Williams Burns Lawless Jr., State Supreme Court justice, dean of Notre Dame Law School, Wall Street lawyer and president of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., died Monday in San Francisco. He was 84.
Judge Lawless died of an infection following a long illness complicated by diabetes.
Born in Buffalo, he graduated from Canisius High School. In 1944, he earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Notre Dame Lawyer.
After graduating from Notre Dame, he served with the Navy in the South Pacific.
After the Navy, he became an associate with the Phillips Lytle firm in Buffalo and in 1949 earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Buffalo. He received his master's degree in constitutional law in 1950 from Harvard University.
Judge Lawless returned to Buffalo and became a partner in the firm of Williams, Crane and Lawless and later a partner the firm of Lawless, Offermann, Fallon and Mahoney.
He was the City of Buffalo's youngest corporation counsel, serving from 1954 to 1956, and served a president of the Buffalo Common Council from 1956 to 60. From 1960 to 1968, he served as a State Supreme Court justice and is credited with authoring an opinion in 1967 that forced the state prison system to recognize the Black Muslim religion and accommodate inmates' religious and dietary needs.
In 1968, Judge Lawless was appointed dean of the Notre Dame Law School in South Bend, Ind., where he stayed until 1971, when he moved to New York City, where he became a partner and the head of litigation at Mudge, Rose, Guthrie and Alexander.
While there he helped prepare Martha Mitchell, wife of John Mitchell, President Richard M. Nixon's attorney general, for her deposition during the Watergate scandal. He often kidded that he was the only Democrat in the firm.
Judge Lawless later moved to the firm of Hawkins, Delafield and Wood, where he served as lead counsel in the Municipal Assistance Corporation litigations, including the New York City bankruptcy.
In addition to teaching at Notre Dame, Judge Lawless taught at the University at Buffalo Law School and Fordham Law School in adjunct positions. In the early 1960s, he was recruited by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark to be a faculty member at the founding session of the National Judicial College at the University of Colorado Law School.
Judge Lawless left Wall Street in the early 1980s and briefly opened his own practice on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan before moving to Orange County, Calif., where he became president of Western State College of Law in Fullerton, Calif., in 1982.
In 1987, Judge Lawless returned to the National Judicial College, which had relocated to Reno, Nev., and served as dean of faculty and director of operations until 1990.
Judge Lawless returned to Newport Beach, Calif., where -- until 2005, when he and his wife moved to Northern California to be closer to many of his children -- he spent his remaining years.
Judge Lawless was a world traveler and took an active interest in developing legal systems around the world. He consulted with the constitutional convention of the Philippines in the early 1970s and was part of the U.S. attorney general's delegation to the People's Republic of China in the summer of 1987.
Pointing to his vast experience in the legal profession, the late Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Hr. once quipped, "Bill, are you still trying to run the entire legal profession?"
Judge Lawless married Jeanne M. Offermann of Buffalo in 1944 and they had 12 children. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1975. In 1983, he married Agnes Keane of Brooklyn.
He is survived by his second wife Agnes of San Rafael and Newport Beach, Calif., his former wife, Jeanne of Pine City; six daughters, Maria, Jeanne, Therese, Cathy, Sharon and Barbara; six sons, Billie, Gregory, Richard, Robert, John and Thomas.
A memorial Mass will be offered 3 p.m. Saturday in St. Raphael Catholic Church, San Rafael, Calif.
A memorial Mass will be scheduled in June in St. Mark Catholic Church, Woodward and Amherst streets.