James K. Robinson, a high-level official in the U.S. Justice Department during both the Clinton Administration and the Carter Administration, a member of President Obama’s transition team, and an appointee of Chief Justice Rehnquist to a Committee of the United States Judicial Conference, passed away on Friday after a battle with gastrointestinal cancer. Mr. Robinson was 66. At the time of his death, Mr. Robinson was a partner in the Washington, DC office of the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.
Mr. Robinson’s forty year legal career was wide-ranging and varied. In addition to serving for 25 years in private practice and being recognized by numerous organizations as one of the leading trial lawyers and appellate lawyers in the United States, Mr. Robinson was a federal prosecutor, a law school dean, President of the State Bar of Michigan, and a drafter of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Mr. Robinson’s legal career began in 1968, following his graduation from Wayne State University Law School in Michigan, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Wayne Law Review. Mr. Robinson first worked as a law clerk to Judge George C. Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and then went into private practice in Detroit. In 1977, at the age of 33, Mr. Robinson was nominated by President Carter to be United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, the chief federal prosecutor in Detroit, a position he held until 1980. Following his tenure in that post, Mr. Robinson returned to the Detroit law firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn, where he headed the litigation department. From 1990 to 1991, he also served as President of the State Bar of Michigan.
One of Mr. Robinson’s primary legal interests was the rules of evidence. While in private practice, he chaired the committee that drafted the Michigan Rules of Evidence, he regularly taught law school classes on evidence, and he co-authored a three-volume treatise and a courtroom handbook on the rules of evidence.
In 1993, Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed Mr. Robinson to the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Evidence, the body responsible for proposing to the United States Supreme Court revisions to the Federal Rules of Evidence. Mr. Robinson remained a member of the Committee for five years. In addition to writing the Rules of Evidence, from 1975 until his death, Mr. Robinson served on the fivemember committee of the National Conference of Bar Examiners which drafts the evidence questions for the Multistate Bar Exam. In 1993, Mr. Robinson decided to turn his attention full-time to the academic world and he was named Dean and Professor of Law at the Wayne State University Law School. During his tenure as Dean, Mr. Robinson was responsible for expanding the Law School’s curriculum and establishing a strong connection between the law school and legal community.
Mr. Robinson left the deanship in 1998 when President Clinton nominated him to be Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, a position he held until the end of that Administration. As Assistant Attorney General, Mr. Robinson helped increase and expand the Division’s focus on transnational crime and, in particular, on the fights against international terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, and computer crime. During his tenure, the Division stationed federal prosecutors at U.S. Embassies throughout the world in order to coordinate international law enforcement efforts more effectively. As part of these efforts, Mr. Robinson headed the U.S. delegation to the G-8 government/ industry cybercrime conference in Paris and to the South American Justice Ministers conference in Argentina. He also co-chaired the Commission on Crime and Security at U.S. Seaports and was a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets. Following his service as Assistant Attorney General, Mr. Robinson was retained as a consultant by the United Nations Center for International Crime Prevention in Vienna to conduct a global study on the transfer of funds of illicit origin with respect to the negotiation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
In recognition of his many legal accomplishments, Mr. Robinson was inducted as a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Society of Barristers, and the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers. He also was invited to be a Member in the American Law Institute, and a Master in the Edward Bennett Williams Inn of Court. Mr. Robinson’s interest in international legal issues led him to a position as a Visiting Professor on the Faculty of Law of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, where he taught Introduction to American Law and a seminar on Comparative Approaches to Adjudication in Civil and Common Law Legal Systems.
Apart from his legal work, Mr. Robinson was an avid sailor and motorcyclist. He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Marietta Robinson, a member of the LRG Board of Directors, his son Steven of Grand Blanc, Michigan, his daughter Renee Stromberg of Stockholm, Sweden, five grandchildren, his mother and five siblings.