Chapman University Law School students just returned back to school with a new dean.
Just as the school’s former dean was being booked at Fulton County jail in Georgia for his connection with the Jan. 6 capital insurrection.
On August 22, John Eastman surrendered on charges related to his involvement in the 2020 election subversion case. He is best known for advocating a legal theory that endeavored to get Former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election results in favor of former President Donald Trump.
Two days following Eastman’s surrender, top university and law school officials hosted an opening reception for their new dean, Paul Paton, who was appointed in March 2023.
“Those of you who have read a little bit about me know that I have spent a career trying to unravel legal ethics and professional responsibility issues, with no problems there,” Paton said. “You may have heard occasionally that lawyers are in the news. A little too often for some of the wrong reasons. But I remain essentially an optimist about our future,” Paton said during his speech, eliciting a polite roar of laughter from those in attendance.
Paton was introduced by Chapman University President Daniele Struppa, who has been with the university since 2006.
At the time of Eastman’s appointment in 2007, Struppa had just been given the title of Chancellor under then-President James Doti after serving as Provost, which would have typically put him in charge of recommendations like budgets and hiring department heads like Eastman.
“I know he will do an outstanding job building upon this school’s already noteworthy strengths…” said Doti in a 2007 Chapman University press release, adding “Dean Eastman is the man who will seize that potential and lead us to greater heights.”
The press release cited high praise from Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Clarence Thomas, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III and several others on the choice of Eastman as dean.
“This is incredible news. I am excited for Chapman,” Associate Justice Thomas said at the time.
Thirteen years later, Doti and Struppa’s appointee chose to represent former President Donald Trump in a Supreme Court case filed December 8, 2020, with the end goal of invalidating millions of votes to usurp President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Fast forward to January 6, 2021, Eastman was standing next to Rudy Giuliani, solidifying his role in the raid on the Capitol that day.
Eastman was no longer dean at that time, but maintained a role as professor at the university – even though he was on leave teaching at a university in Colorado.
Just days after January 6, Struppa faced surmounting pressure from Chapman faculty to fire Eastman, when more than 160 Chapman faculty members wrote Struppa directly.
Two days after the insurrection, Struppa issued a statement announcing Eastman’s role, but made no promises of his removal.
“If it’s determined laws were broken, we will take appropriate action; but based on what we know now, we will abide by the policies in our Faculty Manual which clearly state what actions are protected,” Struppa said in the statement.
By the next week, Struppa announced Eastman’s retirement “effective immediately” on January 13, 2021.
“Dr. Eastman’s departure closes this challenging chapter for Chapman and provides the most immediate and certain path forward for both the Chapman community and Dr. Eastman,” his statement read.
When interviewed this past week about Eastman’s legacy at Chapman, it’s clear he wants the former dean to fade out of the public eye.
Last Thursday, Struppa declined to answer questions about Eastman in a brief interview following his speech at the welcome reception.
“We have already moved forward,” Struppa said. “Eastman has not been here since January 2021.”
Similar to Struppa, many of the law school’s professors have remained tight-lipped on the issue, referring Voice of OC requests for comment to the university’s public relations team, which echoed Struppa’s sentiment.
“Mr. Eastman has not worked for the university for more than two years. You might want to reach out directly to him for a comment,” said Jamie Ceman, Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications at Chapman University.
Eastman didn’t return a request for comment relayed through his attorney as of publication.
He lost that race, placing second in the Republican primary under Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.
He maintained his role on staff at Chapman University until 2021, when he “retired” following scrutiny over his involvement in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.
The same year, Eastman unsuccessfully attempted to edit his own Wikipedia page.
Eastman is among 19 other co-defendants, including Rudy Giuliani, attorney Sidney Powell and former Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafe, facing charges due to their collaboration in the 2020 election subversion case.
He is also facing disbarment in California, which would prevent him from practicing law in the state.
Although much of the Chapman law staff have seemingly moved on from Eastman, some students worry they might not be able to.
“It’s not the image that most in the Chapman community would like to be associated with,” said Rebekah Heath, 20, a second year law student.
“John Eastman’s indictment is something we here have felt very personally,” said Therese Howe, 22, a third-year law student. “We have gotten the eye of the nation because he used to be in charge of us, essentially. It has caused our reputation, and speculatively our rank, to suffer.”
Howe also worries the Eastman controversy has had a trickle down effect of Chapman needing to be harder on their students.
“It has had an unprecedented impact,” said Howe, adding “Current law students are being harmed by this, even if we all had less than nothing to do with it.”
Howe shared that several of her professors have discussed Eastman, albeit briefly, during their classes.
“It’s sad seeing them discuss their former colleague. They knew John Eastman in a different capacity, some seem to feel very conflicted over it. They don’t know what to think, because they used to respect him as an intellectual,” Howe said.
Howe noted that the Fowler School of Law has done their best to foster community.
Alejandro Ortiz, 26, was a student when Eastman was still affiliated with the university.
It was during Ortiz’s first year of law school when over 160 faculty members, including some of his own professors, called to remove Eastman’s endowed professorship and bar him from instructing students through a letter, posted January 8, 2021.
Wylie Aitken, a former board chairman for Chapman University who was recently named Chair Emeritus by the university and was a founding supporter of the law school, confirmed that he signed on to the faculty letter about Eastman as an individual, but declined comment for this story. Aitken also serves as board chairman for Voice of OC.
“I remember these statements coming out about Eastman’s actions, and I remember the university was particularly slow to distance themselves from him,” Ortiz said. “Several of my professors wrote a letter addressed to President Struppa, imploring him to consider what association with John Eastman would do for the university, and the consequences of that on Chapman’s reputation.”
First year law student Dawait Habteab, 23, said he wasn’t aware of Eastman’s connection to the capital insurrection but would have appreciated school officials offering up a discussion as a learning opportunity.
Habteab said that none of his professors discussed Eastman in their classes.
“I wish that they would have addressed it in class,” Habteab said. “I would have liked to talk about it more with my peers.”
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