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MSU College of Law

Honoring the Distinguished Career of Professor Jack Apol

Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to meet Professor Jack Apol realizes two things right away. First, at over six feet tall, he has quite a presence in any room he enters. And second, he’s quite a character.

Professor Jack Apol—don’t call him John—was raised in Grand Rapids. He has a bachelor’s degree and a J.D., but never graduated from high school. Instead, at the age of 16, he convinced his mother that he should be allowed to join the United States Navy. “I think the recruiters thought I was older,” he comments cryptically. Apol worked for eight years as a communications specialist attached to the Naval Security Group, a special missions organization serving the National Security Agency.

Deciding that a college degree would open many more doors, he left the Navy and enrolled at Grand Valley State College. An honors student from the start, Apol graduated with a degree in political philosophy. His alma mater honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004.

Apol continued his education at the University of Michigan Law School, where he earned his J.D. in 1972. After graduating, Professor Apol clerked for the Honorable Charles W. Joiner in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. “It was heady stuff,” he remembers. “All the big-shot attorneys are very nice to law clerks because they think we have the judge’s ear.”

Apol spent two years at a silk-stocking law firm doing labor relations before deciding it wasn’t the right fit for him. He entered the world of criminal law, and found the work came naturally.

That same year, he heard from a fellow former law clerk, Matthew McKinnon, who was teaching at Detroit College of Law. The school was preparing to expand its Research, Writing, and Advocacy program, and Professor McKinnon recruited Apol to teach. He was an adjunct professor for two years before joining the faculty full-time in 1978.

Professor Apol taught Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, and also created the Lawyers as Negotiators course. He found his clerking experience invaluable in his new career. “Law clerks have substantial exposure to evidence, criminal procedure, and criminal law,” he notes.

Having found his niche, Professor Apol continued teaching at the Law College for 35 years, from its roots in downtown Detroit to its current location on the campus of Michigan State University.

Apol admits, “It’s very satisfying to know you are contributing to the making of what are going to become excellent lawyers.” His contributions are incalculable.

Professor Apol has taught a Michigan Supreme Court justice, a federal judge, and many state judges. His former students include Professor Mary Bedikian, ’80, as well as MSU Law Trustees Maurice Jenkins, ’81, Linda Orlans, ’87, Charles Langton, ’87, and Michael Morris, ’81.

Former students fondly remember Apol’s unique and interesting methods of teaching criminal law and procedure. His presentation of the material was particularly useful when it came time to study for the bar exam. It was never boring in Professor Apol’s class, and everyone knew never to wear red to class unless they wanted to be called on that day.

Above all, Professor Apol always was accessible to his students; interested in their success, and willing to do whatever he could to see them achieve their best.

“I used to talk with [former MSU Law Professor] Don Campbell a lot about the job of teaching,” Apol says. “I always told my students, ‘I’m not smarter than you, but I know more, and it’s going to take you a long time to catch up. Meanwhile, I will share what I know with you. And the fact that I’m constantly insisting that you be the most prepared person in the room will help you in the future.’”

Professor Apol has authored or co-authored approximately 30 publications. A 2002 article on material witnesses that he co-authored with former student Stacey Studnicki, ’91, was the leading article in the field for many years.

“Professor Apol is the best co-author I could ever have, and there will never be another like him,” Studnicki says. “He is a wonderful, unique person. I feel very honored and blessed to have been able to work with him through the years.”

Apol formally retired and achieved emeritus status in 2002, but returned to teach each fall for nearly another decade. In fall 2011, he finally decided to devote all of his time and energy to his retirement and health. Although he now grapples with multiple medical issues, he swears that he “will beat cancer so badly that [he feels] sorry for it.”

Professor Apol and his wife, Carol—who married the summer before he enrolled in college—divide their time between Michigan and Florida. They have two daughters. Heidi is an elementary school media specialist, and Andrea is a high school English teacher.

Amicus magazine: Faculty Feature (Spring 2012, p. 32) PDF »

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