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Dean Felled by Scandal Had 2 Faces

Many at Boalt Hall call John Dwyer a top educator. Others say he had a weakness for seducing students.

December 09, 2002|Maura Dolan, Rebecca Trounson and Carol Pogash | Special to The Times

SAN FRANCISCO — The boy who began life in a Midwest trailer park worked his way as a young man into the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Though at times restrained and even shy, he rose to the top job at one of the nation's leading law schools, displaying a charm in public that sometimes dazzled donors, alumni and colleagues. He became a mentor and friend to students at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law; they lined up outside his office to see him.

And then John P. Dwyer risked it all.

These days, according to friends, he sits alone in his cliff-side condominium in North Beach, reading supportive e-mail and simmering over a sexual harassment charge that forced him, on the eve of Thanksgiving, to resign as Boalt Hall's dean.

The intensely private Dwyer opens his morning paper to read detailed accounts of how he allegedly fondled and undressed a law student while she was passed out drunk. His mood, friends say, ranges from sadness to fury. In a terse statement on the day he resigned, he admitted only to a single consensual -- albeit inappropriate -- sexual encounter with a student that did not involve intercourse. He has not spoken publicly since.

Boalt Hall was Dwyer's world. Now 51, he received his law degree there and taught in its classrooms for 18 years, the last two as dean. "It was everything to him, his family, his life," said June Beltran, his third wife. Beltran, who is more than 10 years younger than Dwyer, began dating him when she was a third-year law student. They are now divorced.

Tall and attractive, the dean worked hard. The lights in his office often burned till midnight. He had a knack for raising money -- crucial at a public school that hopes to compete with private institutions like Stanford and Harvard, which have large endowments.

Dwyer was "so powerfully smart and so remarkably dedicated to this institution that even though he's not a particularly outgoing or social person, he grew to embrace the idea of fund-raising with the greatest possible commitment," said Louise Epstein, Boalt's assistant dean for alumni relations and development. Many students said they felt he truly cared for them. He was always accessible, at times holding office hours in the school cafe.

But there was another side to him: He had a reputation for dating female students far younger and less powerful than he.

Andy Dwyer, his younger brother, said in an interview Sunday that when he learned John had to resign as dean, "My first reaction to that was I bet it is sexual harassment." John would boast about having sex with students, said Andy Dwyer, a sex discrimination lawyer in New Jersey who has been estranged from his brother for more than 10 years. "He was really proud of the fact that he could seduce women."

'Bill Clinton of Boalt'

Even after Dwyer became dean in 2000, students joked about his alleged flirtations and dalliances. He was dubbed by some the "Bill Clinton of Boalt Hall."

One source at the law school who declined to be identified said that "a lot of women are attracted to him, and he loves it -- people idolize him, and he feeds off that." But the source never heard anyone Dwyer has dated complain about him.

Monique Morales, 31, who took a class from Dwyer, said she is troubled by what she has read of the complaint against him, but she never saw any hint of impropriety. She attended a student party at his home, and the students afterward cajoled him into going dancing with them, she said.

University policy prohibits dating that raises a "conflict of interest" -- which officials say bars professors from dating students currently in their classes. UC Berkeley officials, without discussing Dwyer's case, say that deans are not supposed to date students in their school.

But the allegations against Dwyer go beyond simple dating; the young woman who lodged the complaint against him in October alleges he sexually assaulted her. According to the alleged victim's lawyer, the woman had been drinking with friends from the law school in December 2000. She ran into Dwyer, who offered to drive her home. He came inside to use the bathroom.

The attorney, Laura Stevens, said her client passed out on her bed, and when she awoke in the middle of the night, she found Dwyer, fully clothed, with his head resting on her chest, intimately touching her. She had been partially undressed.

Just 'Flirtatious'

Beltran is skeptical. "Perhaps he is flirtatious, but he is not a criminal," she said. "I would host parties for his students all the time. He had these young, beautiful law students falling all over him. He was warm, charming and witty. But that is different from sexual assault."

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