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Beloved Former Faculty Member Butch Covington Named Professor Emeritus

When you hear the name Butch Covington around the Law School, you can bet it will be followed by a superlative of the highest order. In 1979, just two years after he joined the faculty at Wake Forest Law to teach contracts, the Jurist wrote about him: “His exuberant style and fresh approach to his material have led him to be accused of having ‘an evangelical approach to the UCC.’” Professor Covington, who taught at Wake Forest Law for 25 years, was beloved by students and faculty alike, and developed close relationships with many people in the Law School community. Although he was not officially conferred the title of Professor Emeritus at the time of his retirement in 2003, thanks to Professors Steve Nickles and Ellen Murphy (JD ’02), and alumnus and Law Board of Visitors Member, Charlie Trefzger, this oversight was remedied this past March.

On Wednesday, March 29, 2023, Professor Covington and his wife Marie walked into the Forsyth Country Club for dinner. Little did Professor Covington know that he would be greeted by a room of people who were there to celebrate his legacy at Wake Forest Law and honor him with the title of Professor Emeritus. In attendance at the event were Professors Steve Nickles and Ellen Murphy (longtime friends of Professor Covington and Marie), Interim Dean Nell Newton, former Dean of the Law School Bob Walsh and his wife Kathy, Law Board of Visitors member and past chair Charlie Trefzger (JD ’84, P ’10, P ’12), Professor Eleanor Morales (JD ’10) and her husband Francisco Morales (JD ’11) and Associate Director of Development Web Alexander (’88) and his wife Beth Alexander. “He didn’t know he was being honored with emeritus status at that dinner,” said Charlie Trefzger. “He was completely surprised.”

During his tenure at Wake Forest Law, Professor Covington was voted teacher of the year six times by the third-year class (a record), he served as the faculty advisor to BLSA for 16 years, and he was known for his engaging, insightful classes. “Butch ascribed to the ‘three strikes and he’s out’ rule,” said Charlie. “If he called on three people and all three were unprepared for class, he would walk out. He expected a high level of commitment and performance from his students—which he reciprocated in spades.”

In fact, his dedication to his students was so inspiring that Charlie, Professor Covington’s former student and dear friend, even established the I. Boyce Covington Law Scholarship in 2006, to honor Butch and to provide financial assistance to law students based on merit and need. “I wanted to give back to the law school that helped me become what I am today,” said Charlie. “And Butch invested in me in such a significant way that it only felt fitting to name the scholarship in his honor.”

At the dinner, guests spent the evening reminiscing about Professor Covington’s time at Wake Forest Law, telling stories about his BarBri work, and catching up on his retirement. The night ended with Interim Dean Newton presenting Professor Covington with an official document from the Provost’s Office naming him Professor Emeritus, nunc pro tunc—indicating that the honor was always there, but now it was officially recognized. Indeed, Professor Covington’s legacy as a revered and cherished member of the faculty and of the community has persisted in the 20 years since he last stood at the front of a classroom at the Law School.

In a 2002 issue of the Jurist, Professor Emeritus Ralph Peeples wrote about Professor Covington and his teaching, “It was the fact that he cared about what he was doing, and that he cared about the students he was teaching. The students knew that. They could tell by the way he would call them each by first and last name, without the benefit of seating charts. They could tell by his smile, or by the tone of his voice. If they required further proof, they could learn that Butch Covington could go through their class roster and tell you something different and unique about each one of them. It’s hard to fake sincerity, and it’s hard to fake affection. Butch Covington has never needed to, in all his years of teaching. It has always come naturally.”

Without teachers like Butch Covington, who devoted so much of his time and energy to his students, Wake Forest Law would not be what it is today.

Donate to the I. Boyce Covington Law Scholarship via this form or by mail to Law School Development, Wake Forest University, P.O. Box 7227, Winston-Salem, NC, 27109.

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The Reasons for and Responses to Police Misconduct

Wake Forest Law Experts Weigh in on the Tyre Nichols Case 

At the end of January, Memphis authorities released footage of police officers severely beating Tyre Nichols, who was pulled over for alleged reckless driving. Nichols died in the hospital three days after the altercation. The public has quickly organized, protesting the killing of yet another unarmed Black man at the hands of the police.

While there have been countless think pieces written about the Nichols’ case already, Wake Forest Law faculty members, experts on criminal justice and the carceral system, share their perspectives.

Professor Alyse Bertenthal teaches criminal procedure, focusing especially on constitutional limitations on police investigations, including those involving the use of force. “But what happened to Tyre Nichols can’t be explained only as a failure of law,” Bertenthal says. Her research examines the cultural constructions of crime and crime control and, she explains, “We have to be attuned to the social, structural, and institutional dynamics that generate such tragic consequences for Tyre Nichols and too many others.”

Among those dynamics are the prevalence of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Black adults are arrested at a rate 5 times higher than white adults. This disparity even holds true for youth. Professor Esther Hong’s work focuses on youth and emerging adults in the juvenile legal system and the criminal legal system, and the comparison between these two carceral systems. She says, “While total youth arrests have substantially decreased in recent years, there are still racial disparities in arrests. Black youth are more likely to be arrested than white youth. These disparities manifest in punishment too—the Black youth incarceration rate is approximately 4 times that of white youth.” Although Nichols was 29 at the time of his killing, it is important to understand the larger cultural context of the pervasiveness of arrests within the Black community.

Professor Ronald Wright, one of the nation’s best known criminal justice scholars whose research concentrates on the work of criminal prosecutors, discusses the response from legal institutions.

“When events like this happen, remedies might come from within the police department, from criminal charges against officers, civil torts suits against the officers and the city, or restructuring of the entire agency,” says Wright. “The comprehensive legal actions of this network of legal actors remind us that the answer to illegal use of force by the police is not the work of one person or one department, but rather that of the whole system.”

Over time, responses have become more reliable and robust. If you compare police brutality events from 5 years ago to the Memphis event, responses are now faster and more transparent. Memphis officials released the video within days, which gave people more confidence that legal actors would respond seriously and carefully. Officials from city governments across the country now proactively develop plans for the steps to take if police officers use unlawful force. Significant thought is being put into how to react to these situations.

Are these efforts actually effective deterrents to deadly police misconduct? It’s practically impossible to tell.

“With 17,000 different policing agencies in this country that have no infrastructure for centralized data collection, we have only a glimmer of how often the police kill someone, how often that victim is unarmed, the nature of the victim’s underlying conduct, and other factors,” says Wright. Wright is teaching a new seminar this spring semester on policing, developed in response to student interest in ways that the law can reduce police misconduct. “In any other country in the world, there is a national hierarchy of police and centralized data. Decisions around use of force are made at the top levels and then become the rule for all policing organizations within that hierarchy. But not in the United States.”

Policing in this country is so decentralized because we as a nation have always treated public safety and the police power as local matters—primarily because conditions and crime from city to city are so varied. This localized approach was once true of the courts and prosecution as well, but in the middle of the 20th century, control of the courts and prosecutors shifted from the local to the state level. Yet policing agencies remained under the purview of local governments and continue to do so today. Classic political theory says that local control is most effective at preventing abuses because people can monitor government activities more closely. But this results in a fragmented system where agencies are unable to share information. Thus their ability to fix systemic problems is limited. In the case of Tyre Nichols, local control of the police hasn’t actually been an effective way to stop misconduct.

“To be serious about stopping police brutality, we must keep closer track of what happened in a given situation and why,” says Wright. “The Memphis police department must share its data, which could then be added to a nationalized database that would allow for us to see patterns and intervene.”

Often, the debate around policing is framed in terms of law enforcement effectiveness standing in opposition to acting fairly, but according to Wright, “There doesn’t have to be this tradeoff.” When law enforcement breaks the trust of the community by not acting in a lawful and trustworthy manner, it can no longer rely on the community to help police solve crimes and keep people safe. Police brutality not only has an irrevocable and devastating impact on the lives of those directly touched by it, like the Nichols family, but also damages the relationship between law enforcement and the community, rendering the police ineffective, or even toxic.

While it will surely take a long time for the people of Memphis to regain trust in law enforcement, the rapid and thorough response can only help the process. “The legal system is in place to ensure that what happened to Tyre Nichols doesn’t go unanswered,” says Wright. “If the law is here for anything, it’s for this.”

Taking the Hard Road: A Conversation with Mona Lisa Wallace (JD '79, P '08)

Scott Schang, director of the Wake Forest Environmental Law Clinic, and Mona Lisa Wallace (JD ’79), partner at Wallace & Graham, P.A., sat down for an interview on August 9, 2022 to talk about Wallace’s own story and her experiences in environmental justice litigation. They discussed her current case interests as well as her high profile lawsuit against the pork industry in North Carolina that was chronicled in the book Wastelands by Corban Addison. Continue reading »

Anonymous Donor Gives Historic Gift to PILO For 2022-23 Academic Year

The Law School is pleased to announce that the Public Interest Law Organization (PILO) has received a generous anonymous gift, helping to fund its activities for the entire 2022-23 academic year. Continue reading »

Professor Nell J. Newton, who led Notre Dame Law School as dean for 10 years, was named interim dean at Wake Forest School of Law.

Professor Nell J. Newton, Notre Dame Law School’s 10th dean for ten years, has been named as interim dean for Wake Forest School of Law. She is a leader in legal education and has been for more than 20 years. In addition, she has served as dean of prominent law schools nationwide since 1998. Continue reading »

Class of 2025 breaks records to become one of the highest credentialed classes of Wake Forest Law

On Monday, August 15, the Class of 2025 entered Worrell Professional Center as the newest members of the Wake Forest Law community. Excited to embark on their legal journey, the students filled the law school’s auditorium to officially kick off Foundations Week. Interim Assistant Dean of Student Affairs & Executive Strategy Branden Nicholson was able to welcome the students. Continue reading »

Meet Anna Alieksieieva (LLM '22)

At Wake Forest Law, we pride ourselves on welcoming students that come from anywhere and go everywhere. But very few come so far to be with us as our international LL.M. students. We sat down and talked with Anna Alieksieieva, a fresh graduate from the Class of 2022, about how she got here and where she’s going. Continue reading »

“Redemption” for a Wake Forest Law Veterans Legal Clinic Client

Due to the efforts of Veterans Legal Clinic students Allison Spears and Walker Helms, under the supervision of Clinic Director Eleanor Morales, a clinic client now has an Honorable discharge and veteran status under the law. Continue reading »

Faculty Highlight: Sarah Morath

Professor Sarah Morath is an expert on legal writing pedagogy who also teaches and publishes on a wide range of topics related to environmental law, food law and policy, agriculture, and natural resources law, among other subjects. Her scholarly contributions to the field of legal writing are extensive. Her recently published book, Our Plastic Problem and How to Solve It, was created from her expertise in both writing and environmental law. Continue reading »

Wake Forest Law student Darrien Jones receives Smith Anderson Pro Bono Award for Exceptional Service

Wake Forest University School of Law student Darrien Jones has been honored as the recipient of the 2022 Smith Anderson Pro Bono Award for Exceptional Service for his passion, creativity, dedication and commitment to serving people in need.

Smith Anderson, the largest business and litigation law firm based in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, funded the Smith Anderson Office of Community Outreach establishment eight years ago at Wake Forest Law, which houses the pro bono project and expungement clinic. Since then, Smith Anderson has honored a superb law student annually with the Pro Bono Award for Exceptional Service.


“Darrien’s commitment to community service and justice reflects well on the entire law school, and we applaud his exemplary dedication to pro bono work,” said Gerald Roach, Smith Anderson’s chair and immediate past chair of the Wake Forest University Board of Trustees.

Among his pro bono service, Darrien is the co-coordinator of the law school’s expungement clinic. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped transition the program to an online/call platform. This year alone, volunteers completed 175 criminal record reviews and expunged the criminal records of 50 people.


“Pro bono work isn’t just an afterthought at Wake Forest Law,” said Jane Aiken, dean of Wake Forest Law. “It is a fundamental part of a solid education for future members of the Bar, and Darrien is the epitome of what it means to use that education to help others.”

Darrien has served as vice president of the Student Bar Association. While he was vice president, the Greater Community Committee was created. Each week, the committee highlights a minority-owned and small business, and Wake Forest Law students, staff and faculty are encouraged to support and visit that business. While in law school, Darrien also tutored his fellow students in Torts and Constitutional Law and volunteered as a kindergarten teaching assistant.


Darrien accepted the award on April 23 at the law school’s Pro Bono Honor Society dinner.

“Pro Bono presents unique opportunities to make people’s lives better,” Darrien said. “It may allow people to obtain a job, to buy a house, to receive custody of their children, keep their business open another day, or, at the very least, make them smile – for moment, a day, a time in their life may be better. That is always worth it.”


Eligible candidates for the Smith Anderson Pro Bono Award for Exceptional Service must:

  • Be a Pro Bono Honor Society member (society members are students who complete 75 hours of pro bono service over a three-year period or 50 hours in one year);

  • Have 100 or more pro bono hours within three years or 75 hours or more within one year; and

  • Through a written nomination the recipient exhibits the passion, creativity, dedication and commitment to serving those in need in a way that results in demonstrated impact or increased access to legal information among an underserved population


For more details about the award, contact Bill Cresenzo, Communications and PR Coordinator for Smith Anderson, at wcresenzo@smithlaw.com or Wake Forest Law Marketing and Communications at lawcomm@wfu.edu.