened to learn of the death of former Dean John Sutton, ’41, who passed away April 19, 2013, in San Angelo.

Sutton was the A.W. Walker, Jr. Centennial Chair Emeritus at the University of Texas School of Law, and taught, wrote, and worked in the field of professional responsibility for over forty five years. He also served as dean of the Law School from 1979 to 1984.

Sutton grew up in San Angelo and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin before coming to the Law School, where he earned an LLB in 1941. After years of practice and service in the FBI, Sutton joined the law school faculty in 1957. As a teacher of professional responsibility, evidence, and torts, he trained a large number of Texas graduates about the nuances of ethical dilemmas and the importance of facts in evidence and tort law. In 1961, he won the Law School’s Teaching Excellence Award, and over the years was twice named the Law Week honoree by students.

As dean, Sutton took control of the Law School at an unstable time in its history. He gained the confidence of the faculty and helped strengthen the Law School’s relationship with its alumni and with the University. During Sutton’s five years as dean, he oversaw a significant strengthening of the faculty and the completion of the multimillion-dollar Tarlton Law Library.  He led a strong and continuous effort to diversity the student body. During his tenure, the school moved to its current position as one of the country’s leading educators of Hispanic lawyers.  Sutton is regarded as a very successful dean during a politically difficult time that led Texas into the top ranks of public law schools.

Throughout his academic career, Sutton argued that professional responsibility is a distinct field of law worthy of study and development.  Within the field of professional responsibility, he has advocated that different rules be developed in various contexts.  Sutton has long stated that rules of discipline should not automatically be applied to inform the law of disqualification.  Judges should develop different rules with different policies for regulating the conduct of lawyers who practice before them.  Sutton also sought to limit the use of ethics rules as a basis for malpractice discipline.

Sutton’s work in the classroom and with the codes of ethics resulted in the publication of twenty articles on professional responsibility and two editions of a national casebook.  He was also the coauthor of A Guide to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (with Robert P. Schuwerk), a book that has long been considered the standard for interpreting the Texas ethics code.

Sutton was a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and a Life Member of the Texas Bar Foundation. In addition, the Law School Alumni Association awarded him its Outstanding Alumnus Award. In 1992, the Texas Law Review Association established the John F. Sutton Jr. Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Law in his honor. On Sutton’s ninetieth birthday, John was honored by the establishment of the Dean John F. Sutton Jr. Chair in Lawyering and the Legal Process. The chair was established by his former student, Mark Wawro, ’79, and Wawro’s spouse, Melanie Gray, ’79. Sutton was also an active member of the State Bar of Texas. In 1995, he received the Texas Bar Foundation’s “Outstanding Fifty Year Lawyer Award.”  He also served as a member of the State Bar of Texas Professional Ethics Committee for many years, including having served several times as chair. When he was 90 years old, he was appointed by the State Bar President to a three-year term on the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

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