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Saúl Litvinoff, R.I.P.

LSU Law Professor Saúl Litvinoff passed away yesterday. As noted in the LSU Law Center press release about this, Litvinoff was a true giant in the field of civil law scholarship.

Professor Emeritus and Boyd Professor of Law Saúl Litvinoff, whose impact on the legal traditions of Louisiana spanned more than 43 years, died earlier today.

“Professor Litvinoff made his mark not only on the civil law, but also on the literally hundreds of LSU Law students whom he taught over the course of his long career here. Saúl Litvinoff will go down in history as one of the greatest scholars and teachers of Louisiana law. We have lost one of the true giants in the history of our institution,” said Chancellor Jack M. Weiss.

Litvinoff, the Oliver P. Stockwell Endowed Professor, began his career at LSU as a visiting professor in 1965. He retired from the Law Center in 2009.

Ava Leavell Haymon and Cordell Haymon, a 1968 graduate of the Law Center and member of the Law Center Alumni Board of Trustees, honored Professor Litvinoff with a Distinguished Endowed Professorship in 2009 during the Law Center’s Year of Litvinoff celebration. The Haymons have been life-long friends of Professor Litvinoff and his family.

“I was privileged to enter LSU Law School the same year Professor Litvinoff joined the faculty (1965),” said Cordell Haymon. “At first he was a curiosity to us with his encyclopedic knowledge of the laws of many countries, his command of eight or nine languages, and his amazing ability to remember the names of all his students. Over the years we and several generations of law students came to appreciate the depth of his knowledge, the elegance of his teaching, and his commitment to his students and to the improvement of the law. Saúl was an extraordinary mentor and friend to my wife Ava and me, and we will miss him deeply.”

He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1925 and began his legal career there in 1949 as an associate with Ibero Berenguer and Associates. In 1962, he worked as a Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Puerto Rico, earning his LL.M. at Yale University at the same time.

During his time at LSU, Litvinoff’s chief endeavor would be his work with the Louisiana Civil Code. His revisions of the Civil Code’s section on Obligations—one of the many examples of his work on the Civil Code—resulted in it being enacted into law in 1984. Litvinoff also served as dean of the Central American Banking School, which operated under the auspices of LSU, for 20 years. He served as a consultant to the U.S. State Department, the Louisiana Department of State, and the Central Bank of Honduras.

LSU Law Professor Emeritus Katherine Spaht, a former student and colleague, recalled Professor Litvinoff’s “superb memory and sarcastic wit.” “He taught me here in the 1960s in a freshman course on Civil Law Systems. Later, as a student, he asked me to edit his treatise on Obligations . . . It was rich and valuable experience. Students adored him. He was willing to take average or struggling students and assist them in achieving to the best of their ability.”

“Professor Litvinoff will be remembered as one of the great civilians of his time,” commented Professor Olivier Moréteau, Director of the Center of Civil Law Studies, and the Russell B. Long Eminent Scholars Academic Chair. “He will be remembered as a leader of the revision of the Civil Code of Louisiana, making it compatible with the laws of other states, modernizing without sacrificing tradition. Known and admired by comparative law scholars all over the world, Don Saúl always combined the local and the global with his unique Argentine elegance and deep understanding of human affairs.”

I did not know Saúl well before I graduated, and never took a course from him. But I somehow became close friends with him after graduation. I visited him often in his office and at his house several times to discuss philosophy, legal theory, etc. and we corresponded for many years. He often told me he wished I had been his student–primarily based on my writings on civil law and passion for legal theory–and I do wish I had. (My younger brother, oddly enough, who also knew and was friends with my wife before I even knew her, also knew Litvinoff well before I did–I believe he was his pool boy for a while.) I believe it was in 1993 or 1994 or so when I was practicing in Houston, I was visiting Baton Rouge and paid a visit to Saúl. My wife was at the time entertaining a job promotion up in Philadelphia, so we were contemplating the move, and I was looking into legal jobs in Philadelphia. I’ll never forget that when this came up in discussion, Saúl said, “I am afraid you have non-plussed me”–the idea that a man would plan his career around his wife’s was inconceivable to him.

I was extremely fond of Saúl, and always marveled at his vast, unbelievable intellect. What a fine mind, and a fine person. I’ll miss him.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Ralph Swanson October 20, 2010, 1:48 pm

    What’s with all the Levaquin propaganda?

    • Norman S. Kinsella October 20, 2010, 2:09 pm

      Don’t know what you are talking about.

  • Edmund February 14, 2015, 11:08 pm

    I just watched an uncomfortable interview with Jan Helfeld, I wonder if Kinsella has any remorse for that display of savage behavior. I like Kinsella, but his temper…

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