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MSU College of Law

Memories of Professor Norris

Clif Haley, ’61, President Emeritus, Past Chairman, MSU College of Law

I re-told “this story” to Professor Norris, every time we met, many years later. And he always smiled.

Aubrey McCutchon and I were partners in the DCL Moot Court Competition, which was then a win-or-be-eliminated event. In the semi-finals, we found out Harold Norris was to be a judge for the oral argument to be held in about two hours. We quickly went to the library (Al Gore had not yet invented the internet, Google and mobile phones were about 50 years away), and found an article by Harold Norris in an ACLU publication that supported our position in the search and seizure issue of the Moot Court case. We memorized Professor Norris’s quote and were able to use it during the course of the oral argument. Professor Norris was dumb struck on hearing his words, and tears began to roll down his cheeks.

We won! Sad news. Happy memories.

Lee Deschamps, ’68

Sorry to hear of the Law’s loss. But I’m still practicing full time in a small town an hour’s drive south of Albuquerque, with Public Defender Contracts in 3 different counties. Not a month goes by that I don’t pass on to the younger lawyers in the area and LEO’s something I learned from Professor Norris. Most often, it is to treat all Defendants as real human beings—not just files or numbers—and with real constitutional rights. The most impact that had on me was when I was the elected the District Attorney for an area covering 1/5th of the area of the State in the late 80’s.

Through these newer lawyers his spirit and love of the law and what it can do lives on.

Herschel Fink, ’72

So sorry to hear of his passing. His class was one of my fondest memories as a student at the old DCL.

Dan Wiegand, ’73

A wonderful human being, great professor, and a true inspiration to students of the law. When I tell people I really loved law school at DCL they think I’m crazy. How could anyone actually enjoy law school? It was the best educational experience of my life because of gifted and dedicated professors like Harold Norris.

Kathy King, ’74

I so admired Professor Norris’ abiding love of our Constitution. I respected, and still hold hope for, his strong conviction that society will eventually understand and “fix” the criminal mind. I cherished his fierce insistence that we lawyers fight for fairness for all. Professor Norris contributed greatly to my legal education and to my heart and soul.

Alan Barth, ’77

RIP, Prof. Norris. Thank you for your passionate lectures in criminal law and procedure and the many practical pieces of advice that you gave—which don’t appear in the text books. I actually recalled and successfully utilized them in practice.

Dr. Robert John Davis, ’77

Professor Norris was very serious about teaching criminal law yet he had a wonderful sense of humor that on occasion would come out unexpectedly. One day we were discussing a case where a father brought suit against his daughter’s boyfriend for violating his daughter on the novel grounds of vandalism, claiming the young man’s actions had damaged his daughter and thus the basis of the suit.

As usual, Professor Norris would pontificate about the theories of each case we would discuss in class and by happenstance he called me and asked what I thought about the father suing on the novel theory of vandalism. “Mr. Davis, do you have any thoughts on the approach the father took in this case and could there have been another way to legally go after the young man?”

I composed myself for about 5 seconds and said, “Professor Norris, depending on the status of the young woman, I think the father should have sued for breaking and entering!” With that witty repartee on my part, he broke out laughing uncontrollably as did the whole class and he told me he was going to write my remark down in his teaching book to repeat it for future classes.

A great man, a great scholar, and a great law professor. No more needs to be said to honor this wonderful icon of Detroit College of Law.

Margaret Barton, ’78

So very sorry to hear of the passing of Professor Norris. What a wonderful, gentle, kind and inspiring Professor and person he was. I loved his classes in Criminal Law and Procedure—had my very first semester in 1975—and was awed by the depth of knowledge and kindness he demonstrated. What a wonderful start to my law career—and I owe much of it to dear Professor Norris...

He will be so missed.

Kevin A. McNulty, ’79

To inspire young people, is an accomplishment. To inspire young people with a purpose, is awesome. To inspire young people without a conscience, is dangerous. To inspire people with a purpose and a conscience, is to be Prof. Harold Norris. He made us “Foot soldiers of the Constitution.”

Garry Post, ’80

Professor Harold Norris was one of the most memorable, enjoyable, and thought-provoking teachers I had while a law student at DCL. I recall his telling us that it was a good idea to take someone to watch a trial in a courtroom because it made for a cheap date. I took his advice on this.

I remember his telling us in class “when in doubt (as what to argue for the defense of your clients), argue due process.” When in doubt—due process! I remember he would get caught up in what he was teaching and we got behind and did not finish all the material in his book. His book was full of new clippings illustrating points of law and current issues.

Always a friendly and accessible instructor and good person to talk with outside of school, as well. Great guy who cared about what he was teaching. He cared deeply about the constitution and individual rights.

Duncan Payne, ’81

You cannot imagine how utterly stunned I am by the news of Prof. Norris’ passing. I received the award for the student that most contributed to his Criminal Law Class (1978) and have had his book Justice Murphy and the Bill of Rights proudly displayed in my living room all these years. “Death,” ultimately, is the loser in his battle with this formidable soul because his “reach” will extend for generations to come. We are his “Foot soldiers of The Constitution.” I have told stories about that class to my children and grand-children. I don’t weep often, but I am weeping now.

Bill Dow, ’82

Professor Norris was a wonderful man and teacher. I will never forget that as first year law students he said that we would go through an “agonizing metamorphosis” and become “foot soldiers of the Constitution.”

Duane Beeman, ’82

Thirty years since my graduation from DCL and the teachings of Harold Norris continue to impact me daily in the practice of law. What a privilege to have known and learned from him. He made a difference. He taught me how to see things that others cannot or will not see. Thank you Professor Norris. Rest knowing the profound impact you had upon so many of us.

Joseph Yamin, ’82

I was honored to suffer through the “agonizing metamorphosis.” Professor Norris was one-of-a-kind for sure. He will be missed.

Michael H. Traison, ’83

32 years after he was my teacher I still refer to us lawyers as, as he often said, “foot soldiers of the constitution.” This man will never die. He lives in me and thousands more and even in our children and those we teach.

Iris Joan Finsilver, ’86

How very sad. I met Professor Norris in the elevator at DCL. We were alone in the elevator and didn’t know each other—I hadn’t even started classes yet. He looked at me and said that the law was a jealous mistress and that someday I would learn that it is a jealous master. I laughed it off because I didn’t have any real idea what he meant.

He told me that some 30 years ago and it was so true. I often think of him even though decades passed by. He was exceptionally kind to me. He gave me an autographed copy of his book The Liberty Bell, which I cherish.

I am terribly saddened by the big loss of such a distinguished and learned gentleman. He was so kind and so unique. He really touched me.

Victoria Ann Radke, ’87

I am greatly saddened to learn of Professor’s Norris’ passing. It will now be for his many students to carry on his legacy. My sympathies to his family, colleagues and friends. DCL has lost a great teacher and mentor. He will live on in the hearts of his students and the citizens of the State of Michigan for whom he worked so diligently.

Rekha Sharma-Crawford, ’93

Professor Norris used to say “when in doubt, due process.” I have carried that for all these years and rely on his wisdom even now. May he rest in peace after so many years of dedication to his students. His legacy will forever live on.

Karen Maheu, ’94

Prof. Norris, you will not be forgotten. Scores of your “foot soldiers of the Constitution” still walk the courts, business offices, and schools.

You made me stand up and argue “Where the Bodies are Buried” on the first day of class in Criminal Law. It was terrifying then, but part of that “painful metamorphosis from layman to lawyer.”

Thank you Professor.

Bobby Ficklin, ’11

God bless Professor Norris and his family, at this time and always. I thank him for the legacy that he left the law college and the world. His story is very powerful and inspiring.

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