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June 25, 2008 11:07 AM

Peter Angelos Gives $5 Million to Baltimore Law School

Posted by Zach Lowe

Asbestos has been very, very good to Peter Angelos, the Baltimore plaintiffs lawyer who's made a fortune representing shipyard workers injured by asbestos exposure. He's already bought himself a baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, and now he's sharing the wealth with his law school alma mater, the University of Baltimore. Angelos's $5 million donation--the biggest in the school's history--will help fund the expansion of the university's law school, according to an announcement this morning.

Angelos already has a building at the law school named after his parents, John and Frances. That building will make way for a new John and Frances Angelos Law Center on the law school's new campus, the university said.

Angelos is just the latest giant of the plaintiffs bar to have a building--or even an entire law school--named for him. Defense firms, on the other hand, have mostly had to settle for conference rooms or endowed professorships.

Temple University's law school is named for the late James E. Beasley, a Philadelphia legend who gained national fame when his firm won a $104 million verdict on behalf of the families of 9/11 victims. Beasley donated $20 million to the school in 1999; Beasley's son, James Jr., is still an active lawyer.

James E. Rogers, a former trial attorney and current broadcast mogul, has donated more than $275 million to colleges and universities, including a $115 million gift to the University of Arizona, which named its law school for him.

Big firms with thousands of lawyers have settled for lesser honors in academia. Harvard Law School has the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, and the New York University School of Law boasts the Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz student café and the Stroock Classroom (the latter named in honor of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan). There are Weil, Gotshal & Manges classrooms at both NYU and Columbia University School of Law.

But no defense firm, according to Stephen Gillers, NYU School of Law ethics guru, has naming rights to a whole law school. "I can't think of one situation where an entire law school has been named after a law firm," says Gillers, adding that there's nothing unethical about a firm or attorney donating to a university.

On the other hand, universities have hit rough patches with their trial lawyer benefactors. Perhaps most infamous is the case of Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who asked to have his name taken off the University of Mississippi's music building after details emerged of his involvement in a bribery scheme. The building is now simply called the music building, and the university has no plans to rename it, a spokesman said this week.

Texas Tech University's regents rejected a $12.5 million gift from Wayne Reaud, an alum who helped win a $17 billion settlement from tobacco companies for the state of Texas, according to published reports and the law school's new dean, Walter Huffman. Reaud was under the impression that the gift would get the school named for him, according to published reports. Reaud, a prominent Democrat, suspected politics were behind the regents' decision to turn him down; all the regents were appointees of former governor George W. Bush, according to published reports.

Reaud apparently got over it. He's since donated $2 million in gifts to the school, which now has an endowed professorship in his name, says Huffman, the current dean.

"To have a gift rejected and still support a law school--that shows he's a pretty big man," Huffman says of Reaud.

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