Charles Ogletree, Jr.
Founder of Harvard Law School's Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Al Meyerhoff Public Interest Lecture
"President Obama's Election and Pursuit of a Post Racial America"
Please RSVP/register online
MCLE credit offered
Charles Ogletree, Jr., is considered one of the most tenacious and successful trial lawyers in the United States. He is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard University, and is a passionate advocate of a defendant's right to a fair trial within the American justice system--a Constitutional right one might find it difficult to receive if a member of a minority group.
Following his 1978 graduation from Harvard Law School, Ogletree worked in Washington, D.C.'s public defender's office, a difficult area of law which generally attracts only the most ideologically dedicated and stamina-imbued law school graduates. Those experiences were carried over to the Ivy League halls of Harvard Law School, where Ogletree has single-handedly made significant inroads into how students at the country's most prestigious legal training ground view both the African-American community and the criminal justice system.
Ogletree's first intensive experience in the courtroom sparked his intent to pursue trial law as a career. He attended nearly every day of the trial of Black Power activist and Communist Angela Davis. Some of parts of the Davis trial were tedious, Ogletree recalled in I've Known Rivers, but "the process and strategies were fascinating. I sat there wondering how they were going to tie all this together."
Academia itself was also especially tedious, and at one point he nearly quit the prestigious law school. "At Harvard the pressure was on, participation was mandatory, there was always a lot of competition and tension in the air," Ogletree recalled in I've Known Rivers. He survived by closely allying himself with other African-American students and continued his political activism, even becoming national president of the Black Law Students Association.
Ogletree became known for a cool, collected courtroom demeanor, which he has said was inherited from his grandfather and their fishing expeditions together, during which the elder man would sit impassively for long stretches of time. After his work with Public Defender's Service, Ogletree was a partner in the Washington law firm of Jessamy, Fort, & Ogletree, while concurrently serving as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School.
He gained particular prominence in 1991 when he was asked by the NAACP to write up an investigation into the legal career of a former EEOC chief and African-American judge Clarence Thomas, a staunch Republican. The group thought they should cast their support of the presidential nominee for the Supreme Court on the basis of race, even though Thomas's legal rulings and writings consistently seemed to work against the civil rights principles upon which the NAACP had been founded. Ogletree drafted a 30-page report on Thomas that was instrumental in the NAACP's vote of no confidence for the nominee. He later became further embroiled in the battle against Thomas when charges of sexual harassment were leveled against the judge by a law professor and former EEOC subordinate named Anita Hill; Ogletree served as her attorney during the contentious Senate confirmation hearings in the fall of 1991.
Ogletree became the Jesse Climenko professor of law in 1998, the vice dean for Clinical Programs at Harvard in 2003, and in 2004 he was appointed director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. His work in the legal profession and advocacy for racial justice has brought him a great deal of media attention. He is a sought-after expert, appearing as a guest commentator on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, Nightline, and This Week with David Brinkley.
In addition to legal causes, Ogletree has committed himself to other causes. Determined to improve the educational opportunities for minority and needy students, Ogletree established a college scholarship fund for students in his hometown of Merced, Calif. He is also a founding member of the Benjamin Bannekrer Charter School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which provides after-school programs to minority children.
UC Irvine School of Law's Al Meyerhoff Lecture in Public Interest Law is an annual lecture series that commemorates the esteemed life and public service of the late Al Meyerhoff, a renowned labor, environmental and civil rights lawyer who brought a landmark case to stop sweatshop conditions for 30,000 workers on the Pacific island of Saipan. More information, including video and photos of past lectures, on UCI Law's Distinguished Lectures page.