School of Law Professor Emeritus Sidney I. Picker Jr. passes away

Sidney I. Picker Jr. poses for photo with Arsenia Golubenkova
Sidney I. Picker Jr. and Arsenia Golubenkova, a law student from Russia who studied law at Case Western Reserve University in 2018-19

Sidney I. Picker Jr., professor emeritus at Case Western Reserve School of Law, died on April 28 in Fort Myers, Florida after a brief hospitalization. He was 85. 

Picker’s focus was international law. With his wife, Cleveland State University Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Professor Emerita Jane Moody Picker, he led a program dedicated to introducing Russian law students to U.S. legal education for more than 30 years.

Picker was born July 7, 1934, in New York City, later moving to Los Angeles, California. He was the middle of three sons of the late Sidney Picker and Dorothy Green. After attending Dartmouth College for his BA and Stanford for his law degree, he studied for his master’s in law at Yale University where he met his wife, also a law student at Yale.

Prior to joining the CWRU law faculty in 1969, Picker practiced law in Los Angeles and later served on the staff for the White House’s Special Trade Representative (the forerunner of the USTR) during the “Kennedy Round” of GATT Trade Negotiations; subsequently he served in the General Counsel’s Office of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Initially, the Russia Legal Studies Program created by the Pickers in 1992 included both faculty and students. When government funding was discontinued, in 2001, the couple created the non-profit Russia-U.S. Legal Education Foundation (RUSLEF) to continue the student component of their program. They considered this part of the program, which involved bringing Russian students to study in U.S. law schools for a full academic year, the most successful aspect of their program and the one that would most effectively support the development of a rule of law-based system in Russia. Eventually, the Pickers were successful in placing up to eight students annually among their 11 U.S. partner law schools, each of which waived tuition, while the Pickers’ program provided support for living expenses and educational materials. Upon their return to Russia, the students began legal careers in Russia. Today many work with top international law firms, or in Russian law firms and governmental positions, and some teach at Russian law schools. Since beginning their unique program, the Pickers have helped well over 100 Russian law students study in the United States.  

The Pickers’ work with RUSLEF was acknowledged with the award of two Honorary Doctorate of Laws degrees, first by St. Petersburg State University in 2002 and later in 2013 by Yaroslav The Wise Novgorod State University in Veliky Novgorod, Russia. In both cases, the Pickers were the only Americans ever to receive such honorary degrees in law, as well as the only husband and wife to be so honored. Picker’s work with RUSLEF continued until his hospitalization in late April. 

Picker’s commitment to international legal matters was lifelong. While at Case Western Reserve School of Law, he was the first director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center. He also founded and led the Canada-U.S. Law Institute, a unique joint degree program of CWRU and the University of Western Ontario. In 1980, Picker was responsible for bringing a U.S. Supreme Court and a Canadian Supreme Court justice together for the first-ever joint presentation (Justice Potter Stewart and Brian Dixon, respectively), as well as for bringing the first World Court American and Russian judges to his law school (Judge Stephen Schwebel and Judge Vladlen Vereshchetin, respectively). An innovative legal educator, in 1994, he organized the first National Security Law course to be co-taught by a sitting CIA General Counsel and the Legal Adviser of the U.K.’s security services, MI5 and MI6.

In 2013, the institute established an annual award in Picker’s name. In the words of CWRU Dean Michael Scharf, Professor Picker “was an institution builder who not only changed our law school, he changed the world.” 

A well-regarded expert in international law, among other appointments and activities, Picker served on the first NAFTA Chapter 20 (state-to-state) dispute resolution panel in a case brought by the United States against Canada in 1996. He was also a member of the first ABA international trade visits to the Soviet Union (1973) and China (1979). A recipient of Fulbright Grants to Australia (1968 and 1985), he served as scholar-in-residence at the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa in 1980, and taught and lectured at Westminster University in London, Universidad Gama Filjo in Brazil, and at the law faculties of St. Petersburg State University, Novgorod State University and Volgograd State University, all in Russia.

Picker, who in recent years had divided his time between Ellsworth, Maine, and Sanibel, Florida, was also active in programming for Big Arts Sanibel. As he had done with his legal education work, upon his retirement he threw himself wholeheartedly into the cultural life of Sanibel, quickly becoming a fixture of the cultural life on the island. Over the decades, Picker devoted himself to his students, both at CWRU and to his Russian students, many of whom stayed in close touch with him until the end of his life.