Law professor Ted Eisenberg dies at 66

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John Carberry
Ted Eisenberg
Eisenberg

Theodore “Ted” Eisenberg, the Henry Allen Mark Professor of Law and adjunct professor of statistical sciences at Cornell, died of a heart attack Sunday, Feb. 23. He was 66.

Eisenberg taught for 33 years at the Law School, including courses in bankruptcy and debtor-creditor law, constitutional law, civil rights, contracts and federal income taxation. He was a prolific scholar of empirical legal studies and of bankruptcy, civil rights and the death penalty. He used innovative statistical methodology to shed light on punitive damages, victim impact evidence, capital juries, bias for and against litigants and the chances of success on appeal.

“Ted was a giant in the legal academy and one of the pioneers of modern empirical legal studies,” says Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Law School. “He had high standards and a generous spirit. His energy was astounding as he traveled the country and the world, participating in conferences and teaching others how to be better empirical scholars.”

Eisenberg earned a B.A. in 1969 from Swarthmore College and a J.D. in 1972 from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He clerked for the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. After three years in private practice in New York City, he began teaching in 1977 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and joined Cornell Law School as a professor in 1981.

He became interested in empirical legal research in his second year at Cornell and began his prodigious work in that area, authoring or co-authoring more than 125 scholarly articles and writing, editing or contributing to more than 20 books. He founded the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies and served as an expert witness in a number of high-profile trials.

“I like to let the data tell their own story, not try to superimpose one,” he said in a spring 2008 Cornell Law Forum article. “As in any good scholarship, you check your assumptions. If you don’t have the real facts, people will make them up or follow the headlines.”

He held visiting professorships at Harvard, Stanford, Turin, Haifa and Tel Aviv universities, and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in addition to earning numerous fellowships, grants and awards. He also served on more than 25 editorial boards and outside committees.

“Ted was a dear friend, and our families were close,” Schwab said. “The suddenness of his death is shocking, and the sadness is profound. Cornell Law School has been lucky to have had his intellectual leadership, creativity and energy for more than three decades. I wish it could have been longer.”

Eisenberg is survived by his wife, Lisa; three children – Katherine Eisenberg, M.D., of Rochester; Annie, J.D. ’12, of St. Louis; and Tommy, a Cornell Ph.D. student in the field of economics – and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be announced.


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