Hypothetical Question: DUI Law Prof

So I'm reading Coach's Mistake Becomes a Teaching Moment (you can tell someone is taking it real easy if they have time to read the NYT's sports section). It's an unhappy story about Hofstra's new basketball coach, just signed for a $3 million five-year contract, wrecking his coaching career by driving while seriously drunk. The coach immediately resigned, and the Times's estimable George Vecsey thinks this was right and proper and indeed necessary.

And I'm wondering: what if this happened to a law professor? Would that be grounds for firing or resignation-in-advance-of-firing?

On the one hand, it would seem odd to have a lower standard for a law professor — whose business after all is teaching people about the law, and producing future officers of the court — than for a coach.

On the other hand, the law prof deals with older students, is likely to be much less of a dominant role model, and has tenure (at a far, far lower salary) rather than a contract.

My first instinct was no; my later rational thought was well, maybe yes. In this context, it may be relevant that the thrust of the Times column was that drunk driving today — at least, seriously drunk driving — is now seen as a much more serious offense than it was a couple of decades ago. Indeed, one might almost say that drunk driving today (or at least drunk driving where one is seriously over the limit) is now seen as a crime involving moral turpitude.

I'd be most interested in hearing other views. Let me emphasize that the question is purely hypothetical (and in my case, given the very tight alcohol limits imposed by my cardiologist, very likely to stay hypothetical!).

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15 Responses to Hypothetical Question: DUI Law Prof

  1. csrster says:

    I don’t have too much to say about this, but a sports coach is clearly much more of a public figure than a law professor, and to some extent is a public representative for the institution. His salary isn’t irrelevant either. When you get paid that much then it’s reasonable for your employer to have higher expectations of your public behaviour.

  2. ? says:

    would dui for a law prof be worse than solicitation of prostitution? would that be moral turpitude? because according to rumor, at the least, there may be a real life example of that where the prof did not quit….

  3. michael says:

    In the only case I’ve heard of of that kind, the prof claimed innocence — and prevailed. Indeed I believe the arrest may have been expunged. So it’s hard to see why an innocent person should be expected to quit.

    In contrast, the coach tested for a high blood alcohol level, double the limit, and attracted police attention because he failed to go forward at a green light.

  4. Just me says:

    Another major difference is that the law prof is well, a law prof. To illustrate my poorly articulated point, let me add to the hypo . . . what if our law prof and the coach had both been drinking while drunk, but both beat the rap?

    For the coach, the fact that he is found not guilty is less significant than for the law prof.

    Big college athletic program is charged with shaping tomorrow’s professional athletes (people who are more often judged by public perception than by the courts…just look at Tiger). Thus, big college athletic program has much less interest in whether people are found guilty, and more interest in public perception of wrong doing.

    Law school, on the other hand, is trying to teach students about the system and rule of law. Can’t very well punish law prof with a straight face when he is found not guilty, but then tell the students that a murderer must go free because an officer forgot (or even willfully neglected) to read Miranda rights that the defendant probably knows as well as the cop and lawyers.

  5. Just me says:

    Just noticed that Michael got a comment in while I was writing mine that sets out my point. Funny.

  6. john says:

    I’m just wondering how someone can be arrested for solicitation and then subsequently have the arrest expunged. solicitation seems like a crime that should require far less investigation and involve less confusion than others. for an officer to arrest someone for that and later expunge the arrest should raise some questions.

  7. michael says:

    I’m not a crim law guy, but my understanding in the DUI case is that there was no cause to challenge the blood alcohol level as the coach had indeed been drinking a lot before driving; at least that is what one gleans from the NYT’s account. In the alleged solicitation case AFAIK there was real cause to challenge the arrest, and indeed it didn’t hold up.

    As for the subsequent history, I may have the details wrong on the expunging — it’s hearsay not research — so please don’t read too much into that (although any expunging would be by a court, not an officer). I would add though, that in this age of easily searchable records, if there isn’t a way to either erase or at least annotate arrest records to show innocence, there really should be. And what little I know about the subject suggests that even when localities expunge arrests and/or convictions, copies of the records routinely live on in other distributed databases in other states and at the federal level, even though they are not supposed to.

  8. Joe1 says:

    If we let senators like David Vitter of Louisiana frolic with prostitutes, how can we justify firing a sports coach involved in a DUI that did not involve property damage or injury to another person? When I prosecuted DUI’s twenty years ago, the rule was set forth as follows: no property damage, no injury, alcohol level under .20, first offense, the arrestee was eligible for the diversion program. After completion of the program, the offense was dismissed. We applied it across the board, without regard to status, although congressmen here in DC appeared to get more options as to the content of the diversion program. FWIW, my small amount of drinking slowed to a trickle after I became a prosecutor.

  9. michael says:

    Vecsey’s point is that we would never tolerate .20 today. The line in Nassau was .08; get to .20 and it’s “aggravated DUI”. Which was part of my question: we might — or might not? — excuse someone who accidentally went just over the limit. But someone who went waaay over it?

    It seems to me that one potentially complicating factor is precisely that standards have changed. But maybe it is time to admit that the change is a done deal?

  10. john says:

    i don’t mean to belabor the issue but i’m curious about the cause to challenge the arrest in the alleged solicitation case. i’m very big on the innocent being free from bogus arrest or stigma, but it just seems to me that there shouldn’t be much confusion about whether someone has engaged in solicitation or not.

    this is a great corollary to explain why some make the argument that the new arizona immigration law is unconstitutionally vague. save for situations involving a van full of people without id, it is nearly impossible for people to know what they can do to avoid being reasonably suspicious of being an illegal, without getting into racial/ethnic profiling or class distinctions. conversely, reasonable suspicion of solicitation should only exist once specific soliciting behavior has occurred. i suppose, though, that poor policing is always a possibility.

  11. michael says:

    I don’t have the energy to exhume the various web stuff that appeared at the time, but as best I can recall the dispute was whether the prof’s statement was a silly (and in the event unfortunate) joke that couldn’t possibly have been understood as solicitation by a reasonable person, or a genuine attempt at solicitation. In light of the case going away, I assume that someone up the chain decided that it wasn’t going to be an easy case for the state to win, and dropped it like a hot potato, but I have no inside knowledge at all.

    I don’t quite see the parallel to Arizona’s immigration law, since there (as I understand it) the issue is when cops can stop people on ‘reasonable suspicion’ of immigration violations and/or when they can escalate a Terry stop for some other grounds to an immigration check. Once you get over those hurdles, the actual fact of immigration status is an objectively verifiable fact, even more objectively verifiable than blood alcohol level (since machines may err and the evidence is evanescent), and far more so than interpreting a potentially ambiguous conversation. But again, I hasten to add these things are outside my specialties and I haven’t researched this, so I’m open to correction by someone who knows.

  12. john says:

    interesting. my reason for raising the arizona law issue is that i’m saying, in general, most criminal acts, even a potentially ambiguous conversation regarding solicitation, should provide a clearer basis for specific and articulable facts and inferences than simply appearing (?) to be an illegal. the behavior that goes along with such action, should generally be much clearer than that of one’s citizenship status and make for less confusion.

  13. Donald A. Coffin says:

    It seems to me that much depends on the terms of the contract. Hofstra describes itself as a private, non-sectarian university, so it may be less likely to have stringent behavioral clauses in contracts, such as might appear at (for example) Brigham Young or at Wheaton College. Nonetheless, the coach’s contract might have specified grounds for dismissal that included DUI (or something similar). The Times article makes no mention of contractual terms, and no mention of any specific position taken by Hofstra. But I would not be surprised if there was something in the contract that would include a situation such as this.

  14. anon says:

    it was expunged not because he was exonerated but because he completed a pre trial program where the charges were dropped.

  15. Keith says:

    As far as I’m concerned, an expunged charge is an expunged charge. I don’t think it’s fair to hold people to different standards in these situations based on the circumstances of the expunction. I would make an exception for people with sensitive or particularly authoritarian positions (jobs involving children, higher-level political positions, law enforcement officers, etc.), but it’s my understanding (I could be wrong) that expunged charges are still disclosed on background checks for those types of positions.

    Basically, I think expunged charges are fair game as they relate to safety concerns, but not morality judgments.

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