Professor of Law
Eugene Cerruti graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in 1970, a time when many law school graduates were excited by a new emphasis on criminal defense, and he joined the New York Legal Aid Society as a staff attorney in the Criminal Defense Division.
Professor Cerruti began to develop his criminal defense skills the summer after his first year in law school, when he was put in charge of coordinating the legal defense of hundreds of people—many of them students—arrested during demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Working with some of the best-known activist lawyers of the time who were flocking to Chicago from around the country, he became even more determined to be a lawyer. During his third year in law school and for months after he graduated, he was involved in another high profile case, as part of the defense team representing the Black Panther Party in a New York state court conspiracy prosecution.
In the early 1970s, recalls Professor Cerruti, law schools were starting to offer criminal defense clinics for their students and when New York Law School approached him to do one, he jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity for the kind of training he himself had never had at law school.
After three years at Legal Aid, he felt clinical experiences—the opportunity to practice what you learn in class—were an important learning tool for future defense attorneys. Over the next decade, the Criminal Defense Clinic became a well recognized training ground for lawyers hired by both prosecutors’ and defense attorneys’ offices in New York. Professor Cerruti later turned his attention to teaching Trial Advocacy, another very successful New York Law School program.
In the late 1980s, he was invited to join an American Bar Association Committee that was drafting model “fair trial-free press” standards. As the committee reporter, Professor Cerruti was responsible for drafting the new standards, which are still in effect today, on such key issues as media access to the courtroom, cameras in court, prior restraints on the press, pretrial publicity, and whether or not a judge can restrain media access to legal documents. His subsequent article, “Dancing in the Courthouse: The First Amendment Right of Access Opens a New Round,” published in the University of Richmond Law Review, discussed the critical importance of media access to courts in an open society.
In 1994–95, Professor Cerruti took advantage of an opportunity, as part of a unique Department of Justice Program, to switch jobs with a federal prosecutor, and spent the year back in the courtroom prosecuting a range of cases, from white-collar crime to drug violations.
Perhaps it was that stint back in the courtroom that has led to Professor Cerruti’s current area of interest—what he terms “the rapid emergence of high-tech advocacy in the courtroom.”
“More and more, computers are being used to present evidence. As the movement is gaining ground, new courtrooms are being built with total computer access,” he said. “It’s basically the newest skill lawyers have to include in what they know about trial practice.”
Harvard, B.A. 1966 University of Pennsylvania, J.D. 1970.
Expert on trial practice and strategy. Prior practice includes service as a public defender with New York Legal Aid Society and as a federal prosecutor with U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.