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UF Law celebrates opening of Advocacy Center courtroom, welcomes Levins, Westin

Fred Levin, Robert Jerry and David Westin

Fredric Levin, left, and Dean Robert Jerry listen as former ABC News President David Westin delivers keynote remarks at the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center coutroom opening celebration last Thursday. (Photo by Amanda Adams)

By Richard Goldstein

More tears than one might expect accompanied the Feb. 24 dedication of a new 4,000-square-foot courtroom in the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center on the campus of the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law.

"I'm very privileged and honored to do this for Allen and to live the legacy of this incredible family," Teri Levin told a crowd of about 150 in the courtroom, her voice breaking. "And I will say, and I will continue to say: Go Gators!"

Teri Levin's $1 million donation in the name of her late husband, Allen Levin, a Pensacola developer, will allow the second floor of the 19,500-square-foot center to be completed. She was named an honorary alumna Thursday in recognition for her philanthropy to UF and numerous other causes, an honor for which she said she was grateful.

Teri Levin noted that she gave the money for the advocacy center at the guidance and encouragement of her brother-in-law Fredric G. Levin (JD 61). The law school bears Fredric Levin's name, and he donated $2 million for construction of the advocacy center.

"I hope with the facility here, the advocacy center, that it will become the go-to place for young law students who want to become trial lawyers and they certainly have the facility to do it," said Fredric Levin, a renowned trial lawyer. "I have tried cases all over the country. I've never seen a more beautiful courtroom or a more well-equipped courtroom."

Architect Sol J. Fleischman Jr., A.I.A., CEO of Tampa-based FleischmanGarcia, said the courtroom is geared to its teaching function through monitors, data, phone and Internet connections, and especially the tiered seating giving students a clear view of the proceedings.

"It's certainly a nice upgrade from Bailey courtroom," noted James Baley (3L), a member of the UF Law Trial Team.

Fredric and Teri Levin spoke before the nearly 150 guests who filled the courtroom, including students, faculty, alumni and administrators.

Among the administrators was University of Florida President J. Bernard Machen. Machen noted that Fredric G. Levin donated $10 million to the law school in 1999. At the time it was the largest gift ever given to UF.

"When the history of this law school is recounted 50 or 100 years from now, Fred Levin will be known as a transformative force," Machen said.

The center is named after Fredric's son, Martin Levin (JD 88).

"It's obviously an incredible honor to have this building bear my name. But the reality is I've done nothing to have my name up here. My name's up here because my father gave $2 million," Martin Levin told the guests, who responded with laughter.

Martin Levin, who serves as general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, further illuminated what has driven his father to become the prime benefactor of UF Law in general and the advocacy center in particular.

He said his father believes that advocacy is a way of arriving at conclusions that instill confidence in the advocate to speak even if the point of view is unpopular. The meticulous research and critical thinking upon which advocacy relies allows conclusions based on reality rather than self-interest, Martin Levin said.

"It's very simple. Dad honestly believes that advocacy is the single-most important action that can sustain this country's greatness and, certainly, sustain justice," said Martin Levin, who finished first in his class at UF Law and holds two advanced degrees from Harvard as well as an undergraduate degree from Stanford.

Martin Levin said his father has done this regularly during his 50-year career. "He spoke out no matter what the consequences were going to be to him. He never backed down."

David Westin, the former president of ABC News who delivered the keynote address, amplified the theme of advocacy as a vehicle for social good.

Westin, a University of Michigan graduate who once litigated in the federal courts, said he used to think televising federal court proceedings was a bad idea.

He now believes Supreme Court and other federal proceedings should be broadcast to show people the shared commitment to the rules of procedure and common principles. He said it is instructive the way "all of the arguments get resolved on the merits."

Westin said the media could learn from how the court system settles disputes as the media turns to ever-more rancorous commentary and opinion to generate audiences.

For example, he said the contentiousness of news programs could be moderated if hosts question political adversaries about how they agree as well as how they disagree.

For more photos from the courtroom opening celebration, view the gallery on our Facebook page.