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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Karen Daniel, RIP

The sudden, tragic death of our Northwestern colleague, Karen Daniel, has hit hard not only our law school community, but the wide community of individuals and organizations devoted to criminal justice work, especially in the area of the wrongfully accused. Karen's professional life was focused like a laser on impactful litigation and advocacy. Brought to Northwestern several years ago by Larry Marshall, one of the founders of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Karen established an important practice in this space, working with talented lawyer-teachers and mentoring many  students.  As dean, I appointed Karen and Jane Raley co-directors of the CWC.  (This was a no-brainer decision, I hasten to add, but one of which I remain proud).  Jane passed away on Christmas Day five years ago; Karen soldiered on; and the CWC continued its heroic work.  Because law school politics are what they are, some colleagues always looked with some skepticism at the CWC's large role in the curricular ecosystem of our law school, wondering whether the project had become in some way outsized.  But, reflecting back on this recent difficult period, I feel liberated enough to say that this perception misses a larger point, and that is that the CWC's contributions, and Karen's, ought not be measured simply by the number of students in the courses and the per-student costs of the program.  Rather, the CWC (by which I mean also to include the programs focused on youth and on women specifically) s a jewel in the crown of our Bluhm Legal Clinic and Northwestern's law school because of what it did and also what it represented -- as a foundational project of justice seeking in a profoundly unjust world.

I will always remember Karen Daniel as a key, and truly irreplaceable, piece of that mighty, and hopefully enduring, foundation.

I will also remember a plane ride I took with Karen several years ago, after I had appointed her to the CWC co-directorship.  In the bureaucratic miasma of a large, complex law school, I more often than not neglected to get to know in a broad and deep way many of my colleagues.  As dean, I took some neglectful shortcuts, figuring that the public bios and encomia from colleagues enabled me to learn enough to make faculty-related decisions.  This made the opportunity to connect more with colleagues all the more meaningful. By happenstance, Karen and I found ourselves sitting next to each other in a trip returning (if I recall correctly) from a AALS meeting in Washington DC or New York.  In that trip together, I discussed with Karen her professional journey and her work in our Clinic.  Talking about teaching and advocacy, Karen constantly returned to the humans involved -- the clients, the exonerated individuals, their families, their challenges, their meaningful lives. Her passion was always close to the surface; and I was moved by her words and the life force in this modest lawyer-teacher.  Others at our law school knew Karen better and for longer; but it was a privilege to have this window into the incredible work of one of my remarkable colleagues.

Words will of course fail at communicating the measure of this tragedy. So much left to accomplish, as a teacher, an advocate, and a friend. But I know well that Karen Daniel's legacy of service and accomplishment within and outside of our community is forever secured and, as I believe deep down she would want to say, our redoubled commitment in our law school, the legal academy, and the criminal justice community to the profoundly important work of CWC and other impactful organizations, is the true legacy of this life very well lived.

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on December 31, 2019 at 12:01 PM in Daniel Rodriguez | Permalink


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Posted by: hotmail login | Mar 5, 2020 8:57:45 PM

I attended school with a Karen Daniel (nėe Merchant) so was online looking for more recent images of my friend. She is not the same Karen Daniel that has been written about here, however my friend Karen passed away just one day later on 1 Jan 2020 in Canberra, Australia. She was a younger woman too, just 56 years old. Rest peacefully to them both.

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