Peerless Professor: Fletcher Baldwin

By Deborah Cupples (JD 05)

Fletcher BaldwinUF Law’s Fletcher Baldwin enters second half-century as teacher, advocate, scholar Like John Marshall Bar Association socials and the Cheerios, Fletcher Baldwin is a UF Law tradition. Since fall 1962, thousands of UF-educated attorneys, judges and policymakers have shared a common experience: cutting their teeth with Baldwin.

“I first saw Professor Baldwin in my first-year Con Law class,” said Suzanne Gilbert (JD 96), partner at Holland & Knight in Orlando. “He was straight out of central casting — well-dressed, direct and a bit scary. Before law school, I had heard stories of professors employing the Socratic method but had yet to encounter any . . . until Professor Baldwin. He taught me to think.”

UF Law Dean Robert Jerry recognized Baldwin Sept. 19 for serving half a century as a UF Law professor. More recently, he said Gilbert’s recollections are typical among former students.

“No conversation I have with alumni that gets to the topic of ‘How’s Professor X or Professor Y’ fails to ask about Fletcher Baldwin,” said Jerry. “It is so very obvious that his career, both in the classroom and outside it, has touched the lives, both professional and personal, and the hearts of generations of UF Law alumni.”

Generations is no exaggeration: Baldwin has taught the children, and even grandchildren, of former students. Since the 1950s when he and wife Nancy helped integrate the University of Georgia he has been working on constitutional issues. Baldwin waded into the very different legal milieu of international money-laundering during the 1990s and into the new century. He is on the schedule for the fall term to teach International Financial Crimes.

UF Law students have gained and leaders have grown from the intellectual ferment and persistent practical application. One of those leaders is Gerald Richman (JD 64), former president of The Florida Bar and current president of Richman Greer in West Palm Beach.

“As my Constitutional Law teacher, Professor Baldwin was my first and one of my best experiences in law school,” Richman said “Fletcher is a great teacher and great friend.”

Baldwin also put his practical experience to work as the longtime moot court adviser and coach.

“The team was comprised of only five students, and we were like a close family. Fletcher was part of that family, and we recently funded a book award in his name,” said Federal Judge Gregory Presnell (JD 66), U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. “When the 1966 moot court team would submit a draft brief for his review, it would come back the next day with enough red-pen edits to make a bureaucrat blush.”

Three decades later, Presnell garnered national attention for using his own red pen to mark errors in a document an attorney had submitted to Presnell’s court.

And that points up another element of the Baldwin legend. By all accounts, the former U.S. Marine insisted on boot-camp-level thoroughness from students.

“Fletcher taught us how much work needed to be put into a case,” said Jon Mills (JD 72), former UF Law dean, House speaker and now director of the UF Law Center for Governmental Responsibility. “He was committed to getting things right, and he did real-world work, which gave him credibility.”

As Baldwin’s research assistant, Gilbert wrestled with some of those real-world issues. “We worked on money laundering cases, death penalty cases and many others,” Gilbert said.

Baldwin taught students and argued numerous appellate cases including before the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court even while engaging the anythingseemed- possible Civil Rights era. Long before free online college courses on the Internet, Baldwin and his UF colleagues founded the Free University of Florida and delivered lectures inside local churches.

“During tumultuous times in Florida’s history,” Nancy Baldwin said, “Fletcher would visit African-American churches and discuss civil rights.”

Baldwin earned his law degrees from the University of Georgia, Illinois and Yale, but his son and daughter hold UF Law degrees. Even Nancy Baldwin made a late-career change and earned a UF Law degree in 1993. She now practices in Gainesville.

In a 1989 interview, Baldwin gave a rundown of the sort of cases he took on as a young law professor.

“Free speech, integration of the city of Gainesville or other cities in the South, representing professors who were denied tenure. I represented Pam Brewer, a student who posed nude for a magazine off-campus. I represented a fellow who horribly stabbed a co-ed in the old College Inn in the women’s bathroom the day of a football game. I worked at integrating the restaurants in town, including the College Inn,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin has also traveled extensively, lending his expertise to governments, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions. In 2008, for example, he worked with leaders in Afghanistan to promote the rule of law — at some risk to himself. “Every time program participants left a building,” Baldwin said, “we were escorted by armed guards.”

As Fulbright professor, Baldwin helped establish Uganda’s first post-colonial law school in the late 1960s. Baldwin and his family left the country in haste as Idi Amin rose to power. Baldwin pioneered UF Law’s exchange program with the University of Montpellier in France, and his overseas teaching comprised four continents, including universities in Beijing, Kiev, Ukraine, Rio de Janeiro and as an exchange professor at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Since 1990, Baldwin has been a leader of Cambridge University’s Symposium on International Economic Crimes. Attended by regulators and financial professionals, the symposium focuses on laws regarding financial crimes and asset forfeiture.

Baldwin and others attending the Cambridge symposium had understood that money laundering was one key to terrorist financing. Even after the terror attacks of the ’90s, most nations ignored money laundering. Sept. 11, 2001, changed that. Weeks after the attacks, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, which called upon member states to take measures that would “prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism.” The resolution acknowledges that money laundering because of its connection to terrorism was a “threat to international security.”

“Before 9/11, most nations did not take money laundering seriously,” Baldwin said. “After 9/11, they began to understand why they should.” For his part, Dean Jerry noted that the latest chapter in Baldwin’s career cements a legacy long since established.

“When the definitive history of the law school is written,” Jerry said, “Fletcher Baldwin will be described as one of its most important figures — ever.”