Longform

The Smutty Professor

YOU ARE HEREBY INVITED TO ATTEND the celebration of the completion of our first ASU Law School semester. It will be the "Mother of all 1L Post-Exam Parties" (herein known as the "Mother").

This "Mother" will be held on Wednesday, December 14, 1994, commencing at 11:30 a.m. You, along with approximately 105 1L students, will be spirited away from the loading dock area of the Law Library via private trolley to a variety of Scottsdale restaurant locations. This "Mother" will end at approximately 3:30 p.m. back at the Law Library loading dock.

--an invitation to Arizona State University College
of Law administrators and professors

After the final exams of their first semester, about 100 punchy law students--commonly known as 1Ls--shuffled from stuffy classrooms to await commencement of the trolley party.

A handful of professors joined them later.
The morning was warm and clear. Leo Valverde and his five closest pals--a clique of rambunctious 1L men who called themselves the Supreme Court--wore Santa Claus hats trimmed with mistletoe. Each chugged from his own champagne bottle.

As the trolleys headed up Rural Road toward Scottsdale, students helped themselves to iced beer, miniature bottles of hard liquor and soda. Valverde was tickled to see his favorite professor, Michael Berch, at the trolley's first stop, a Cajun-style restaurant/bar called Baby Kay's.

Berch's reputation as an eccentric and a self-professed party animal preceded him. Valverde and his classmates had heard of Berch's flamboyant teaching style and fondness for Wild Turkey from the first day of law school orientation.

Most of the 1Ls had been in Berch's yearlong Civil Procedure class; they, like students in 25 other first-year law classes before them, spent a good deal of their first semester trying to figure out what the hell the guy was saying.

While his message often requires encryption, most of his students hold Berch to be a brilliant instructor. A Columbia University graduate, he served in the Department of Justice during the Kennedy administration, is a respected litigator and was honored by Arizona State as the university's Distinguished Teacher in 1990.

Now the Supreme Court was intent on finding out if Berch was as fond of Wild Turkey as he claimed.

He didn't disappoint.
1L Sue Kirchen walked into Baby Kay's to get a drink, and saw Berch with Valverde and his friends.

She recalls, "These guys, they had him in a huddle. . . . You could not get near him. All the Supreme Court were around him, all these jock guys, and they were completely revving him up. You should have heard them. They sounded like they were at a football game, they were doing that kind of grunting."

To Kirchen's disgust, she realized that Berch and the students were downing shots of Wild Turkey.

Another 1L--we'll call her Jane--also saw Berch and the Supreme Court doing shots, and then encountered Berch later in the courtyard of Baby Kay's. He stopped her, asking, "Hey, are you in my class?"

She says Berch looked her over and said, "'Well, goddamn, I'd know if you were in my class, 'cause I wouldn't be there. I'd be home fucking you every day!'"

"I was like, 'Whooooaaaa,'" Jane recalls. She tried to avoid Berch after that, with limited success.

"At a couple points, he had come up to me and put his arm around me," Jane says. She recalls the incident "'cause I remember how awful his teeth were, 'cause they were so close to my face. I remember thinking, 'My God, get this man out of my face.'"

From Baby Kay's, the trolleys proceeded to Tinney's, a Scottsdale bar. Some of the professors abandoned their cars and joined the students for the ride.

Jane sat next to professor Jonathon Rose.
"[Rose] was kidding me," she recalls. "He was like, 'Are you sure I can sit here? Are you sure you don't want to sit next to Michael? Oh, here comes Michael--he's gonna sit next to you.'

"So, professor Rose was obviously aware that Professor Berch was saying things to me. It wasn't like I was the only one noticing this."

Jane asked Rose--who was drinking Diet Coke--if this was typical behavior.
"He said, 'You know what? You're seeing him kind of tame, because this isn't even in his wilder days.' I said, 'You're kidding me!' He said, 'No, I've been around him when he's a lot wilder than this. I stay away from him now, 'cause that's only trouble there.'"

Rose did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Another partygoer, Brita Long, says Berch was extremely intoxicated. "He couldn't stand, he couldn't talk," she recalls. Long says she saw no sexual harassment, but later heard accounts of it.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.