February 21, 2017
DALLAS (SMU) – Nationally respected criminal justice scholar Pamela R. Metzger has been named director of SMU Dedman School of Law’s new Deason Family Criminal Justice Reform Center.
Beginning July 1 Metzger will oversee the new center’s independent research and its development of educational opportunities focused on issues ranging from wrongful convictions to over-incarceration. The overarching goal of the Deason Family Criminal Justice Reform Center will be to promote the fair, ethical and compassionate treatment of people involved in every stage of the criminal justice process.
“We are delighted to welcome Professor Metzger to our law faculty,” says Jennifer Collins, Judge James Noel Dean and Professor of Law at SMU Dedman School of Law. “Her extraordinary experience and path-breaking scholarship, combined with her dedication to criminal justice reform, makes her the perfect candidate to lead the Deason Center.”
Metzger joins SMU from Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans, where she has taught since 2001. She captured a national spotlight for her round-the-clock work to help 8,000 indigent defendants left incarcerated without legal representation after Hurricane Katrina devastated her city in 2005. The civil rights attorney portrayed in the 2010-2013 HBO series “Treme” was a composite character based on Metzger and two of her colleagues.
“I saw one episode and couldn’t watch anymore, it was too painful,” she says. “But personally, the work I did after Katrina represents the finest work I’ve ever been able to do. To have been given the chance to completely reimagine a criminal justice system – how many times does that happen? If you’re lucky, you get such a calling once in a lifetime,” Metzger says. “With the Deason Center, I feel like I’ve been given that chance twice – and I’m immensely grateful.”
Metzger’s scholarship combines theory and practice in seeking improvements in criminal justice. Most recently she has explored how a data-driven systems approach to high-risk practices can improve the implementation of public defense services.
“I’m engaged by the disconnect between constitutional doctrine and real-world practices,” she says, noting that her work in private criminal practice in New York City fed that interest. Metzger is widely published and has been cited by leading authorities and by the U.S. Supreme Court.
She has attributed her career motivation to being raised in a Reform Jewish household in Atlanta: “Judaism’s emphasis on social justice and learning … played a major role in my decision to pursue a career that combines rigorous scholarship with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam: repairing the world.”
Metzger earned a B.A. with honors in 1987 from Dartmouth College, where her work as a Senior Fellow focused on feminist theory prompted her extensive engagement in social action. Ultimately, she says, “I thought being a public defender was the noblest thing a person could do.”
Upon earning a J.D., cum laude, from New York University School of Law in 1991, Metzger joined the Federal Defender’s Office in New York City – work she recalls as “challenging, often heartbreaking, but wonderful … Giving voice to the poor ennobles not only the lawyer, but also the system she works in.”
After working in private criminal practice in New York, Metzger held adjunct teaching positions with Fordham University School of Law and Brooklyn Law School. From 1999 to 2001 she served as a visiting law professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, where she directed the Alderson Legal Clinic for women in prison. She continues to teach criminal law in Seattle University Law School’s summer start program.
SMU announced the new Deason Family Criminal Justice Reform Center in April 2016, to be supported by combined gifts totaling $7 million from the Deason Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation. The gifts will provide $3.5 million each over a period of five years.
“We are passionate about the work the Deason Center will be doing to help families within our community and across the nation,” said Doug Deason. “We are confident that Professor Metzger’s experiences and commitment to criminal justice reform will provide the leadership needed to help find innovative solutions.”
"We are excited about what the Deason Center can accomplish and wish Prof. Metzger well in her new role as director," said Charles Koch Foundation President Brian Hooks.
The Deason Family Criminal Justice Reform Center will provide a platform for important interdisciplinary collaboration among many different groups, including scholars, students, the judiciary, law enforcement, prosecutors, and defense counsel. By bringing together experts from across the country to participate in symposia and conferences, the Center will engage in national conversations surrounding criminal justice. The center will compliment Dedman Law’s existing Criminal Justice Clinic and Innocence Clinic and build on the existing faculty strengths in related areas of law.
For more than 100 years, SMU has shaped minds, explored the frontiers of knowledge and fostered an entrepreneurial spirit in its seven degree-granting schools. Taking advantage of unbridled experiences on the University’s beautiful campuses and SMU’s relationship with Dallas – the dynamic center of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions – alumni, faculty and 11,000 graduate and undergraduate students become ethical leaders in their professions and communities who change the world. Learn more at smu.edu.
The School of Law at SMU was founded in 1925. It was named Dedman School of Law in 2001 in honor of Dallas benefactors Nancy and Robert H. Dedman, Sr., and their family. SMU Dedman Law enjoys a national and international reputation of distinction. It is among the most competitive law schools in the country for admission, as well as one of the most successful in the placement of its graduates.