Stanford Law School circa 1962 was on the cusp of change. Still largely regional, Dean Spaeth made several strategic hires including two legal superstars he lured away from Columbia—Gerry Gunther and Charles Meyer. But at Gunther’s suggestion, Spaeth also offered Marc Franklin a position. Franklin was well on his way on the academic track, already an assistant professor up for tenure at Columbia who had been law review editor at Cornell and clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and Judge Carroll C. Hincks of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In an interview for the Stanford Historical Society, Franklin recalled, “We got to be fairly friendly in my three years at Columbia, so I said, ‘Gerry, I’m thinking of leaving Columbia for Cornell. Is it crazy?’ And he picks up the phone. It turns out Gerry had already committed to Stanford. By the time I left his office I had a trip out to Stanford set up.” Franklin, the Frederick I. Richman Professor of Law, Emeritus, joined the Stanford Law School faculty in 1962 and went on to become a world-renowned teacher and scholar in his own right.
A giant in the field of torts law and a pioneer in media law, Franklin was a beloved member of the Stanford faculty for 45 years. He passed away in his sleep on July 5, 2020 in Portland, Oregon at the age of 88. He is survived by his children Jonathan Franklin, JD ’93 (BA ’88), and Alison Franklin, and his partner of 10 years, MaryLou Moriarty.
“Marc was a funny and gentle Socratic professor, and the most athletic teacher I’ve ever seen,” recalls Paul Brest, Professor of Law, Emeritus, and Director of Law and Policy Lab. “As he engaged the students in conversation, he would move all around the classroom and would often jump on the desk and sit cross-legged in a yoga position. Far from being a distraction, this kept the students’ attention riveted.”
“Marc was in so many ways the ideal colleague. His intellectual heft and exuberance were immeasurable, but he was also warm, wise and always ready to offer a helping hand,” says Paul Goldstein, Stella W. and Ira S. Lillick Professor of Law.
Franklin inspired generations of students with his expertise and excitement about tort law.
“I was Marc’s student in the fall of 1999, ten years almost to the day from when I started teaching 1L torts at Stanford. In the classroom, I try to emulate his relentless rigor, crackling energy, and deep compassion,” says Nora Freeman Engstrom, JD ’02, Professor of Law and Deane F. Johnson Faculty Scholar. “Marc was a model of law professors at their very best: Caring of students, engaged in real-world problems, and doggedly determined to get things right. He held his students and collaborators to a high standard—but never higher than the standard to which he held himself.”
“Marc Franklin was my first mentor in law school and set me on the path to legal academia through my work with him and Bob Rabin on their Torts Casebook the summer after my first year at Stanford. He was brilliant, kind, and shockingly energetic,” says Bernadette Meyler, JD ’03, Carl and Sheila Spaeth Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research and Intellectual Life. “I felt it was an auspicious omen when he showed up unannounced at my office at Cornell the very last day before I moved to Stanford; it was his fiftieth college reunion and I was so thankful he had chosen to look me up and we had a chance to catch up. He was an inspiration to me as to so many.”
“Marc had a passion for Tort law—from the day I first met him to the day he retired, and indeed, even after he retired he would send us emails about recent cases. And that passion came out in the classroom. The students loved him,” says Robert Rabin, A. Calder Mackay Professor of Law, who co-authored several editions of Cases and Materials on Tort Law and Alternatives with Franklin. Franklin was just finishing the first edition in 1971 when Rabin was appointed to the SLS faculty.
“I came in as a co-editor for the 3rd edition in 1983,” recalls Rabin. “There was a real modesty about Marc and he was always open to listening to new ideas and incorporating them into his approach to tort law. So as a younger person joining him on the case book, I couldn’t have asked for more. I had been teaching torts and using his book, so I had some ideas of my own about ways in which the case book might be altered, and he was totally open to change.”
The casebook, which will be in the 11th edition next year, was an important pedagogical departure.
“His scholarship propelled tort law forward, and his classic torts casebook is the gold standard,” adds Engstrom.
“It was really distinctive. Up to the time that Marc published, most torts casebooks focused first on intentional torts like assault and battery and then accidental harm and negligence torts. Marc change that,” says Rabin. “Marc started with the problem of accidental harm and the alternatives of the common law approach to accidental harm, which was negligence and strict liability and no fault compensation schemes. And only after that did he have a short chapter on intentional torts. So it was really a kind of reorientation, not just of the approach in cases, but also in the subject matter approach.”
“Marc was among the most rigorous and precise torts scholars I have known. His torts casebook, which he initially developed on his own, is legendary in the field. His contributions to personality torts placed him in the top rank of scholars recognized as the most outstanding in that area,” says Michael D. Green, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law who co-authored Cases and Materials with Franklin and Rabin.
Green, too, fondly recalls working with Franklin. “Marc was a warm and collegial colleague, welcoming me as a new co-author of his torts casebook that he and Bob Rabin had been partners in for decades. After his retirement, he continued his careful (and demanding) review of the work that Bob and I did right up to his death: he was working on our 2020 Update Materials while hospitalized.”
Franklin also became a leading figure in the quickly-evolving field of mass media law and regulation, writing extensively about legal issues that affect the press, such as libel and privacy and co-authoring early casebooks on the subject including Cases and Materials on Mass Media Law, The First Amendment and the Fourth Estate: The Law of Mass Media, and The First Amendment and the Fifth Estate: Regulation of Electronic Mass Media.
“He was a pioneer in the field of media law and one of the foremost authorities on defamation. I had the pleasure of working with him starting in the early 1980s. He was an amazing man, certainly one of the smartest and nicest I have ever known. His intellectual curiosity knew no bounds. My life is certainly much richer for having known him,” says T. Barton Carter, Professor at the College of Communication at Boston University, who co-authored all three casebooks with Franklin.
Rabin recalls Franklin’s love of the arts and sports. Franklin and his wife Ruth, who predeceased him in 2000, were avid world travelers and had a first-class African Art collection. Ruth was the curator of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at Stanford’s Cantor Center for Visual Arts and the Franklins donated much of their collection to Cantor Arts as well as to the de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Museum.
But it was Franklin’s keen ability to combine the two that made Rabin laugh.
“He had a serious manner, but he was a sports enthusiast—particularly for San Francisco teams. I remember discussing a 49ers game with him and I said that I thought the commentary about a particular key play was annoying. And Marc, in typical fashion, was a bit sheepish but then revealed that he hadn’t heard the commentary because he had been listening to opera while watching the game.”