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Harvard fellow joins ASU’s College of Law

September 17, 2007

A young attorney with an impressive Ivy League résumé and extensive experience as a researcher, writer, and lecturer in sentencing law and policy has joined the faculty of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Associate professor Carissa Byrne Hessick is teaching criminal procedure and criminal law this year and will lead a sentencing seminar in April.

Also accepting a post at the College of Law, as a visiting professor, is Hessick’s husband, Andy. He teaches civil procedure and administrative law.

The Hessicks, who moved to Arizona from Boston in June, met at Yale Law School, where they served as editors of the Yale Law Journal and earned their law degrees degrees in 2002.

Although she’s lived mostly on the East Coast, moving west was appealing for a variety of reasons, from the good word on the College of Law put in by its namesake, to the opportunity to work with some of the best scholars in their fields, to a desire to live in a place with more open space and less road rage.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to drive here,” says Hessick, 31. “I don’t think of this as traffic.”

A telephone message left one morning last spring by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on Hessick’s phone helped persuade her to accept the offer from Patricia White, the college’s dean. Hessick said she also was influenced by the presence of Jeffrie Murphy, Regents’ Professor of Law, Philosophy & Religious Studies, on the College of Law faculty.

“He is a giant in the criminal law field, and I feel extremely lucky to have access to someone as intelligent and insightful as he,” she says.

Just weeks into her first faculty appointment, Hessick says the position will enable her to maximize her skills and fulfill her interests, in ways that practicing law could not.

“Being a lawyer is much more isolating, because you’re in your office all day, reading and preparing for trial,” says Hessick, who has worked at the New York law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. “People become professors because they loved law school, and they really like the law.

“What I love about this job at the Law School is, while there’s still a whole bunch of ‘me in my office,’ preparing for class, I also have a lot of time to talk to people. I enjoy talking about issues, and not just what the rule of law is, but how did we get this rule and how good a rule is it?

“And the students here are very good at it. They are quick to question the rule.”

While in high school, Hessick discovered her passion for debate. She honed those skills at Columbia University, where she was a national champion in the American Parliamentary Debate Association and earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics.

At Yale, she won the Potter Stewart Prize in the Morris Tyler Moot Court of Appeals for best written and oral argument, did an externship at the New Haven State’s Attorney Office and published her first article, “The Right of Publicity in Digitally Produced Images: How the First Amendment is Being Used to Pick Celebrities’ Pockets.”

Steven Duke, a Yale professor for whom Hessick was a research assistant on several criminal cases, called her “unpretentious and seemingly lacking even competitiveness, yet she always ends up on top.”

“I once said something to her that I have never said to any other student, before or since: ‘You are a teacher’s delight,’ ” says Duke, an ASU alumnus and former visiting professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “I was referring to the fact that she was undeterred by concerns about how she might appear to other students, and freely questioned anything and everything that she found unclear or unpersuasive. She will do the same as a teacher and scholar. I can think of no greater predictor of scholarly success than her approach to learning.”

Hessick served as a clerk for for judge A. Raymond Randolph of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and for judge Barbara S. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. While working for Jones, Hessick became intrigued by criminal law and the inequities of sentencing guidelines. She since has published four other articles, in addition to a work in progress titled, “Considering Prior Good and Bad Acts at Sentencing.”

It was always Hessick’s plan to practice law for a few years, and then move away from the courtroom and into the classroom. The plan took shape when she was appointed a Climenko fellow and lecturer on law at Harvard Law School from 2005 to 2007.

“I was so lucky to get picked for this program,” she says. “It’s difficult for young lawyers who are trying to make the transition from practicing to teaching. You spend all your time thinking and writing about complex legal issues, and you have few teaching experiences and research opportunities.”

Hessick is thrilled to be taking over a sentencing workshop from longtime law professor Gary Lowenthal, who retired in May and has met with her to assist with its organization.

“State and federal sentencing guidelines are so different, and this gives me a chance to not only learn how things are done in Arizona, but also to have a great workshop where we bring in judges to talk about actual cases,” she says.

Hessick says she hopes to pass along her passion for criminal cases to her students.

“The most important thing in my class is to show students how interesting this stuff can be,” she says. “If they think so, too, my job is largely done.”