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Keeping the Passion Alive

Professor Art Campbell

For California Western’s Professor Art Campbell, it’s all about the students.

“The one constant for me that has kept me at Cal Western and had me dodging the throes of academic politics through the tenures of five deans has been the students,” says Campbell who has been teaching at California Western for 43 years.

As a boxing champion and professional musician at Harvard, Campbell says he chose law because he wanted a job that could speak truth to power, defend people without power, and resolve disputes with rationality and facts.

As a trial attorney in the ‘70s, he defended a few nationally-recognized war protestors and as he puts it, “scores of America’s forgotten poor.”

During this time, Campbell seized an opportunity to represent the government as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. “In that role, I inadvertently convicted an innocent man—and had to plow through disheartening resistance to put things right,” he recalls.

Campbell’s last big case was California v. Drusilla Campbell, the largest mass-protest trial in San Diego history. These events, along with other lively and humorous experiences, are portrayed in three critically-acclaimed memoirs, Trial & Error: The Education of a Freedom Lawyer written by Campbell from 2007 to 2012.

Campbell arrived at California Western in 1976. “I chose Cal Western because it was a small, independent, and progressive law school,” he says.

And he stayed!

“I look at Cal Western as a platform that enables me to do the three things that I love to do most in the law,” says Campbell. “That is, teach and learn from students, counsel and learn from students, and organize my thoughts with legal writing; that’s why I haven’t moved.”

Campbell’s “mental scrapbook,” as he calls it, brims over with stellar memories of his time at California Western. “They're snapshots of students 'getting it' during class or office hours; students winning victories in moot court competitions and the California Innocence Project; students carrying their hopes and talents across the graduation stage; and students' later brilliant law and non-law accomplishments,” he says with pride.

Campbell’s legal writing includes his first book, Law of Sentencing, which he published in 1978. Now in its third edition, it has been cited six times by the U.S. Supreme Court and over 600 times by other courts and legal periodicals. He is genuinely proud of this work, which he feels embodies his best professional skills, although he acknowledges it was not a labor of love.

“Completing three editions of Sentencing—and gleaning 40,000 sentencing headnotes every summer to write its annual supplement is tough,” says Campbell. “It's like riding a tiger; there's no easy way to dismount.”

Thoughts of retirement are far from Campbell’s mind, and he readily admits that the older he gets, the more he loves teaching. “I especially enjoy criminal law because 1L notions of justice are so strong and visceral,” he says. “Those notions—prompted by a plethora of good and bad media—not only attracted many students to Cal Western but makes most of them eager to explore the realities and potentials of criminal law.”

His love of teaching and life, in general, is also fueled by his love of the world’s fastest contact sport—and the second most lethal: polo. “I love the adrenalin rush of mind-merging at speed with a thousand-pound athlete.”

Through the last four decades Campbell has taught thousands of students and to this day gets the most satisfaction when he sees the light turn on in their eyes when they realize it is possible to connect their dreams to their work.

“Don't silence that little voice in you that led you to law school in the first place,” he tells students. “Stick with what passion led you to Cal Western’s doors.”

Art Campbell’s self-professed alter ego, POSI (Parasite of Self-Importance), likes to imagine he’s helped bring Cal Western along from an eight-faculty facility in one building to its current national status. Campbell, on the other hand, is far more self-deprecating, and maintains to this day it’s all about our students.

“I offer them a little law, and they offer me a lot of life.”