PUBLISHED:August 20, 2010

Reppy to retire Sept. 1

Bill Reppy says that law was never part of his career plan, although his father was a lawyer, city attorney, and judge in his hometown of Oxnard, Calif. But a course in constitutional law that he took in his senior year at Stanford University, where he majored in journalism, changed his mind. “I just loved it. I thrilled to it,” recalls Reppy, the Charles L.B. Lowndes Emeritus Professor of Law. “So I was a late applicant to law school, but I got in.” He excelled, graduating first in his class at Stanford Law School and eventually clerking for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. A leading scholar in the areas of matrimonial property, conflict of laws, and animal law, Reppy officially retires Sept. 1. He joined the faculty in 1971, recruited and recommended by the dean at the time, the late Joseph Sneed, who had been his tax law professor at Stanford.

Reppy, whose co-authored casebook, Community Property in the United States, is currently in its seventh edition, began his study of community property regimes early in his career. “It fascinated me that a number of Western states chose not to use the common law in the area of matrimonial property,” he says, noting that community property has now been adopted in nine states. “Louisiana was totally a civil law jurisdiction so that made sense, but there were seven other states, California, Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada among them, that adopted a Mexican-based matrimonial-property regime — a civil-law regime — that was thought to be more fair. I was interested to see how much the courts would look to Mexican and Spanish authorities. The answer turned out to be, ‘Very rarely.’”

In the early 1980s, Reppy undertook a study for the California Law Revision Commission, published in the San Diego Law Review that was influential in the state’s reform of its community-property regime. “Equal management was an important aspect of it,” he says, both of his recommendations and the reforms subsequently implemented. “Previously, husbands had almost exclusive management powers over community property that was equally owned by the wife. But the study covered many other issues as well.”

Over the past decade, Reppy has devoted more of his time to scholarship and advocacy in animal law, a longstanding professional interest. He has emerged as one of the top scholars in the field, with numerous academic works and several practice-oriented publications to his credit.

“Professor Reppy is known across the United States for his work,” says Marilyn R. Forbes, a partner at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Raleigh who teaches Animal Law and supervises student outplacements in that field. “For example, he was the force behind expanding the scope of statutes in North Carolina that give citizens standing to bring a civil suit in animal-cruelty cases. No other state has such an effective tool for protecting animals through civil litigation. These laws have protected literally thousands of abused and neglected animals in North Carolina.”

A longtime member of North Carolina’s General Statutes Commission, which considers and recommends amendments to all of the state’s uniform laws, Reppy also has helped implement various other improvements in legislation pertaining to animals. Although he is loath to make a direct connection, others credit Reppy’s stature as a scholar with attracting television personality Bob Barker’s $1 million gift to Duke Law School in 2005; the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Law supports teaching, research, and student work in animal law and advocacy. With the assistance of the endowment, Reppy also has spearheaded two major interdisciplinary conferences on issues relating to animal law and the use of animals in bioengineering.

Reppy notes there is still work to be done; his tone is forceful as he discusses the need to end agribusiness exemptions — which in North Carolina include an exemption from malicious felony cruelty — from animal-cruelty laws. In a 2007 article published in Law & Contemporary Problems, Reppy argues that the blanket exemption is unconstitutional. “You have no reason, as a farmer, tobe torturing animals except to see what happens,” he says. “The argument is that all the exceptions have to be knocked out, and the legislature has to do it over again with a rational basis. And there can’t be a rational basis ever for exempting malicious acts done not for commercial profit but just for the thrill of torture.” His argument is being used in a current challenge to similar exemptions in Washington state law. Having regularly taught classes in community property, conflict of laws, animal law, and property, and served as faculty adviser to the Alaska Law Review since 1991, Reppy also is remembered as a rigorous and effective teacher of legal writing over a 20-year period.

“He was a devoted instructor in our writing program at that time — a real leader. He always imposed high standards to get good results,” recalls David Lange, the Melvin G. Shimm Professor of Law and Reppy’s colleague since 1971. Students appreciated that “meticulousness,” Lange adds. As one of Reppy’s small-section Property Law students who also had him for legal writing — amgroup known as “the Repptiles” — Jennifer Maher ’83 agrees.

“Bill would respond to our papers with pages of typed, single-spaced comments, sometimes longer than the paper itself,” says Maher, Duke’s assistant dean for international studies. “In some ways he was intimidating. But we came to realize that he was interested in our welfare and in teaching us as much as possible.” In April, the Law Alumni Association honored Reppy with its A. Kenneth Pye Award for excellence in teaching and compassion toward students.

Apart from outdoor pursuits and animals— he and wife, Juliann Tenney ’79 currently have four dogs and a soft spot for Dalmatians — music is an abiding passion for Reppy. An accomplished pianist who started playing by ear as a young child, he began moonlighting at various Durham nightclubs shortly after he arrived at Duke and served as the official pianist at the Chapel Hill Country Club for 28 years. He has shared his talent — and happily taken requests — at countless Duke Law gatherings. “I have been extremely happy teaching and writing at Duke Law for almost 40 years,” says Reppy. “It’s a great institution, as evidenced by the fact that almost none of the faculty ever leaves Duke for a different law school.”