Note: I wrote this tribute to Professor Reynold Kosek by request from fellow alumni of Mercer Law a few months ago. Professor Kosek is still valiantly fighting the disease of cancer while residing in a hospice care. He, especially with the love and assistance of his wife Janine, has been battling this disease for a couple of years now. Professor Kosek’s support from family, friends, and former student have been great! The outflow of love is amazing. I felt compelled to tell his story to others. I hope that the story of Professor Reynold Kosek will inspire others.
In this photo, young lawyers (I am the exception) are celebrating at the wedding of Michael Bender (with white flower). We were all touched by Professor Reynold Kosek, that demanding of all professors!
A Tribute To Reynold Kosek
By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
I suppose that most of you are like me…busier than a one-arm paper-hanger. But, when the call goes forth about paying a tribute to the venerable Reynold Kosek, how can any of us find ourselves too busy to pay tribute to this great professor and gentleman? A scholar and a gentleman indeed, though after the first session in our 1L Contracts class, many of us neophytes (and I was a crusty 47 years old at the time) may have doubted the latter appellation. From the first chicken-scratched, staccato pronouncement on the green chalkboard that “[t]here are three theories of legal obligation…agreement with consideration, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment” to the last day of class when we had a party and actually witnessed his West Virginia grin, we still entered the classroom each day (four days for Contracts, remember?) with “fear and trembling” (to borrow one of Kierkegaard’s phrases). (I can only imagine how the 22 year olds felt. I actually was smelling like smoke when I entered Mercer Law because I had been through a few fires already.) He was our Professor Kingsfield, and if you youngsters have ever watched The Paper Chase (with John Houseman earning an Oscar playing the role of the feared Professor of Contracts), then you will know what I am talking about. (Kingsfield’s famous quote: “You teach yourselves the law. I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and if you survive, you will leave thinking like a lawyer.” Isn’t this what Professor Kosek does?) Professor Kosek intimidates and inspires at the same time, preparing young students of the law to think clearly, to write cogently, and to not quake before the inquiries from a judge or a jury. Although I have never sat for the Bar myself, I have witnessed several of my classmates in that infamous “Section Five” of the Class of 2004 (yes, the class of The Malum Law Review) mature into confident and aggressive barristers. In fact, just the other day, Preston Lee Haliburton himself (the young soul who was wont to waffle a time or two) bowed up to an elected Superior Court judge here in the Metro Atlanta area who was apparently violating the civil rights of his client. The judge made an idle threat to jail Haliburton himself, but the boxing barrister stood his ground, and the judge caved in. J. Anderson Ramay, Jr., has indeed become an Aggressive Attorney who fights like hell for his clients. I have retained both of these gentlemen on many occasions. Jason Tarokh is barred in both South Carolina and Florida and is kicking butt on a regular basis. Without the “Kosek Experience,” these rather cherubic and congenial souls would have probably wilted under their first conflict in the courtroom. But, compared to Marine sergeant-type drilling from Professor Kosek, the rest is just a chunk of Claxton Fruitcake.
I got a real kick out of Professor Kosek’s fondness for Justice Benjamin Cardozo. To Professor Kosek, Cardozo was like Herschel Walker to Georgia Bulldog fans and Tim Tebow to Florida Gator fans. So, not unlike “young Hart” (played by Timothy Bottoms) in his fascination with Professor Kingsfield, I adopted Justice Cardozo as my patron Justice as well. How can you blame me? He spun phrases like “mere venality” when rendering his substantive decision on substantial performance in Jacob & Youngs v. Kent (1921) while serving on the Court of Appeals of New York (New York’s highest court; y’all remember that, eh?). For the record, one of Cardozo’s tutors when he was young was Horatio Alger. Also for the record, the Cardozo appointment to the U. S. Supreme Court was one of President Hoover’s best moves.
Professor Kosek divided our small section Contracts class into groups of three. But, poor Timmy Thompson and I were put together in a group composed of just the two of us. Therefore, we had more times to be called upon. Plus, our seats were at a little table in the middle of the little room. As I mentioned before, Contracts class met four days each week, and this was a steady pace, especially for a person like me who had a family and had to keep constant tabs on a business. But, some of my comrades and I noted that Lil Rooster (aka Preston Dawkins) was right on target with his answers and was making the rest of us look a little lackluster in our response to Professor Kosek’s Socratic inquiries. About this time, I began to hear about “outlines” (of which I obviously did not have the time nor inclination to do). But, being the enterprising 1L that I was, I secured a bundle of old outlines from The Kidd (aka Trummie Lee Patrick), a 3L who was serving as President of the Student Bar Association. My comrades and I made a trek to Kinko’s on Tom Hill Boulevard and made several copies of my catch, and then we returned to the law school that evening carrying several large boxes of outlines. We headed to the Furman Smith Library, and they asked: “Why are going through the library?” I replied: “We’re going to troll through the library.” I wanted to catch bigger fish. When trolling through the library, Lil Rooster happened to be in there and standing by one of the copiers. He came up and ask, “Trotter, what you got there?” I said, “Oh, just some outlines.” “Can I see?” he further inquired. My response: “Lil Rooster, you’ve got something in Contracts that we ain’t got. Now give it up right now, and you can have whatever I’ve got.” The first big exchange was made. I was now in the clandestine outline business. We got a copy of the Big, Blue Marlin (“the Ed Love Outline,” as we piously referred to it). Yes, Preston Dawkins and Ed Love were from the same hometown in South Carolina, and Ed had taken care of his Homie. Now the Boys of Malum were set for Contracts. Ed Love’s resplendent outline for Professor Kosek’s class had the “Wikipedia” answer for each “Kosek inquiry.” We had secured the Holy Grail for Contracts. This, by the way, is how Haliburton was able to answer with such inordinate confidence: “Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder!” Our professor responded: “Right, Mr. Haliburton! You are exactly right!” Mr. Haliburton, in his excitement, sheepishly retorted that he had “Shephardized” the case. But, it was a case from the Exchequer in England! We just rolled our eyes. I think that Professor Kosek intoned: “Mr. Haliburton, you’re going to be a great lawyer…ever confident but always wrong!” This is just one of the many poignant episodes which happened in that 1L Contracts class. Had I not had the initial “misfortune” of drawing Professor Kosek for Contracts, I think that I would now feel cheated. It is the war stories which make grist for the law school mill. And, we were so happy that we had caught the Big, Blue Marlin! It made the last half of the semester more bearable. I went on to become the Outline Pimp of the Law School and Editor-in-Chief of The Malum Law Review.
In my last semester of law school, I signed up for Professor Kosek’s Remedies class. I had to get one more experience of Professor Kosek before exiting my sabbatical years and returning to the real world! I still use concepts like “She relied upon your promise to her detriment” or “You have a duty to mitigate” to this day, even though I am not a lawyer.
Professor Reynold Kosek made a lasting impression on me, and I feel fortunate to have benefitted from his tutelage. We had our own Horatio Alger tutoring us. Live on, Cardozo, live on!