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Frank Goodman: A history major who witnessed major history

February 02, 2015

Professor Emeritus Frank Goodman discusses about his long and varied career during which he drafted Groucho Marx’s will, argued cases in the Warren Court, and was tear-gassed in Berkeley.

From the Penn Law Journal Fall 2014 issue.

Last summer Professor Frank Goodman retired to emeritus status after 41 years on the Penn Law faculty. In a recent interview, the 81-year-old professor reminisced about a long and varied career during which he drafted Groucho Marx’s will, argued cases in the Warren Court, and was tear-gassed in Berkeley.

Goodman grew up in San Antonio, Texas, an avid reader, a lover of classical music, a would-be poet, and a tournament tennis player. The first member of his family to attend college, he chose Harvard because two of his boyhood heroes — President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes – had gone there. At Harvard he majored in history during a time when the history department was, even more than usually, star-studded, graduating summa cum laude. With a Rhodes Scholarship, he went on to study philosophy at Oxford when Oxford was the international center of the Anglo-American philosophical world, again receiving his degree with highest honors. The next stop was Harvard Law School and then a clerkship with Judge William Hastie on the Third Circuit, the first African-American appointed to the federal appellate bench and one of President Kennedy’s final candidates for the Supreme Court.

After clerking, Goodman practiced entertainment law in a small (eight lawyer) Beverly Hills firm with a glittering client list that included Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Stewart, the Marx Brothers, Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, and many others. Its major client, however, was MCA, the industry’s largest talent agency and also its largest television production company, which was in the process of acquiring Universal Pictures (while complying with the government-imposed condition that it terminate its agency business and the all too obvious conflict of interest). MCA was headed by Lew Wasserman, the legendary mogul who had earlier, in Goodman’s words, “liberated Hollywood’s talent communities from the contractual servitude of the old studio system. Wasserman demanded much of his lawyers, and satisfying those demands was the firm’s highest priority.”

The glamour of Hollywood, however, was soon eclipsed by the “more powerful allure of ‘Camelot’.” Goodman moved back East to work in the Kennedy administration, joining Solicitor General Archibald Cox’s eight-lawyer staff. “Cox was a ramrod-straight Boston aristocrat, a former Harvard professor, and a brilliant appellate advocate held in awe by nearly everyone, including Attorney General Robert Kennedy and, reportedly, several Justices of the Supreme Court,” Goodman said. Then as now the Solicitor General’s Office handled almost all the government’s Supreme Court litigation, either as a party or an amicus. Goodman’s three years in the Office (1962-65) were among the most dynamic and progressive in the Court’s history, laying the foundation for much of our current constitutional law in the fields of civil rights, criminal procedure, school prayer, legislative apportionment, freedom of speech, right of privacy, and others. While Goodman’s own briefs and arguments rarely involved these hot-button constitutional issues (though he later taught all of them) — dealing instead with non-constitutional matters such as antitrust, administrative regulation, taxation, and criminal law — the opportunity to observe the process of constitutional history-making at close range strengthened his long-standing intention, and hastened his decision, to go into teaching.

In 1965, he accepted an invitation to join the faculty at Boalt Hall, the law school of the University of California at Berkeley. He applied, and was assigned, to teach the basic constitutional law class, along with courses in torts, poverty law, and trusts/estates. He also had another brush with history, albeit of a different sort. His seven years at Berkeley coincided with the tumultuous era of student demonstrations that shook the nation. Goodman’s own relationship to these events was generally tangential, though he served on the University disciplinary committee that heard cases involving organized disruption of classrooms and administrative functions; and, on one occasion, while on the outskirts of a demonstration, he discovered that tear gas, inflicted by Governor Ronald Reagan’s state troopers, really does burn.

In 1972, Goodman took a sabbatical year in Washington as research director of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a small agency that brought together lawyers, judges, and academics to study and recommend reforms of the federal administrative process. The Conference head was Antonin (later Justice) Scalia, with whom Goodman collaborated on an article and had “stimulating exchanges on matters of law and politics.” The offices of the Conference overlooked the White House across the street during the Nixon Administration’s struggle to survive the daily barrage of Watergate disclosures by the Washington Post. Was it Goodman’s imagination that the faces of the bureaucrats who occupied the Executive Office Building looked ever more worried, more deeply lined, each day as they broke for lunch at 17th and Pennsylvania?

Goodman came to Penn in 1973. In his early days, he taught not only constitutional law-related subjects and Federal Courts (as he still does), but also a wide gamut of other courses: sports law, environmental law, social justice, and general jurisprudence. “This couldn’t happen nowadays,” he said. “Our commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and research is no longer superficial, and all these cases are now in the hands of experts.”

Goodman is amazed at the transformation of the School, especially in the last few years: “The tripling in the size of the faculty; the prolific increase in their scholarly output; the immense recent growth in the scale and splendor of the physical plant; and the mind-boggling developments in technology, that enable classroom students instantaneously to identify and describe old cases mentioned by the instructor before he himself has come up with the name.”

But amidst all this change, said Goodman, some things have remained constant. “The faculty continues to be a friendly and collegial group, free from the bitter ideological schisms that have plagued some other schools. The students are still happier and less stressed-out than those at other comparable schools. And our staffs — secretaries, librarians, and administrators — are as competent, caring, and dedicated as ever — a precious institutional asset.”

On July 4, 1960, Professor Goodman married Joan Friendly, and their partnership is now in its 55th year. Unlike her husband, Joan had illustrious legal forbears: Her maternal grandfather, Horace Stern, was a beloved Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; and her father, Henry J. Friendly, a renowned federal circuit judge, is often mentioned in the same breath with Learned Hand as one of America’s judicial greats. Joan, however, chose psychology, rather than law, as her profession and practiced it in the Children’s Hospitals of three different cities before becoming an academic. She has taught in Penn’s Graduate School of Education for forty years, winning teaching awards, overseeing GSE’s Teach for America program, and serving a term as the University’s ombudsman. She, too, retired in January.