Controversial Alexander Acosta has been named Dean at neighboring FIU Law. See the AP story and the FIU statement. He'll be stepping down as US Attorney in a few days, and starts soon after.
FIU President Modesto A. Maidique said, “His connections at the national and local level and his proven leadership here at home will inspire the next generation of law students at FIU.''
I've never met Mr. Acosta, but I hear from those who have that he's a genuinely impressive human; smart, confident, very articulate. These are good qualities for a Dean. He'll need all those qualities, because jumping into academe is much harder than it looks. There have been some fine practitioner law Deans, but they are in the minority (cf. Why A Practitioner Dean Sounds Like A Better Idea Than It Usually Is). One thing to look forward to: a visit by Justice Alito, for whom Mr. Acosta clerked while he was on the Court of Appeals.
In addition to his extensive local ties, Mr. Acosta also has a sterling c.v., including praisworthy work on language-access issues, but there are also some question marks. Before becoming the local US Attorney, Mr. Acosta served in a leadership role in the Bush Justice Department as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. That means he was responsible for among other things:
- Approving the 2004 Texas Redistricting plan in defiance of the unanimous conclusion, issued by the attorneys in the Voting Rights section, that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act.
- Taking an active or passive role in forcing out or silencing career (nonpolitical) staff, and replacing them with people without civil rights expertise but with demonstrated ideological and partisan loyalties
- At a minimum standing by while the infamous Bradley Scholzman tried to prevent minorities from voting. (And Mr. Acosta was told of problems with Schlozman, including a racially insensitive e-mail to staff, but did nothing.)
- Sending an unsolicited letter to an Ohio judge four days before the 2004 election in which Mr. Acosta urged the judge to allow Republicans to challenge the registrations of about 23,000 mostly African-American voters.
By some accounts Mr. Acosta did much better at the US Attorney's office than I would have predicted from his resume, or from his initial statement that his chief law enforcement priority would be porn rather than terrorism, narcotics trafficking or, say, public corruption. But there are also reasons to doubt whether things were as great as some local lawyers have liked to suggest: his office tried the Liberty City Six (Seven, Five, whatever) three times, at the cost of millions that surely could have been better spent. It was on Mr. Acosta's watch that prosecutors in the US Attorney's office made recordings of defense lawyer (and blogger) David O. Markus in violation of internal policies of the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal evidentiary rules. This lead U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold, only a few weeks ago, to issue a strongly worded, 50-page opinion, reprimanding prosecutors from the US Attorney's office, and requiring the government to pay $600,000 in sanctions for Mr. Acosta's subordinates' misdeeds.
Although the gracious Prof. Wasserman says at Prawfsblog that the public nature of the FIU Dean search did not affect the outcome, one can't help wondering. Once a local reporter mistakenly identified Mr. Acosta as a leading candidate (when he was in fact at the top of a very long alphabetical list), that made it much more difficult for him not to be shortlisted. The faculty may or may not have wanted him. Then again, we don't know whether the other top candidates kept their hats in the ring, or whether this is something FIU law faculty member and irascible columnist Stanley Fish lobbied for, or FIU President Mitch Maidique just wanted.
I hope FIU Law prospers under Dean Acosta — their students and faculty deserve it, and it's certainly good for us intellectually to have another thriving faculty so near by.
Meanwhile, I'm happy about our new Dean. (See Patricia D. White to Be Dean of University of Miami School of Law.)