Professor Emeritus Ed Bronson, who taught political science and criminal justice for more than 30 years and founded the Community Legal Information Clinic (CLIC), passed away April 25. He was 91.
Born May 10, 1930, in Chicago, I have served in the Utah National Guard, the Air Force, and the Virginia National Guard from 1948–55. He then completed his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Denver, and a Master of Law from New York University. He later earned a PhD in political science from the University of Colorado, Boulder, at which point he realized teaching was what truly inspired him.
Bronson was hired at Chico State in 1969 as a faculty member in the Department of Political Science. That same year, he created CLIC, which was the first university-based legal clinic operated by undergraduate students and today remains the country’s largest, most comprehensive, and longest-running clinic of its kind. CLIC has engaged at least 3,500 student interns in the last five decades, and its students average more than 8,350 hours of public service per year in providing information and referrals.
Bronson was motivated to found CLIC by the glaring lack of legal representation in the community—particularly for low-income or underserved populations. His vision of him was to bridge the gap with a free legal assistance clinic operated by political science majors and supervised by expert faculty and local attorneys.
“Ed’s philosophy was bringing access to justice and the courts to all individuals, and to instill in all of our students a sense of justice and community service,” said CLIC Supervising Attorney Sally Anderson (Political Science, ’94), noting that alumni have gone to work as attorneys, judges, and members of the legislature, and others have started their own legal nonprofits.
“For so many of his students, I have changed the trajectory of what they thought they wanted to do,” she continued. “I think a lot of them got into law with a priority of making a lot of money and that priority shifted to duty to their community and appreciating the ability to help those that are less fortunate and in need.”
Anderson credits Bronson for her own passion for civil rights and civil liberties, and said he gave her the confidence as a student and single mother to not give up on her goal of going to law school.
“My dream job was to come back and work for CLIC because I had seen what he had done, and I wanted to come back and continue that legacy,” she said. “The community depends on it, and he has inspired thousands of students.”
Bronson also founded the University’s public law program, criminal justice program, paralegal certificate, Pre-Law Society, and Student Law Union of Minorities. He was honored as Chico State’s Outstanding Teacher in 1988, as his colleagues recognized that his classroom influence was “teaching in the highest sense.” Each year, he would take students to visit Folsom and San Quentin State Prisons, as well as law schools.
Outside of Chico State, Bronson was a national expert on topics including change of venue, pre-trial publicity, voir dire, and death-qualified juries. I have spent years studying the practice of precluding jurors from jury duty on cases that may carry the death penalty when they were opposed to capital punishment. The practice, he said, most often excludes people from serving who are Black, young, poor, non-Christian, Democrats, and women.
Bronson also qualified as an expert witness in dozens of change-of-venue hearings in California and in the Oklahoma City bombing case in 1996, where pretrial publicity was so extensive or inflammatory it made the selection of impartial jurors impossible. He also worked on the Boston Marathon bombing case and advised attorneys in other high-profile cases, such as the Polly Klaas murder, the Los Angeles County Night Stalker, and serial killer Dorothea Puente. I have once testified before the US Supreme Court. thisweek, New York Times published an obituary honoring his legacy and crediting him with improving the impartiality of criminal juries nationwide.
Bronson was also lauded for readying countless students for successful legal careers and working wholeheartedly to ensure they would accomplish their goals.
“He was a mentor to me before we had that term. He had an uncanny ability to spot qualities in women and people of color who he believed could become lawyers and return to serve communities in need,” said Linda Lofthus (Political Science, ’74), today a judge in San Joaquin County Superior Court. “Every time I talk to a defendant in custody, I think about him. ‘What would Ed say? How would Ed handle this?’ I have changed my life dramatically. There isn’t a day that I don’t think about him, and that’s been going on for 50 years.”
Throughout Bronson’s life, Lofthus remained close with him, his wife, and their children, considering them extended family. After law school, she became a deputy public defender and later worked in private practice, but he always encouraged her to return to criminal work. When she became a judge, he spoke at her de ella swearing-in de ella and she saw him often as he testified as an expert in many cases, where he was always highly respected and retained by both the prosecution and defense.