For Professor Richard Leo, on his receiving the Society for the Study of Social Problems Lifetime Achievement Award, 2014

Gary T. Marx  |  Back to Main Page

As an old retired guy enjoying life in the far northwest corner of the US, I had planned on maintaining my lengthy track record of missing yet another Society for the Study of Social Problems annual meeting. However, when Glenn Muschert invited me here I jumped at the chance to express the high regard and deep emotion I feel for Richard Leo. I say this in spite of the fact that when I received an award several years ago, Richard chose not to come and speak. Why wasn't Richard there? — He had to stay home to take care of the kids so his wife could deliver a paper!

Richard is the poster boy for the C. Wright Mills progeny of today — for the independent social scientist dedicated to his craft, reason and social justice. The Richard I first met in Berkeley in 1992 was pale, thin, humble, somewhat self-effacing, be speckled, soft spoken and always asked first what others thought. Only later with reticence would he tell you what he thought. He favored herb tea and white wine, didn't drink coffee, nor like hard liquor and like Joseph Conrad, did not even have English as his first language (he was born in Tuscany — leaving there was one of only a few bad career choices he made!). Who could have known that such an individual would become an intellectual and moral super-person of expanded physical girth, cognitive profundity, a distinguished law school professor, proud bearer of the University of Chicago and Berkeley schools of sociology and a connoisseur of red wine to boot? --A man for all seasons and all reasons!

Richard is a person with an activist's zeal, a southern Italian's passion, and a business person's entrepreneurial energy and vision. I won't speak of his substantive contributions other than to quote from a recommendation letter written by my former student Barry Feld, Univ. of Minn. Law School Professor. His letter is the stuff that academic dreams of passing it on are made of — as those whose lives we touch as teachers, then touch the lives of their colleagues and students in an endless chain.

[T]he Court in Miranda v. Arizona (1966) decried the paucity of empirical research on how police interrogate criminal suspects. After the Yale-New Haven study conducted in 1967, Professor Leo was the next scholar empirically to examine what actually happens when police interrogate offenders. His trilogy of articles in 1996... revealed the inner-workings of the interrogation process, the techniques police use to negotiate a Miranda waiver, and the implications of police practices for policy and law reform. It is very rare that a single criminologist or legal scholar defines and completely dominates any field of law, especially one as central to criminal justice administration as interrogation, false confessions, and wrongful convictions. However, over the past fifteen years Professor Leo has established himself as the leading scholar in the nation, if not the world, across all these domains. Those of us who have taught criminal procedure for several decades generally regard Professor Yale Kamisar, Univ. of Michigan Law School, as the leading Fifth Amendment scholar of his generation. Professor Leo already has established himself as Kamisar's successor for the next generation, except that his work is more important, empirically grounded, policy-oriented, and broad gauged. In the decade and a half since his seminal trio of articles, Professor Leo has published two dozen groundbreaking articles, co-authored an additional two dozen important pieces, and authored or co-authored or edited six books.
Richard has not only gone beyond most law professors in being grounded in social science ideas and data, but he has gone beyond his social science mentors in being useful and mastering the subtleties and leverage points of criminal law and procedure and has literally saved people's lives. He speaks truth to power but with civility, if not necessarily love. He does this in a way that calls attention to the message not the messenger. Rarely has a social science scholar done so much for so many people in so little a time period and all with a quiet dignity and integrity.

I have been fortunate to share with Richard an appreciation of irony, paradox and complexity. He is a colleague who has helped me better understand, and deepen, an interest in the historic social control shift from coercion to deception and manipulation as means of influence and as tools for discovering dirty data and ferreting secrets.

He knows that all research methods should count, but none exclusively, and that the method chosen must be dictated by the problem and the question, rather than determine these. He is deep in what Robert Merton called "disciplined eclecticism." Knowing with Erving Goffman that "it's all data," he is a multi-theoretical and methodological octopedal threat who none-the-less stands for something. His well-defined set of intellectual and social policy concerns can, like an accordion, expand to the broadest of historic and civilizational concerns and contract to the case of a wrongly convicted individual. With Dr. Faustus and Carl Klockars he understands the "dirty Harry problem."

For me Richard illustrates the truth in the song from the King and I, "if you become a teacher by your students you will be taught." I would add — and inspired and validated. His record suggests a new standard by which to judge academics — not awards or grants or citations, but how fast does your vitae grow. His grew a page a year; from one page in 1992 to 22 pages in 2014. All this from a guy who says he doesn't like to write, or at least says it is hard for him to write. An unpadded single spaced vita that grows more than one page a year has to be a world record!

Richard is above all adaptable and, while very far from the curse of so many of our lawyer friends in being morally pragmatic, he is none-the-less flexible and can change with the times. Consider this 1993 example. While still a graduate student he concluded a 3-page letter assessing a paper I had written on manners and new communications technologies with this observation:

One of my more Spartan friends refuses to get an answering machine. A dissertation committee member yelled at him over the phone once because the student was unreachable for several weeks. This professor considered it bad manners that my friend does not have an answering machine. Sometimes I'm made to feel the same way for not having (and not wanting to have) an E-mail account.

Richard of course now has E-mail as anyone who had to wait to hear from him knows. Thanks Richard for helping me pass it on our sacred calling and for passing it on intellectually and practically to so many others.

Gary T. Marx  |  Back to Main Page

You are visitor number  to this page since November 1, 2016.