ASU honors the passing of Michael Berch, inventive law professor and generous university patron

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University mourns the loss of Michael Berch, Emeritus Alan A. Matheson Professor of Law and a popular teacher who was honored with numerous awards. He died Nov. 6.

Berch, one of the early faculty hired by Professor Willard “Ped” H. Pedrick, founding dean of ASU Law, taught from 1969 until he retired in 2011. He was known for his genuine love of the law school and lifelong dedication to making it an exceptional institution. He served as associate dean in the 1990s and as head of admissions for two years during the 2000s. In the latter capacity, he helped to greatly improve the caliber of students accepted to ASU Law.

“Michael Berch challenged us in the classroom and pushed us to think; outside the classroom, he loved to laugh and play jokes and was always very generous,” said ASU Law Assistant Dean Tom Williams, who was Berch’s student when Williams attended ASU Law and who remained a close friend.

Berch and his wife, retired Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, gave generously for decades in support of ASU Law scholarships and programs. He and Rebecca, who also taught at ASU Law for nine years, began giving to the law school in the 1980s, and in 1992, the couple started the Michael and Rebecca Berch scholarship, which benefits several students a year. In recognition of their generosity and commitment to ASU Law, when the college moved to the Beus Center for Law and Society in 2016, the fourth-floor Student Success Center was named for Michael and Rebecca Berch.

In addition to teaching at ASU Law, Berch was an honors disciplinary faculty member of Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. He taught a wide variety of courses, including federal courts, civil procedure, conflict of laws, judicial remedies, civil rights litigation, law and the regulatory state, and professional responsibility. He also coached many of ASU’s winning Moot Court teams and wrote many articles and a textbook, “Introduction to Legal Method and Process.” Outside the law school, Berch was involved in a number of pro bono cases and consulted with local firms finding “outside the box” solutions to legal issues.

“A brilliant teacher, Michael truly cared about ASU Law and helping to make it the best law school experience possible through his warmth, sense of humor and incredible work ethic,” said ASU Law co-interim Dean Zak Kramer. “ASU Law will miss him, and we send our love and condolences to Rebecca and their family.”

It gave Michael Berch great pride when their daughter, Jessica Berch, joined the ASU Law faculty in 2017 as a lecturer, teaching a variety of courses including many of the same courses that her father taught.

In 2012, Berch and his wife funded the creation of an award to recognize top students in the Project Excellence program, a partnership between ASU Law and Barrett Honors College to help Barrett undergrad students gain exposure to the law school’s environment and teaching practices. The prize was given to Project Excellence students who excelled in legal research and leadership.

“Every year, many Barrett graduates look to attend law school,” Berch said at the time. “This award will be a reflection of the high caliber of honors students ready to make a difference in the legal community.”

Berch was honored with numerous awards from organizations such as the ASU Alumni Association, Maricopa County Bar Association and the ASU Law Alumni. He also was a recipient of the 12th annual Last Lecturer Award and the Arizona State Bar President’s Award for outstanding service to the bar’s teaching mission.

Before teaching, Berch worked on a variety of high-profile criminal cases at the U.S. Department of Justice, was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and in private practice in New York.

Berch was devoted to his students and to his dogs. His family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Michael and Rebecca Berch Scholarship at ASU Law or the Arizona Animal Welfare League.

Julie Tenney
julie.tenney@asu.edu