It takes a lot of planning and effort to start a new law school. High on the priority list is securing faculty and leadership for the burgeoning school. High Point University, a private school in North Carolina affiliated with the United Methodist Church, announced earlier this year they’re opening up a law school in 2024. Earlier this week, HPU revealed its choice for founding dean of the law school, and it is a… peculiar one.
HPU has hired Mark D. Martin as its law school dean. Martin previously served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, as an Associate Judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and was dean and professor of law at Regent University School of Law. All of which are seemingly excellent qualifications for law school dean, so why is this anything more than a perfunctory article noting the hire?
Well, that’s because Martin lent his expertise to former President Donald Trump after he lost the 2020 election. According to a report by the New York Times, Martin was the legal mind behind the theory that the Vice President could just decide not to certify the election results on January 6th. Trump told Mike Pence he “had spoken with Mark Martin, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, who he said had told him that Mr. Pence had that power (to reject the Electoral College votes on January 6th 2021).” And we all know how insidious that theory turned out to be.
Another report indicated Martin had an informal role in advising Trump supporters on the lawsuit filed by Texas’s attorney general seeking to throw out votes in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin (the lawsuit was ultimately thrown out for lack of standing).
Both of these legal theories (and that’s using the term generously) were big losers, based far more on a desire to have Trump win than on the realities of the facts or law. Which, is a real problem for a legal academic, as reported by Indy Week:
“You have a right as a lawyer to make creative arguments, as long as they have a basis in fact and law,” says Kathy Webb Bradley, a professor of legal ethics at Duke University Law School.
“To my mind, as a law school professor, [Martin] has a special obligation in terms of the model he sets because law schools are training members of a profession, and because we have an obligation that law school students understand their ethical obligations.”
But that issue is one the university would sooner gloss over. Allison Lightner, a spokeswoman for the university, reportedly said:
“[Martin]has a proven track record of success in nobly serving as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in North Carolina and leading a law school. His service is highly regarded in the legal community, and his metrics of success at Regent (University School of Law, where Martin has served as dean) show his ability to lead a law school that prepares its graduates for impressive careers.
“Speculation about what may have happened between a lawyer and client is just that – speculation.”
I guess teaching respect for the rule of law isn’t high on HPU’s hiring checklist. Not a good look for a law school.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).