The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation has given the USC Law School $1.5 million to establish the Sydney M. Irmas Chair in Public Interest Law and Legal Ethics.
The endowed chair honors the late husband of foundation trustee Audrey Irmas. Los Angeles trial attorney Sydney M. Irmas was a well-known Southern California philanthropist and an alumnus of the USC Law School.
Professor of law Erwin Chemerinsky has been appointed the first holder of the Irmas Chair.
The $1.5 million gift, made with the participation of the Irmas children, Deborah, Robert and Matthew, who also serve as foundation trustees, is a “family contribution” to the school, Audrey Irmas said.
“It is especially fitting that Syd’s association with the Law School be memorialized through this chair,” said Scott H. Bice, dean of the school. “No other graduate of the Law School has done more to create and then to sustain the excellence of legal education at USC. Syd was a wise counsel, an effective fund-raising leader, a generous philanthropist and a most able and effective advocate for the school.”
Always referring to his enrollment in the USC Law School as “one of the best decisions I ever made,” Sydney Irmas was involved with the Law School for more than four decades.
In 1982, Sydney Irmas was a founding co-chair of the planning committee for the Law School’s annual golf tournament, which benefits student scholarships.
In 1990, the couple created the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Public Interest Endowment to fund the efforts of USC law students engaged in public interest law.
“The Irmas Chair significantly advances the mission of our world-class law school and simultaneously honors one of USC’s most dedicated and distinguished alumni,” said USC President Steven B. Sample. “We are deeply grateful to Audrey Irmas and the entire Irmas family for their generosity, which will do much to further scholarship in the area of public interest law.”
A distinguished career followed Sydney Irmas’ graduation from the Law School in 1955. He formed a law practice with classmate William Rutter, which lasted through 1975. He then practiced in the firm of Irmas, Simsky, Chudos, Green, Lasher & Hecht before retiring in 1985.
Among the prominent clients represented by Irmas were Lenny Bruce, in a First Amendment case; Patty Hearst on a criminal charge of robbing a Los Angeles sporting goods store; the family of a stunt man killed during the filming of the movie Twilight Zone; and famed attorney Melvin Belli.
Irmas was a member of the Law School’s board of councilors and Legion Lex, serving as its president from 1979 to 1980. A former president of the Law Alumni Association, he was also the first chairman of the Law School Fund, which raised money for construction of the Law School’s current building. In 1980, he was a member of the Law School’s dean search committee.
A native Angeleno, Irmas was proud of his family’s long history in Southern California and with USC. His family settled in Catalina in the 1880s, and his mother graduated from USC in 1917. Since then, four generations of the Irmas family have attended USC, with four family members graduating from the Law School.
Audrey Irmas, who co-founded the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation in 1983, has a long history of philanthropic involvement in Los Angeles County as well. She is president and chair of the board of the
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and she is past chairperson of the Los Angeles Family Housing Corp., an organization that shelters 2,000 homeless people each night and builds or rehabilitates housing for low-income families.
In 1993, the couple, through the Irmas Charitable Foundation, created the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Los Angeles Youth Center, in South-Central Los Angeles, for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Last year, the foundation, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department, opened a similar youth center in the San Fernando Valley.
Other projects of the Irmas Charitable Foundation under construction include the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, slated for completion in March 1998, and the Sydney M. Irmas Therapeutic Living Center in North Hollywood, which is expected to house more than 250 homeless people and will open next summer.
A native of Los Angeles, Audrey Irmas attended Fairfax High School and UCLA, where she met her husband in 1948. The couple have three children and five grandchildren.
Chemerinsky, a nationally recognized expert in constitutional and civil rights law, is the author of Interpreting the Constitution (1987), Federal Jurisdiction, 1st and 2nd eds. (1989 and 1994) and Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies (1997).
He has published hundreds of articles and newspaper opinion pieces on a range of topics, from access to the courts to understanding the legal system.
Chemerinsky’s extensive volunteer activities include his election to the Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission in April 1997. Recently, he was selected by his fellow commissioners to be chairman. In 1983, he co-drafted, with Law School alumnus Jeffrey Shaman, the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, adopted by the Illinois State Legislature that year. In 1992, he helped draft a new constitution for the former Soviet state of Belarus.
Chemerinsky is active in public interest law. He serves on the board of directors of the ACLU of Southern California and does pro bono work for the ACLU, the NAACP, People for the American Way, Fund for the Feminist Majority and the Senior Citizens Law Center.
He has served as a member of the task force on professional responsibility for the committee of the state bar examiners and as a member of the steering committee of the American Association of Law Schools’ Section on Professional Responsibility. He regularly teaches a course in professional responsibility.
He is the recipient of numerous awards for teaching excellence, including DePaul University’s Outstanding Teacher Award (1983) and the USC Law School’s Outstanding Teacher Award (1984 and 1994).
Chemerinsky earned his B.S. degree from Northwestern University in 1975 and his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 1978.