10th Circuit, Federal Judges, Kenneth Starr, Law School Deans, Law Schools, Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs: Judge Tacha To Take Over as Dean of Pepperdine Law

'Judge Tacha, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.'

Here’s a new mini-trend: federal judges leaving the bench to lead law schools.

In 2007, David F. Levi stepped down as chief judge of the Eastern District of California, to assume the deanship of Duke Law School.

Today, Pepperdine University School of Law announced that Judge Deanell Reece Tacha — who has served on the Tenth Circuit for over 25 years, including a term as chief judge (2001-2007) — will be the school’s new dean, effective June 1.

Judge Tacha follows in the footsteps of another federal judge: former D.C. Circuit Judge Ken Starr, of Whitewater / Monica Lewinsky fame. Judge Starr served as Pepperdine Law’s dean until he left last year for the presidency of Baylor University.

How are students reacting to news of Judge Tacha’s appointment?

Before we get to that, here’s some helpful info about Judge Tacha, from an October 2006 Morning Docket blurb: she’s a woman (that first name is ambiguous), and her last name is pronounced “TAH-ha” (the “c” is silent).

Judge Tacha (soon to be Dean Tacha).

A 2L at Pepperdine Law had this reaction to the news of the Judge Tacha pick:

Judge Deanell Reece Tacha has been selected to replace former Dean Ken Starr. She will begin her term as Dean in June 2011. She was 1 of 3 remaining candidates for the position and the only external candidate remaining.

Most students I have talked to were hoping she would be selected based on a belief that she would raise the school’s [profile] and prestige more than an internally selected dean. Having lost a “celebrity dean” like Ken Starr — who was excellent at fundraising, but criticized (by outsiders) for his political background and less prolific academic reputation — I think students are hoping that Tacha will impress the scholarly community and help improve the school’s academic reputation and national standing. I think most people, especially students, will be thrilled by this choice for dean.

Congratulations to Dean Tacha on her new post, and congratulations to Pepperdine Law on its new leader!

Earlier: Musical Chairs: Chief Judge David Levi To Become Dean David Levi
Musical Chairs: Ken Starr Stepping Down as Pepperdine Law Dean



Malibu, California (February 10, 2011) – Deanell Reece Tacha, a Scandia, Kansas, native with a distinguished career in the federal judiciary and higher education, has been named Dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law. The announcement was made today by Pepperdine University President Andrew K. Benton. She will begin her duties on June 1.

“Devoting more than a quarter century of work to both the public and private sectors, including 25 years of service with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, Judge Tacha has had an exemplary career in advancing the rule of law, as well as helping to improve society as a whole through her legal efforts and community service,” said President Benton. “As a former professor and associate dean at the University of Kansas School of Law, Judge Tacha also possesses a keen mind for legal education and practice, coupled with solid academic experience that will enable her to lead our Law School’s continued pursuit of excellence.”

Grant Nelson, the William H. Rehnquist Professor of Law at Pepperdine, added his reaction to the announcement by saying, “I have known Judge Tacha for over 40 years. She not only is a brilliant judge, she is a warm and caring human being. I am overjoyed that she has chosen to join us. It is a marvelous day for Pepperdine.”

Judge Tacha has been a Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, since January, 1986. She served as Chief Judge from January 2001 through 2007. Tacha earned her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Kansas in 1968 and her juris doctorate from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1971, and was a White House Fellow (1971-1972).

She returned to the University of Kansas where she served as Associate Professor at its School of Law from 1974-1977 and as Professor of Law from 1977-1985. She served as Associate Dean from 1977-1979, as Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs from 1979-1981, and as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs between 1981-1985. In 1992, Judge Tacha received the KU Alumni Association’s Fred Ellsworth Medallion for extraordinary service to the university and received its most prestigious award, the Distinguished Service Citation, in 1996. In January of 2010, she was named “Kansan of the Year” by the organization Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas.

Judge Tacha’s appointment follows a nine-month national search to replace former Dean Kenneth W. Starr who was named President of Baylor University in June of 2010. “We interviewed several excellent internal and external candidates for the position,” noted Pepperdine Provost Darryl Tippens. “Judge Tacha emerged as the person best positioned to have an immediate positive impact on our school and the university.” Tippens added, “Not only is she a respected jurist and legal scholar; she is experienced in academic administration having served as the chief academic officer of a major American university. Pepperdine is fortunate Judge Tacha has agreed to commit her energy, enthusiasm, and intellect to our University.”

Prior to joining the University of Kansas, she practiced law in Washington, D.C. and Kansas, and was for three years Director of the Douglas County Legal Aid Clinic (1974-1977). During her distinguished career, Judge Tacha served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States and was named in 2006 by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to the Conference’s Executive Committee. Previously, Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed her to serve two terms as Chair of the Conference’s Committee on the Judicial Branch which oversees the federal judiciary’s relationship with Congress and the executive branch. Judge Tacha also was a member of the United States Sentencing Commission which is responsible for studying and making recommendations to Congress about federal sentencing policy.

Judge Tacha’s international experience will serve her well at Pepperdine’s School of Law which pursues many robust global initiatives in several parts of the world. She has represented the judiciary of the United States internationally on several occasions, including participating in the American College of Trial Lawyers Anglo-American Legal Exchange among members of the bench and bar in the United States and in the United Kingdom. In 1992, the American Bar Association selected Judge Tacha as a member of a delegation of lawyers and judges who traveled to Albania to assist that nation in developing a new constitution and government, and in 2007, Judge Tacha represented American judges in the Canadian-American Legal Exchange.

As a spokesperson for enhanced ethics, professionalism, and civility in the legal profession, Judge Tacha has been active in the American Inns of Court movement. She helped found the Judge Hugh Means American Inn of Court in Lawrence, served on the national Board of Trustees of the American Inns of Court, and was its national president from 2004-2008. Her contributions to the legal profession were recognized when she was named recipient of the Devitt Award in 2007, the highest honor given to a federal judge for distinguished lifetime service. In 2008, she was recipient of the John Marshall Award, which the American Bar Association bestows for positively impacting the justice system.

Judge Tacha holds professional memberships in the American Bar Association, American Bar Foundation (Life Member), American Law Institute, Kansas Bar Association, Phi Beta Kappa, and Order of Coif and she is admitted to the Bar in Kansas, Missouri, and the District of Columbia. Additionally, she is a past chair of the Appellate Judges Conference and a former member of the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

Judge Tacha has held leadership positions in numerous civic and charitable organizations including chairing the Kansas Territorial Sesquicentennial Commission, the Lawrence/Douglas County Heritage Area Commission, and the Freedom’s National Heritage Area Board of Trustees. She has served as a member of the board of directors or as a trustee at Kansas State Historical Society, Kansas Health Foundation, Baker University, Saint Paul School of Theology, Lawrence Arts Center, and First United Methodist Church, Lawrence, to name a few.

Pepperdine’s School of Law is among the nation’s preeminent law schools. Among several flagship programs are the Geoffrey H. Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law, the Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics, and Pepperdine’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, which has been ranked the number one dispute resolution program in the United States for six consecutive years.

Founded in Los Angeles in 1937, Pepperdine is an independent Christian university offering graduate and undergraduate degrees through its Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences and four graduate schools of business, law, public policy, and education and psychology. The University is recognized nationally for its excellent academic programs and enrolls approximately 7,500 full-time and part-time students in its five colleges and schools. Headquartered in Malibu, California, the University has academic centers throughout Southern California and operates international programs in Europe, South America, and Asia.

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