Profile in Brief Professor passionate about Constitutional, criminal law

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Richard Broughton, assistant professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, hails from a tiny community in the coal fields of West Virginia.

"I was not to the manner born; I came from very modest means in a place of substantial poverty and relative obscurity -- and as I grew up I started to feel I wanted to be a part of something big, something important. I thought law would enable me to do that," he says.

"I learned I liked the kinds of things that lawyers do, or that I envisioned lawyers doing -- argumentation and debating big ideas, critical analysis of important matters, of nuance and ambiguity and the tensions between competing aims. I always had a keen interest in American government and politics, and that led me to constitutional and criminal law, my two real passions in law."

Criminal law in particular was a good fit for Broughton's interests and life experience.

"My life experience has taught me a lot about tragedy, and loss, and justice, and about how dangerous the world -- and the people in it -- can be," he says. "I'm a big believer in James Madison's observation that men are not angels, and that government must first control the people, and then control itself."

Broughton, who earned a bachelor's degree from Hampden-Sydney College, his J.D. from Widener University and an LL.M from Georgetown University, clerked to the chief judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the House Judiciary Committee during the 106th Congress, before serving as Assistant Attorney General of Texas.

He worked in D.C. on three separate occasions -- twice on the Hill (and once while attending Georgetown) and once at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he received the Meritorious Service Award and Special Achievement Award.

"I really enjoyed each experience," he says. "D.O.J. was a valuable, eye-opening experience. It's an enormous and inspiring institution, the kind of place that can make you feel simultaneously significant and obscure. I loved my work there, and have tremendous respect and affection for my superiors and colleagues there."

Working in the Capital Case Unit of the Department of Justice Criminal Division, he dealt exclusively with federal death penalty prosecutions.

"This was a nice complement to my experience as Assistant Attorney General in Texas, where I litigated death penalty cases in federal court," he says. "But I was weary of litigation, and D.O.J. gave me an opportunity to do more policy and advisory work."

Broughton, whose scholarship focuses on American politics and institutions, and the intersection of politics, constitutionalism, and criminal justice, is published in law reviews and journals, cited in opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court and state appellate courts and is a frequent guest speaker. He has commented on legal and constitutional issues in print media, and local TV and radio programs.

A Visiting Professor at UDM in 2009-10, Broughton previously served as Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Wayne State University, where he was named First-Year Professor of the Year and Upperclass Professor of the Year, and has taught at Stetson, Texas Wesleyan, and Johns Hopkins University.

Faculty advisor to the Criminal Law Society and to Phi Alpha Delta, a member of the UDM Moot Court Committee, and coach of the Wechsler Criminal Law Moot Court Team, Broughton was taught early on about the importance of two things, in particular: sports and education.

"Even though I wanted to pitch for the (Cincinnati) Reds or play golf on the PGA Tour, I learned from folks around me how important it was to hit the books hard," he says. "I was fortunate to have had a number of wonderful, bright, and caring people who not only reached out to help me and guided me through my education, but also steered me toward teaching.

"I truly love the things about which I teach, and I love seeing students learn about these things. I also love the interaction with students, watching them grow intellectually and seeing them grapple with issues in ways they have never done before now."

To have landed at UDM is a real privilege, he says.

"I work with a talented and dedicated group of people who care so much about this institution and its success, and the success of our students. I don't believe I've ever seen a law school where the faculty are as deeply involved in the life of the school and personally invested in the success of the students as they are here. I'm very lucky to do this for a living, and to be doing it here at UDM."

Published: Wed, Dec 29, 2010