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‘Superstar’ Law Professor Honored with Criminal Justice Professorship

Ogletree in 2011.
Ogletree in 2011. By Robert F Worley
By Jamie D. Halper, Crimson Staff Writer

Hundreds of friends, family members, and colleagues of Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. celebrated his lifetime of legal work at an event announcing a professorship endowed in his honor earlier this month.

Law School professor David B. Wilkins said the idea of endowing a Law School professorship in Ogletree’s honor came about during a discussion between some of Ogletree’s good friends, including Harvard Corporation members Kenneth I. Chenault and Ted V. Wells.

“I suggested that of all the things that we could do, endowing a chair to ensure that Harvard Law School would always have somebody who focused on the key issues that Charles Ogletree cared so deeply about — so issues of race and criminal justice...would be something that would be a lasting tribute,” Wilkins said

Ogletree, who has been a professor at Harvard since 1985, founded both the Criminal Justice Institute at the Law School and the Charles Hamilton Houston Center Institute for Racial Justice. He received his legal education at the Law School as well, serving as the national president of the Black Law Students Association. After Law School, he worked at the Washington, D.C. Public Defender’s Office.

Wilkins said Ogletree was a prolific lawyer before becoming a professor.

“Ogletree was a superstar as a lawyer,” Wilkins said. “He was one of the best public defenders, meaning one of the people who represent poor people in criminal cases, in the history of the Washington, D.C. Public Defender's Office, which is probably without question the best public defenders office in the world.”

Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a Law School professor and the current faculty director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, also emphasized Ogletree's work regarding sexual harassment. She lauded his work representing Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991.

“He also helped raise consciousness about the sexual harassment of working women—an enduring issue for women across a range of industries—through his representation of Professor Anita Hill,” Brown Nagin wrote in an email.

Ogletree, known to his close friends as “Tree,” announced last year that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He is currently on leave from the Law School and was unavailable for comment.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.

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