John R. McDonough, a longtime professor and former acting dean of Stanford Law School, died at his home in Cupertino, California, on November 11. He was 86. McDonough was a member of the Stanford faculty between 1946 and 1969 and worked in a variety of political and administrative roles in local, state, and national government.

“John served as acting dean during a critical period in Stanford’s transformation from a regional institution into a law school of national importance,” said Larry Kramer, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “His former col-leagues and students mourn his loss.”

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1919, McDonough was raised in Seattle and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington. He received an LLB from Columbia University in 1946, where he served as note editor of Columbia Law Review. He was an assistant professor at Stanford Law School from 1946 to 1949, cofounding the Stanford Law Review in 1948. After practicing with the San Francisco law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP, McDonough returned to Stanford in 1952, serving as professor of law until 1969. He taught courses in the conflict of laws and trade regulation and was acting dean from 1962 to 1964.

During his career, McDonough took an active interest in improving the law and the administration of justice. He was a member of the California Law Revision Commission, the American Law Institute, and the Judicial Conference of the Ninth Circuit.

“When I came to the law school in 1953 John was a prominent member of the group of young stars that then-dean Carl Spaeth had enlisted, which also included Keith Mann, Phil Neal, and Gordy Scott,” said John Henry Merryman, Nelson Bowman Sweitzer and Marie B. Sweitzer Professor of Law, Emeritus. “John was a powerhouse, with seemingly inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm for the job of building a great law school.”

Former Acting Dean John R. McDonough Dies


McDonough also participated in politics. He served as cochairman of the Santa Clara County Committee to Re-elect Governor [Edmund G. “Pat”] Brown, and was president of the Palo Alto Stanford Democratic Council. From 1967 to 1969 he served as an assistant and later associate deputy attorney general of the United States during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration.

From 1970 until his retirement in 1996, McDonough was a senior partner at the Los Angeles law firm of Ball, Hunt, Hart, Brown & Baerwitz (now known as Carlsmith Ball LLP). During this time he argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. McDonough’s wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1944, died in 2001. He is survived by his son John, his daughter Jana, and his brother Daniel.