Look Beyond The Law To Faith, Corbett Tells Duquesne Grads

Moriah Balingit
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At the graduation ceremony for Duquesne University Law School Sunday, commencement speaker Gov. Tom Corbett urged the graduates to practice law morally and with compassion, looking beyond the law and to their faith and consciences to guide them.

“It’s not something the law will ask of you,” he said. “You must ask it for yourself.”

His address was the ceremony’s highlight, in which 200 graduates were conferred degrees at the A.J. Palumbo Center while their friends and family watched, some tearfully. It was the centennial class to graduate from the school, which started in 1911 with 12 students.

Law School Dean Kenneth Gormley used the occasion to announce the school had received a $1.2 million endowment to promote scholarly activities within the school. The money will be used to bring distinguished legal scholars to the campus and to fund a writing reward for a faculty member and a student.

It was also a vicarious experience for Mr. Corbett, who missed his own graduation ceremony from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio in 1975 because he finished coursework mid-year. Speaking from experience, he talked about the rigor of law school.

“To the newly graduated fellow attorneys: you made it. You actually made it,” he said. “Today is a testimony to what a person can accomplish with maximum effort and minimum sleep.

“They make [law school] that way for a reason. The law is a treasure, and it can be entrusted to nothing less to the best trained, the smartest and the most responsible,” he said.

He harped on the need for them to use their law degrees to serve justice, not themselves.

“The reason to become a lawyer is not to accumulate money or power or prestige. It’s to seek out justice,” he said. “The law is here to serve humanity, not the other way around.”

The law is not always just, he said, and the duty to act morally is broader than what’s prescribed in the books.

He recalled, for example, that Duquesne graduated one of the first black law students and was founded with the mission of giving poor immigrants access to higher education.

“No laws required” that they admit black students, he said. “Duquesne acted on its own out of a sense of justice that goes hand-in-hand with faith.”

Mr. Corbett spoke about his time as a prosecutor, in which he faced criminals “who plunder through life as if law did not exist.”

“There have also been moments of grace where conscience or hope has led me to decide on lesser penalties.”

But there was little mention of his time in office, though the controversy over his unpopular budget proposal was not far from mind.

“As long as you don’t talk about budget issues or [hydraulic fracturing] water it’ll be … fabulous,” said Dean Gormley in his introduction, referring to Mr. Corbett’s equally controversial stance on natural gas drillers in the state.

As legislators reconvene in Harrisburg today to hash out the budget details, Mr. Corbett faces criticism for the state’s purchase of four new vehicles to shuttle around himself, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and their wives, after he vowed to reduce the state’s fleet during his campaign.

“Those are state police vehicles,” he said, when asked about the issue. “They replaced older vehicles that had close to 200,000 miles on them.”

Kevin Harley, Mr. Corbett’s spokesman, said the purchase — which included two Chevrolet Suburbans and two other Chevrolet crossover SUVs — was made by state police Commissioner Frank Noonan, who is in charge of Mr. Corbett’s security detail. Mr. Harley said the old cars were a security risk because they had been breaking down.

“The governor has left the security of the executive security detail in the hands of the state police commissioner,” he said.

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