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Miami Law Professor Bruce Winick Passes Away

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Professor Bruce J. Winick.

Professor Bruce J. Winick. (Photo: Miami Law) Full-Size Photo

August 26, 2010 – Coral Gables – It was the early 1990s, and an emerging area of law known as therapeutic jurisprudence was gaining steam. Legal scholars around the country began using the term with regularity, applying it to criminal, family, juvenile, and other areas of law. But few attorneys were as knowledgeable about or adept at applying the term as Bruce J. Winick. And for good reason.

A University of Miami law professor with a passion for righting wrongs, Winick co-founded therapeutic jurisprudence, which studies the effects of law and the legal system on the behavior, emotions, and mental health of people. He grew passionate about the subject, writing about it in books and journal articles and attending numerous conferences where, in his trademark voice that often made even the most difficult legal terms understandable, he spoke on the subject.

Winick, a New York University School of Law graduate and fervent advocate of social justice during a spectacular legal career that spanned the courtrooms of New York and the editorial boards of some of the legal profession's most prestigious publications, died early Thursday from complications of cancer. He was 65.

"A giant in the legal community" is how UM President Donna E. Shalala described Winick. (Read her public statement).

"Bruce Winick's scholarly and advocacy work in therapeutic jurisprudence was central to the development of the field – a field that focuses on human dignity and worth," said UM School of Law Dean Patricia D. White. "This will remain a permanent part of his legacy. Beyond his work he will be remembered as having served as a model for dealing with life's difficulties with remarkable courage, grace, and optimism."

Winick's extensive work in the area of mental health law resulted in UM establishing the nation's first Therapeutic Jurisprudence Center, which he directed. Dedicated last year during a ceremony attended by Winick and Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, the center was Winick's dream and continues to play a significant role in identifying the practical insights of law and psychology.

Winick was known for fighting for other legal causes as well. With UM law colleague Bernard Perlmutter, he helped draft litigation that was filed in the Fourth District Court of Appeal and Florida Supreme Court and was instrumental in the subsequent abolishment of the indiscriminate use of restraints on children in juvenile courtrooms.

He argued the case that declared the New York death penalty unconstitutional in 1973.

"To what extent has the death penalty contributed to the violent nature of our society, and in particular, to the rising tide of juvenile violence? As Justice Brandeis reminds us, government is the great teacher. It teaches by example," Winick once wrote in the fall 1998 issue of Miami magazine. "This is how our children learn, through what psychology calls modeling. When our government justifies the taking of life, it legitimizes killing. That lesson is not lost on our youth."

Winick's closest friends and colleagues remember him as a fighter who used creativity and adaptation to overcome a physical handicap that would have sidelined many people. As his vision worsened from retinitis pigmentosa, from which he suffered since he was 32, Winick adapted, acquiring a guide dog named Bruno and using state-of-the-art scanning technology that allowed him to read and respond to e-mails, prepare lectures for throngs of law school students, and write more than ten books and over 100 journal articles.

At UM's School of Law, where he taught since 1974, Winick was the first Laurie Silvers and Mitchell Rubenstein Distinguished Professor of Law as well as professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

He authored and edited numerous books, including Civil Commitment: A Therapeutic Jurisprudence Model (Carolina Academic Press 2005), Judging In A Therapeutic Key: Therapeutic Jurisprudence And The Courts (Carolina Academic Press 2003), and Protecting Society From Sexually Dangerous Offenders: Law, Justice And Therapy (American Psychological Association Books 2003). He also authored over 100 articles in law reviews and interdisciplinary journals.

Winick was chair of the American Association of Law Schools' section on Balance in Legal Education. He was co-editor of the American Psychological Association Books series, Law and Public Policy: Psychology and the Social Sciences and legal advisor and member of the board of editors of Psychology, Public Policy & Law. He also served on the board of editors of Law & Human Behavior.

Prior to joining UM, Winick served as New York City's director of Court Mental Health Services and as general counsel of the New York City Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services.

Winick received numerous awards for his scholarship. In 2009, he received the Philippe Pinel Award of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, the Academy's highest honor. In 2007, he was named Honorary Distinguished Member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He also received the University of Miami Provost's Award for Scholarly Activity, the Thurgood Marshall Award of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the Human Rights Award of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Winick is survived by daughters Margot and Amber, sons Graham and Brendan, granddaughters Beatrix and Allegra, sister Paula Olsen, cousins, a niece, and a nephew.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the University of Miami Therapeutic Jurisprudence Center. Checks should be made payable to "UM School of Law Therapeutic Jurisprudence Center" and mailed to "Dean Patricia D. White, UM School of Law, P.O. Box, 248087, Coral Gables, Florida 33124."

The family is planning a Celebration of Life service to be held at the School of Law in the near future. Details on the event will be released on the School of Law website.