The University of Baltimore School of Law's Byron Warnken, associate professor and an expert in criminal law and constitutional criminal procedure, is well known in the legal community for his decades of achievements in both the classroom and the courtroom. He has done it all, from placing thousands of law students with judges through the school's EXPLOR program, to putting in long hours as an enthusiastic faculty adviser to the school's Moot Court Board, which manages a competition bearing his name. A 1977 graduate of the UBalt School of Law, he has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, won accolade after accolade—including the 2012 Robert C. Heeney Award, the Maryland State Bar Association's "lifetime achievement award" in criminal law—and is a frequent and reliable commentator on ongoing matters of import in the state's judiciary system. He is a teacher, a writer, a scholar, and a friend to many, many UBalt students and alumni.
But one thing you may not know: Byron Warnken is a "firstie." Huh? That's right. Warnken soon will be able to claim that he was there, leading classes and showing his UBalt pride, on the first day in both the current home of the law school, and, starting in May, in its new digs.
We asked Warnken to talk about his memories of the school's building on Gordon Plaza, and his expectations for the new John and Frances Angelos Law Center:
You taught on "opening day," the first day that the current law school building opened for students, faculty and staff. That was May 15, 1982. What are your memories of that occasion?
Warnken: On May 15, 1982, I taught the first-ever class in the new law center. Summer school actually started the following week. In those days, I owned a bar review business … [and] I rented space from the University. Our first class of bar review was May 15 in the huge, beautiful, brand-new Moot Court Room, which [then] seated 173 students. … It was a little bit hectic because the finishing touches on the new building had not yet been completed. For example, we had to wait two more days before the fold-up desktops were attached to the seats.
Now that you've announced that you also will be teaching on the first day that the new law center is open—currently slated for May 20, 2013—what are your expectations for that opening day?
Warnken: Last time I checked, I [had] 94 students enrolled for a class in a classroom that I am told seats 100 students. I am very excited. I asked for Monday/Wednesday because I knew that meant that, although I would not be the only "first" class, I would be tied with others for the first class.
Did your experiences in the classroom and in your office on that first opening day signify any kind of milestone for you?
Warnken: When we entered the current law center 31 years ago, it was a milestone because it took us from "nowhere" to "somewhere." During the next three decades, many people contributed to the process of taking us from "somewhere" to "somewhere even better." The work of many, many people keeps making my [School of Law] diploma look "prettier" every day, and I—and so many law grads, particularly from my era—am so grateful.
How would you—a veteran legal educator with strong ties to the legal community in Maryland and beyond—characterize the change from the current building to the new Angelos Law Center? What is going to be different for the UBalt community, including alumni, when the new facility is up and running?
Warnken: The new law center will do several things. It will allow UBalt to provide more and provide it better for our students. It will make UBalt an even better draw for programs, events and speakers. UBalt law grads are very loyal to their alma mater. The new law center will only increase that. It will be a physical and psychological rallying point.
What will you miss most about the current building? What will you be happy to leave behind?
Warnken: I have spent 31 of my 67 years in this building. I have fond memories, but we long ago outgrew this facility. I will not miss it.
Do you have any advice for students and your fellow faculty as they prepare to pull up stakes?
Warnken: I would tell faculty, alumni and students that we should all be grateful for where we have been and who got us there, and we should be excited about where we are going and who has made that possible. I have always been proud to be part of the UBalt community. That pride grows daily.
Learn more about Prof. Warnken.