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Legal Lines with Locke Meredith

Show # 133, Guest: Freddie Pitcher


Attorney Locke Meredith interviews Southern University Law Center Chancellor & Retired Judge, Freddie Pitcher Jr, and discusses improvements to the Southern Law Center.

Judge Pitcher is originally from Baton Rouge, and finished Law School at Southern in 1973. He practiced general law with Judge Ralph Tyson for about 10 years after graduating from Law School. After this, Judge Pitcher became the first African American elected to Baton Rouge City Court, then he was elected to the 19th Judicial District Court, and then was elected to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, without opposition. He was the first African American in Baton Rouge to fill each of these positions. After leaving the City Court, Judge Pitcher was the only African American judge for the first six years, then Judge Tyson followed, and others. After being on the First Circuit for five years, he was asked to serve as partner with Phillips Dunbar, a huge law firm, being the first African American partner in their Baton Rouge office. After six years at Phelps Dunbar, he was asked to take the job as Chancellor at Southern. Judge Pitcher had been an adjunct professor for a while at Southern, before being asked to be Chancellor.

Next, Meredith asks Judge Pitcher to explain the difference between difference types of judges. City Court, he explains, has limited jurisdiction, with civil jurisdiction up to now $25,000 and criminal jurisdiction only dealing with misdemeanors. In District Court, however, the judges handle unlimited jurisdiction, meaning they handle cases up to millions of dollars and violent crimes. At the City Court level, there are no jury trials, there is only a trial judge making all the decisions. At the District level, there are jury trials with both civil and criminal cases. At the appellate level, judges deal with situations in which the parties have been grieved with the decisions rendered by City and District Court levels, looking to have the case overturned or decided differently. The appellate court then will analyze the documents and oral arguments of the council. At the appellate level there are no testimonies or witnesses. Typically at the appellate level, there are three-judge panels presiding over these cases. At the Supreme Court level, judges are able to decide which cases they will take, unlike the levels below it, called a writ court.

Next Judge Pitcher explains how he came to be in his present position of Chancellor of Southern Law Center, a position he was elected to in 2003. He had been working six years at Phelps Dunbar as a partner, and really enjoying it, but calls began to come in to him from Southern Alumni asking him to consider running for the upcoming Chancellorship. Judge Pitcher was not interested when the applications went out, but upon a deadlocked decision panel, and much encouragement from his peers, when the application re-opened, Judge Pitcher applied for the job.

When Judge Pitcher stepped into his new position as Chancellor, he found the Southern Law Center to be in a position of possibly not becoming re-accredited by the American Bar Association, which would be detrimental to the school. Judge Pitcher came in knowing this situation, and he had four years to prepare the school for the next re-accreditation in 2007. When he was elected, there were only two professors teaching 140 students Legal Writing, whereas the recommended student teacher ratio is 25:1. Therefore Judge Pitcher increased the Legal Writing faculty from two to eight. BAR passage rates were also a problem, especially on first-time takers. Longitudinally, Southern Law Center has been doing decent, meaning after taking the BAR a few times, their students were passing, roughly 94% of them, but first time takers were performing poorly. He worked increase this. Other changes Judge Pitcher made were to start a night school and to start a study abroad program. Southern Law Center is partnered with the University College of London. Students get to attend a six-week summer program at this school, giving them four courses exposing them to international law of various forms. Thanks to Judge Pitcher, Southern’s BAR is now all essay. The class of 2011’s bar passage was at 69.88%, compared to 39% in 2003.

Tuition cost of Southern Law Center is $10,600 compared to $17,000 at LSU, $38,000 at Loyola, and $41,000 at Tulane Law School. Southern is the cheapest Law School in the state, but was ranked number one in the nation for overall best value at graduation by US News and World Reports. Furthermore, Southern Law Center is ranked number four overall in the nation by US News and World Reports in “most popular law school,” behind Yale, Brigham Young, and Harvard. Compared to a national average of around 30%, 61% of those accepted to Southern Law Center choose to go there. Despite increasing their admission standards, Judge Pitcher emphasizes the importance of Southern Law Center’s mission to provide access and opportunity to underrepresented and undeserved populations. Students must be prepared, no matter their background, to come to Law School, made apparent by their GPA and LSAT score. Another part of their mission is to provide leaders in society. Alumni of Southern Law Center include: a number of District Attorneys, 78 judges, mayors, legislators, and other community leaders. The show comes to a close.

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