Attorney believes in value of 'live and learn'


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As a kid, Tony Dillof dreamed of becoming an inventor. Then a life as a beach bum looked appealing. A career as a mathematician then loomed large as a goal.

“I think, however, that law was always in the back of my mind,” he says with a smile.

And now, as as associate professor at Wayne State University Law School, Dillof shares his expertise on Torts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Civil Rights and Jurisprudence, topics that complement his scholarly interest in exploring forms of justice that underlie our civil, criminal, and constitutional law regimes.

A native of Rye, in the suburbs of New York City, Dillof earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, cum laude, from Harvard University.

“Philosophy captured my imagination,” he says. “I found the questions posed to be intrinsically interesting and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to think things through.”

He went on to earn his J.D. and LL.M from Columbia University School of Law where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and senior editor of the law review.

“I thought law combined the intellectual satisfactions of philosophy and the drama, consequence and messiness of the real world,” he says. “Law seemed to provide the opportunity to put theories and thoughts to work to change things for the better.

“Criminal law seemed the area of law where the stakes were highest, and procedural and substantive issues the most interesting.”

After working at the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles, he clerked for the Hon. William C. Canby on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

He then served as special legal assistant for the Immigration Law Task Force of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he was responsible for drafting a lawyers’ guide to the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

He later joined the New York City Law Department, Office of the Corporation Counsel where, as a member of the General Litigation Division, he handled a wide range of civil matters including civil rights, employment, education, homeless issues, and class-action litigation.

In the Environmental Division, he was involved in high-profile law suits involving challenges to New York City’s recycling, solid waste disposal, and sewage treatment programs.

As a member of the Appeal Division, he argued cases before state and federal appellate courts on the scope of municipal tort liability, First Amendment issues, standards of attorney misconduct, and substantive criminal law.

“I’ve held positions that have involved me in a number of important policy matters and legal disputes,” he says.  “Working for public interest groups and the government has allowed me to see issues of our day from a variety of perspectives.” 

In 1994, Dillof was selected as one of three participants in the Columbia Associate of Law fellowship program designed to provide training for prospective law teachers. During the two-year fellowship, he developed curriculum and taught Legal Writing and Research.  Based on his research on hate crime laws, he was awarded a master of laws degree from Columbia in 1996.

“Hate crimes range from minor acts of vandalism to terrible acts of violence,” he says. “I’ve written about the laws that apply to these crimes and have critiqued them on the ground that, by making punishment turn on the motivation for breaking the law, hate crime laws come perilously close to punishing people for their thoughts.  I have urged that hate crime laws be formulated in ways that focus less on the motivation of the criminal and more on the social harms produced by his acts.”

He joined the faculty at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law where he coached the school’s moot court team and organized a student chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a Pro Bono Criminal Law Project.  In 1999, he was a visiting professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, where he taught torts and a seminar on the theory of criminal punishment, before joining the Wayne Law faculty in 2002.

“I consider teaching the perfect job,” he says. “Exploring topics that interest you, sharing your ideas, interacting with students, helping them become successful lawyers is greatly rewarding. My goal is always to get students to think. My motto is: Live and learn.”

Dillof has published articles in the Michigan Law Review, Northwestern Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Buffalo Criminal Law Review, and Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, addressing issues raised by hate crime laws, doctrines of justification, intentions and culpability, and the entrapment defense. He currently is researching topics on tort law doctrines of causation. 

The eldest of four siblings, Dillof has family members on both coasts. In his spare time he collects vintage science fiction paperbacks from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. He enjoys chess, and although he rarely gets a chance to play any more, follows chess matches and games on the Internet with great interest.

Another passion is popular music, and he currently fronts a local rock band that includes a Wayne Law colleague. “We perform mostly original compositions and play about once a month at clubs in Detroit, Hamtramck, and the surrounding communities,” he says, adding, “None of our songs are about law.”