Success Stories
 
New Dean Seeks to Spread the Word About McGeorge
By Chris Krueger
 

Chris KruegerElizabeth Rindskopf Parker was a 27-year-old who had practiced law for just two years when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition for certiorari that she filed on behalf of a rural Georgia minister.

E. ParkerIn her petition, Parker asked the Court to declare unconstitutional a Georgia law that suspended the license of any uninsured driver who had been in an accident, without any determination of fault, if the driver could not post a bond or cash in an exorbitant amount. Parker contended that the law violated procedural due process.

Parker, who recently became dean of the McGeorge School of Law, recalls that she was more terrified than thrilled when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

"I was not a natural litigator," Parker said in an interview at her McGeorge office. "I didn't speak in public. I never spoke in class. This was traumatic. And I remember kind of saying, 'I'll make a deal with the Lord. I'll do this one case and then I'll never argue again. I'll stop being a lawyer.'"

Parker conquered her fears and argued the case. A unanimous Supreme Court ruled in the minister's favor in Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535 (1971), declaring the law unconstitutional. However, if Parker made a deal to quit the law, she reneged on her part of the bargain. Instead of leaving the profession, the experience taught her an important lesson that she likes to share with law students - you can exceed your own expectations when pushed to your limits.

In the three decades since Bell, Parker has not shied away from tackling extraordinary challenges. After spending a decade as a civil rights litigator (including a second, successful appearance before the Supreme Court), Parker has had a diverse and distinguished career in both government and private practice. Most recently the general counsel for the University of Wisconsin, Parker has also served as general counsel for the CIA and the National Security Agency and as the State Department's principal deputy legal adviser. These experiences have made her one of the nation's leading experts on the law regarding national security and terrorism at a time when those issues are Topic A on the national agenda.

Presently, Parker faces a new challenge. As dean, she hopes to raise McGeorge's profile from its position as a well-respected regional law school to an institution receiving national and international recognition.

McGeorge faculty and alumni are hoping that the selection of Parker, a somewhat unconventional choice for a law school deanship because of her lack of extensive academic experience, will pay off for the school in terms of heightened visibility and stature.

The new dean "has a very rich and varied background in terms of practice, her managerial abilities, and her demonstrated judgment," said Professor Brian Landsberg, McGeorge's Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. "Beyond that, she brings a lot of energy, she brings a very public face - somebody who will get the message out to the wider (legal) community about McGeorge."

Court of Appeal Justice Connie Callahan, vice president of McGeorge's alumni board, predicted that Parker's strong interpersonal skills and national and international standing will help McGeorge in attracting faculty and in strengthening its relations with alumni.

"I've become an extreme fan of hers,"Justice Callahan said. "I think she is excellent for McGeorge. She has the international and national stature. Her expertise in national security and international law brings a lot to McGeorge."

Although time will tell whether Parker, who officially began her duties on July 1st, can satisfy the hopes of the McGeorge community, consideration of how she has handled past challenges, both personal and professional, makes anything seem possible.

After growing up in Michigan and getting her philosophy degree from the University of Michigan, Parker entered Michigan's law school in 1965, one of nine women in a class of 360. "It was a little like having made the wrong turn and ending up in the boys' locker room," she said. "You were clearly not a welcome participant."

A life-changing event occurred in law school when Parker heard a presentation from the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council. The fund was seeking students willing to go to the South for the summer to do civil rights work for $35 per week.

The summer program introduced Parker to a group of law students from East Coast schools who were quite different from her Michigan classmates. While most Michigan law students were focused on future careers in the business world, the students Parker worked with that summer were committed to use the law to aid the burgeoning civil rights movement. Almost immediately, Parker met Peter Rindskopf, a talented Yale student who was to become her first husband. "It was love at first sight," she recalled.

For her remaining time in law school, Parker shuttled between Ann Arbor and New Haven. Upon graduation, Peter took a position as a cooperating counsel in Atlanta for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., sometimes referred to as the "Inc. Fund." Elizabeth joined a legal services organization affiliated with Emory University.

The young couple soon began to make their mark in the civil rights movement. During the same month that the Supreme Court heard Bell v. Burson, Peter argued his own case before the High Court, Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431 (1971). While the Elizabeth prevailed in her action, the Supreme Court rejected Peter's constitutional challenge to Georgia's elections code.

Tragedy struck six months after the Bell victory. Peter Rindskopf was killed in a freak automobile accident. He was only 29 years old. Besides his wife, Peter left a nine-month old daughter, Amy.

Parker's professional response to the tragedy was to ask Jack Greenberg, the legendary leader of the Inc. Fund, if she could take over her husband's cases. Greenberg agreed, and Parker assumed her late husband's caseload of more than 100 federal cases, including a free speech case in which cert. had already been granted. She argued that case, successfully, in December 1971, two months after her husband's death.

Altogether, Parker spent a decade doing civil rights work. She reached another turning point in 1978. She accepted an offer to join the Federal Trade Commission's legal staff. After several years at the FTC doing antitrust work, Parker joined Surrey & Morse, an international law firm.

Parker spent three years at Surrey & Morse (which later merged into Washington, D.C. powerhouse firm, Jones, Day, Reavis, & Pogue), mainly doing international commercial arbitrations, until a friend from the FTC who had become general counsel at the National Security Agency suggested that she succeed him as general counsel of NSA.

The NSA, the government's secret agency responsible for gathering signals intelligence, was Parker's first foray into the world of intelligence. Parker worked at the NSA from 1984 to 1989 before joining the State Department as principal deputy legal adviser. After one year at the State Department, CIA Director William Webster asked her to become the CIA's first female general counsel in 1990.

Parker was general counsel of the CIA for five years until an incoming CIA director, John Deutch, selected his own general counsel in 1995. During her tenure at the CIA, Parker helped the agency handle the prosecution of former CIA agent Aldrich Ames for spying. Parker also co-wrote a highly-regarded May 1995 report with U.S. Deputy Attorney General Mark Richard, on the subject of improving the relationship between the United States' law enforcement and intelligence-gathering communities. The Richard-Rindskopf report contained 23 recommendations for improving the relations between the two communities.

Upon leaving the CIA, Parker took a counsel position at the Washington, D.C. firm Bryan Cave LLP, where she focused on counseling clients on public policy and international trade issues, particularly in the areas of encryption and advanced technology. In 1999, Parker left Bryan Cave to become general counsel for the University of Wisconsin System.

Since leaving the CIA, Parker has continued to be involved in organizations engaged in the discussion of national security issues. Parker is the former chair and remains a member of the American Bar Association's standing committee on law and national security, and is currently a member of the ABA president's task force on the laws against terrorism. In January 2002, Parker joined the National Academy of Science's study group, "Responses to Terrorism," and helped the academy devise its research agenda in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.

Six years ago, Parker ran into Robert Parker, whom she had dated as an undergraduate, at a friend's wedding in San Francisco. The two had not been in contact with each other since Elizabeth had declined Robert's collect call in 1966. Elizabeth and Robert Parker were married four years ago.

Both Robert Parker and the dean's daughter, Amy Rindskopf, a lawyer in Boston, describe the dean as someone who loves the practice of law and loves contact with people.

"The jobs that have made her happy are those that go to her strengths," Amy Rindskopf said. "Her strengths are working with people. . . .She is thrilled to be at McGeorge because it plays well to all of her strengths."

In April, the Parkers have moved into a university-owned house across the street from campus. Although the Parkers, who have never previously lived in California, are just settling in to Sacramento, the dean has been maintaining a whirlwind travel schedule. In late July, Parker checked out McGeorge's summer institute in Salzburg, Austria featuring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. In September, Parker was scheduled to give lectures at three law schools in China. Those speeches were to be followed by a speech in October to the California Judges Association. In between these engagements, Parker has been meeting with McGeorge alumni across the state and meeting with faculty.

"She's doing a great job," said Professor Mike Vitiello. "She's really out there trying to spread the word about McGeorge. She's a true believer."

Parker said she was attracted to McGeorge by the school's focus on government law and policy, its international business law program, and the commitment, collegiality, and vision of its faculty. She hopes to spread the word about the school to the national and international legal communities, where McGeorge is not as well known as it could be.

"I have teased and said the reason I was selected for the deanship was that my experience in intelligence has shown me how to declassify a secret. This (law school) is a secret, and I am going to declassify it."


Wiesenfeld Ad

September / October 2002