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In Memoriam: Charles H. Whitebread

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beloved USC Law professor and BAR/BRI lecturer died Sept. 16

—By Lori Craig

Charles H. Whitebread, a renowned criminal law and Supreme Court expert and longtime USC Law professor, died Sept. 16 at home with his family in Santa Monica. He was 65.

Charles H. Whitebread
 Professor Charles H. Whitebread
Whitebread, the George T. and Harriet E. Pfleger Chair in Law, had been suffering from lung cancer and taught his last students this past spring.

In a letter to USC Law alumni and friends, Dean Robert K. Rasmussen called Whitebread’s death a “tragic loss” for the law school community.

“He exemplified those attributes that our law school holds dear,” Rasmussen said. “He was a phenomenal classroom teacher, an engaged scholar, and a tireless advocate for our students and for justice. … No words can adequately convey the life force that was Charlie Whitebread.”

Whitebread taught three law school courses, an undergraduate law course, and traveled the country delivering lectures for the bar review course BAR/BRI.

The bow-tie-clad professor was highly regarded for his larger-than-life personality and engaging teaching style. His excellence in the classroom was recognized this spring when he received the William A. Rutter Distinguished Teaching Award. Twice he was celebrated by the Student Bar Association as Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year.

“He’s one of the most entertaining professors you’ll find,” said Cris Briscoe ’09, Whitebread’s former research assistant and teaching assistant. “His ability to get information across but to keep you interested was unlike anybody else. He could lecture for two hours and have everybody attentive the entire time.”

Prof. Whitebread at Commencement 2008

Prof. Whitebread, center, at the 2008 USC Law
Commencement ceremony with LL.M. recipient
Peter Steinwachs, left, and J.D. recipient Shiri
Klima, right.

USC Law Professor George Lefcoe, a longtime friend, said Whitebread was hilarious, but not because he told jokes.

“The humor all came from the situation he was describing,” Lefcoe said. “The humor wasn’t a distraction from the message, it was the way he often chose to underline the message.”

As an undergraduate student at USC, Briscoe took Whitebread’s Law and Society seminar, which the professor structured like a graduate course to test the mettle of pre-law students.

“I think his class is actually what convinced me to go to law school,” Briscoe said. “He was very, very good at helping students who were interested in law school decide whether or not that was a good decision, and decide where it was they wanted to end up. Just in my one year as his assistant, I saw him mentor five or six students very closely.”

Prof. Whitebread at the 2008 PILF Auction
Whitebread was auctioneer at the
2008 Public Interest Law Foundation
Auction. He sported a bright-orange
tiger-striped tuxedo to the event
every year.
Longtime colleagues say Whitebread taught more students than any law professor in the country thanks to his undergraduate and BAR/BRI courses. And, he might well be the most effective law teacher in the country, Lefcoe said.

His efficacy as a speaker was especially helpful when Whitebread and Lefcoe were seeking to build a two-unit condominium in Santa Monica.

“I knew I had to roll out Charlie,” Lefcoe said. “He came to the hearing and, of course the way he always did, he knocked ‘em dead. When he finished, there were no dissenters. We got our permits and we were approved for the project.”

Whitebread’s assistant for more than 20 years, Katie Waitman, remembered that the professor never observed Administrative Assistant’s Day because he considered Waitman a friend.

“Charlie led a charmed life and he knew it,” Waitman said. “He was always grateful for the life he led. There was always something very innocent and very child-like about him.”

Whitebread was born April 2, 1943, and grew up in Bethesda, Md. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and earned his law degree from Yale University Law School, where he was editor of the Yale Law Journal. He was on the faculty of the University of Virginia School of Law for 13 years and taught at Georgetown Law School and UCLA before coming to USC Law in 1981.

Prof. Whitebread at USC Law Commencement 2008

Whitebread is applauded at
Commencement. He often
wore a medal for the Phi Alpha
Delta Law Fraternity's John J.
McAulay Legal Educator Award.
He said the medal was as
valuable as a diamond or ruby.

He is the author of 14 books, including “Criminal Procedure” and “Success in Law School: Exam Taking Techniques,” and numerous articles, including an annual round-up of “Recent Decisions of the United States Supreme Court.”

His BAR/BRI lectures occupied much of Whitebread’s time outside USC Law and took him to more than 70 law schools nationwide. He also was a lecturer in criminal law and procedure at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., for more than 20 years, and traveled the country to lecture to judges on constitutional law criminal cases and Supreme Court holdings.

Whitebread was greatly proud of his involvement with the Jeff Griffith Youth Center, a resource for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth. He helped establish the center, operated by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, in memory of a friend, and continued to support it financially.

Whitebread is survived by his long-term partner, John T. Golden, and good friend Michael S. Kelly, and by his sister Anne W. Tower and brother Joseph B. Whitebread.

A memorial for Whitebread will be held at USC Law in November. Details are pending. Remembrances or other comments regarding Whitebread may be sent via e-mail for inclusion on a tribute website.

A Charles H. Whitebread Scholarship Fund has been established. Click here to make a contribution, or mail to:

USC Gould School of Law
Office of Development and Graduate Relations
1149 South Hill Street, Suite 340
Los Angeles, CA  90015
Phone:  (213) 743-1710

Contributions in Whitebread’s memory may also be made to the Jeff Griffith Youth Center, c/o Friends of the Center.


—Photos by Steve Cohn Photography



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