Profiles: Susan Rutberg

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Susan Rutberg

JD 75

GGU Faculty Member

Distinguished GGU Service Award

Given to a GGU faculty or staff member in recognition of exemplary leadership and service.

Susan Rutberg (JD 75) used her law degree to defend the indigent and represent the public interest. Then she began teaching at GGU, and did more of the same. Exponentially more, she figures.

“As a lawyer I got great satisfaction, because I felt I was doing something that mattered,” she said. “But teaching law students has had a much wider ripple effect.”

Rutberg’s father, Jerry, had big things in mind for his only daughter: becoming the first Jewish woman president of the United States. She had big things in mind, too — just different big things. Raised in upstate New York, she graduated from Cornell in 1971 and then joined her friends in San Francisco for the late flower-child era.

"It was an exciting place to be in law school,” she said. “It was a very welcoming culture, and, with the teachers just a few years older than we were, a very collaborative environment."

Rutberg put in 15 intense years as a trial lawyer, mostly as a public defender, and then moved into the 1st District Appellate Project. Then she accepted an invitation from Bernie Segal (the late GGU professor and criminal defense attorney) to return to GGU to teach in 1988.

“When I started doing appellate, I started reading all of these trial transcripts, and I realized how many lawyers were not well prepared,” she said. “I thought, this would be a good time to start teaching law school, to better prepare lawyers, rather than try to make up for their mistakes in appeals.”

So in 1991 she took on full-time teaching. She supervised GGU’s legal externship programs, originating the homeless advocacy and capital post-conviction clinics, both in partnership with community agencies.

She made a point of bringing in real clients for the Lawyering Skills class she taught, and watched with pleasure as students interviewed a young man from the Homeless Advocacy Program and took on his case. “Their energy level went way up,” she said. “They cared.”

In 2001, Rutberg started the Innocence Project in partnership with Santa Clara University’s law school, and in 2005 the team used DNA testing to exonerate Peter J. Rose, who had served nearly 10 years of a 27-year prison sentence.

Rutberg is on sabbatical this fall, but she’s got a public interest pursuit already: mentoring in the girls unit at Juvenile Hall.