Magazine Feature / People

Law Dean Emeritus Robert Yegge dies

Robert Yegge, dean emeritus of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, died Dec. 16, 2006, of respiratory failure at a Denver hospice. He was 72.

Yegge served as acting dean of the DU College of Law from 1965–66 and as dean from 1966–77 and again from 1997–98. Since 1987, he served as director of the Master of Science in Legal Administration (MSLA) program at DU. He was a key driver of the law and society movement of the 1960s and an influential leader of DU’s Student Law Office.

“The great law school we have today is due in no small part to the tireless efforts of Dean Yegge,” says Beto Juarez, current dean of the law school. “Dean Yegge was a true pioneer in legal education.”

Yegge was born on June 17, 1934, in Denver, Colo., and was the son of prominent local lawyer Ronald Yegge and his wife, Fairy Hill. Friends say he took his love of the law from his father and his love of the arts from his mother. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1956 and then returned to Denver to earn a master of arts degree in sociology in 1958 and juris doctorate from the University of Denver in 1959 while working for his father’s law firm.

While at Princeton, Yegge became fascinated with the social sciences. After he became dean in 1966, Yegge hired several of his mentors from Princeton and began to put together an interdisciplinary “law and society” program. Yegge often wrote that law should be made to take social science seriously, “to look at law and the legal system as … a function of society rather than simply as a hermetically sealed system free of all undue outside influences.”

Through Yegge’s efforts, DU and Denver became the epicenter for the law and society movement and a home for the Law and Society Association and the Law and Society Review.

“He was a visionary in making social sciences part of the law school curriculum,” says Jack Hanley, a friend of Yegge’s and a former associate dean of the law school. “It was a very important part of improving the court system.”

Yegge was also committed to civil rights, opening up the doors of DU’s law school to minorities. In the early 1960s, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, he established a pilot program for recruiting Hispanics into law school. Under Yegge, DU put several Hispanics through an intensive summer law program that produced the first 12 Hispanic law students in Denver. All 12 graduated from DU’s law school and went on to become lawyers or legal administrators, including one who currently serves as a justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court. The Sturm College of Law currently offers three scholarships in Yegge’s name to Hispanic law students.

Yegge was a well-published legal scholar, from authoring the first Colorado specific judicial handbook in 1960 to a 2004 academic roadmap for legal education entitled “Principles of Law Office Management.” He was a life member of the American Law Institute and American Bar Fellows and a member since 1975 of the Henry Luce Scholar Selection Committee. His lifelong collection of awards includes the Harrison Tweed Award for Leadership in Continuing Legal Education and the Herbert Harley Award of the American Judicature Society.

Following in his mother’s footsteps, Yegge also supported local arts and humanitarian causes. From 1968–80 he chaired the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities and then served as chairman emeritus. He also served as chairman of the Mile High Chapter of American Red Cross and Colorado Prevention Center.

After adopting dogs from the Denver Dumb Friends League late in life, Yegge became active in animal rights issues, serving as chairman of the board of the animal adoption agency for many years. Bruno and Olive, two Dachshunds he adopted from the Denver Dumb Friends League, are well provided for in his will, say family friends.

Yegge never married and was an only child. Friends say he considered the law school faculty, staff and students his family. Hope Kentnor, associate director of the MSLA program, has known Yegge since 2002 and considers him a friend and mentor. While some people can be either kind, funny or smart, she says, Yegge was all those things and more.

“He was probably the wisest man I’ll ever know,” Kentnor says.

Yegge will be interred in a family plot at Fairmont Cemetery. Memorial services are being planned for January.

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