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By Shanor, Charles | Emory Law Journal, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

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Shanor, Charles, Emory Law Journal


My last encounter with my colleague, David Bederman, was typical. As he slowly made his way to his office only a week before cancer bore him away from us, I departed my office heading belatedly for class. David said, "Have a good class, Charlie," and I was speechless. All the things I might have said were cut offby my thoughts of his obviously deteriorating condition. It was a simple sentence, one we say to each other many times. But from David at that moment, it was a touching one, words of encouragement from a man in great pain who was shortly to teach his last class. "You too, David," was all I could muster, though I learned later that his students gave him a standing ovation that day, when arriving to class was an act of heroism.

I remember when we hired David, twenty years ago. He was one of three candidates for one position in international law. And he was the least experienced of the three, one of whom had held a high-level position in the State Department and represented multinational companies in international law matters before he interviewed with Emory. Our senior international law scholar, Hal Berman, listened to much discussion about the plusses and minuses of the three candidates, then stood to speak. Hal said simply and prophetically: "David Bederman has the most promise of any junior international law scholar in the country, perhaps the world. He has the breadth of interests, the depth of inquiry, the eloquence of expression, and the commitment to scholarship to make a major mark in the field." So we hired David, and it was our lucky day.

Articles tumbled out of David, ranging from explorations of Article II military courts to the law of piracy and the role of custom in international law, not to mention a host of other topics. He taught a legion of courses in the international and admiralty sphere but ventured farther afield to anchor a notoriously difficult first-year enterprise called "Legal Methods." All the while, David litigated cases and advised companies, most famously Odyssey Marine Exploration, where he rose to become chairman of the board.

David's office was as much a mess as his mind and writings were orderly. Stacks of "research files" looked to me and other visitors like the clutter of a compulsive collector unable to dispose of anything. Amid the clutter was David with his computer terminal and his inflatable penguin, a memento of his Supreme Court Antarctica terra nullius case. …

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