St Louis University new law dean defended a woman's right to an abortion

religion | Aug 19, 2012 | By Martin Barillas

A personal injury lawyer in Missouri, Thomas Q. Keefe Jr likened the current controversy at Saint Louis University to larger political and cultural struggles in the United States. Keefe, who was named interim dean of the university’s prestigious law college following the abrupt resignation of former dean Annette E. Clark,   said in an interview with the St. Louis Business Journal, “I think what was going on with the law school, this little turf war, is kind of symbolic of what is going on in our country.”

St Louis University was founded by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests. The naming of Keefe to the interim post is controversial among many Catholics because it was the same Keefe who argued in favor of a woman’s claim for damages from a physician in what has been termed a “wrongful birth.” The woman in question sued a physician who failed to detect with an ultrasound examination that her unborn child had an abnormal foot. Had this abnormality been detected by the doctor, the plaintiff argued, she would have aborted her baby.

In an interview with Spero News, Matt Archbold – spokesman for the Cardinal Newman Society – said that SLU’s choice of Keefe is not surprising, given that it once argued it is a secular institution rather than a Catholic one. This is despite words in its mission statement that showed apparent fealty to Catholic teachings, and a commitment to ”the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity.” It also says that the university “Strives continuously to seek means to build upon its Catholic, Jesuit identity and to promote activities that apply its intellectual and ethical heritage to work for the good of society as a whole.”

In the interview, Archbold said besides the fact that Keefe and members of his family are SLU alumni, the personal injury attorney has given “substantial amounts of money to the school,” and that this was mentioned as one of the reasons why the institution found that he was a “good fit.” Archbold said that he did not know of any legal action that might emerge from the dispute between Chancellor Biondi and former law dean Clarke over the disposition of funds for the law school. Given that Clarke remains a tenured law professor, Archbold did aver that “It would make for some awkward elevator rides, I would imagine.”

The Cardinal Newman Society publishes “The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College”, which seeks to help students and parents to select “faithful, orthodox, Catholic colleges.” Archbold noted that connections between SLU and Planned Parenthood were among the reasons why the Midwestern institution did not appear on the Newman Society’s list of favorites.

Attorney Keefe agreed on August 8 to serve in the slot for the 2012-2013 or until a permanent replacement for Clark can be found.  Fr. Lawrence Biondi, S.J., President of SLU, released a statement to the university community that offered his reasoning for naming Keefe. “Tom and his family have a long and impressive record with our law school. Tom, his father, four brothers, and two of his children have attended SLU’s School of Law. Tom has also supported our law school with two endowed professorships and a scholarship. He loves Saint Louis University and our law school and believes in the school’s mission and vision, now and for the future…Tom has agreed to enthusiastically and wholeheartedly engage in fundraising for the renovations to the Scott Law Center.”

Annette Clark resigned as dean of the Jesuit law school on August 8, releasing a scathing resignation letter that appeared to call into question the integrity and honesty of the institution. On that same day she had avoided a meeting at which she was to have been terminated. Wrote Clark, “It is the ultimate irony that a Jesuit university would operate so far outside the bounds of common decency, collegiality, professionalism and integrity,” adding,  “I simply cannot be part of, and I assure you I will not be complicit with, an administration that can’t be trusted to act honestly.”

Clark, who had had a short tenure as dean, accused University President Fr. Biondi of taking law school funds and using them for the university’s general purposes, contrary to agreements made with the law school. Clark said the university removed $800,000 from funds that were to go towards a new building for the law school. She added that “unilaterally” took $260,000 that was to have been used for faculty research stipends.  Clark will remain at the law school as a fully tenured professor, but will seek a position as a law school dean elsewhere.

The naming of Keefe as interim dean of the law school raised eyebrows in Catholic circles . Keefe is a wealthy and prominent personal injury attorney whose website boasts, “More Than $150 Million in Verdicts and Settlements for Our Clients.” What is problematic for pro-life Catholics was one in which Keefe was the attorney of record in a “wrongful life” lawsuit, claiming physicians had failed to detect that client Amber Gray’s unborn child had a congenital condition leading to the loss of the baby’s left foot. Had she known, the woman said she would have aborted the baby.

According to court records, Gray’s physician administered an ultrasound examination that showed no abnormalities in her unborn child, judging that the child was a “normal 22 week 3 day old fetus.” However, upon delivery at term, it was discovered that the child suffered from amniotic band syndrome, which is a condition that can be diagnosed during an ultrasound. The congenital condition led to the loss of the baby’s left foot. It was afterwards that Keefe’s client began legal proceedings against her physician.

In April of 2010, that suit was dismissed by Illinois Southern District Court, which declined federal jurisdiction. Less than a month later it was reportedly filed in Madison County Circuit Court in Missouri, this time with Keefe as the attorney of record. According to The Madison Record, the lawsuit stated “Plaintiff was denied the opportunity to discover her unborn child’s disorder, and thus denied the chance to terminate her pregnancy…Had she learned of the disorder, she would have so terminated.” The plaintiff sought more than $225,000 in damages, plus costs. That case was also dismissed, the circuit court reportedly said.

Neither the university nor attorney Keefe have responded to queries from Archbold since the revelations emerged.



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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