Sunday, February 5, 2012

Battlin' Billy

As a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, I received my annual UVA Lawyer magazine recently and it disclosed to me that Professor William J. Stuntz passed on last year, practically a mere stripling at 52. He taught my Criminal Procedure class in the spring of 1988.

He was so youthful looking, still in his twenties, that he grew a beard in an attempt to look more wizened. He still looked more like a student that a professor, but he was a terrific teacher, sometimes using movie protagonist Dirty Harry Callahan as an example to illustrate police procedure gone bad such as the use of torture to extract information from a suspect (Dirty Harry stepping on the open wound of a bad guy he'd shot to find out where he'd buried alive the kidnap victim).

One day as we filed into the large classroom for Crim Pro, Muhammad Ali was just finishing a lecture to the previous class. He was a friend of that class's teacher and had been invited to speak on the subject they were covering that day.

Everyone in the prior class lined up at the lectern to get Ali's autograph. Then everyone in our class lined up to get Ali's autograph. Meanwhile, Professor Stuntz, known informally by us students as Billy Stuntz because of his callowness, was off to one side fidgeting because he was losing class time and his lectures, while always entertaining, always went right to the final bell.

Finally Billy went up to Muhammad Ali and tapped him on the shoulder. Ali turned to him, a towering figure looking down upon the slightly-built Billy, and they had a quiet but animated conversation.

Ali thereupon stared at him while he slowly gathered up his notes and then he walked slowly through the classroom to the door. The tension created by the apparently testy exchange between the two men was palpable.

At the door, with all eyes upon him, Ali stopped, turned and pointed at Billy with a tremulous finger. He rasped in a voice that couldn't have been heard save for the hushed silence, "That man there just put me out!"

The class burst into laughter at the notion that Billy Stuntz had knocked out The Greatest. Already a legend at UVA for having graduated from the law school a few years earlier with the highest GPA in memory, he acquired a new monicker that day, Battlin' Billy Stuntz.

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