This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Carolina Law magazine.
One of Carolina Law professor Bob Mosteller’s pastimes is working on the farm where he grew up in Lincoln County, North Carolina. Recently, he crafted an impressive bridge across a stream behind the property’s 19th-century farmhouse.
In his classes, Mosteller has bridged the worlds of academia and trial law for students eager to hear his experiences as an attorney involved with first-degree murder trials and other cases. “Students’ eyes are focused and wide open,” he says, to learn about his background with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where he became chief of the trial division.
“I liked using the skills of a trial lawyer, walking into the courtroom and representing somebody,” he says. “That was part of me, and I enjoy students being interested in that.”
He also has enjoyed teaching at Carolina Law, where he has been a faculty member since 2008. When he retires July 1, Mosteller will spend time on his farm and travel with his wife, retired Carolina Law professor Elizabeth Gibson ’76.
Mosteller’s passion for teaching has been sustained foremost by his students and the energy and excitement each new class brings.
“A high percentage of our students expect to be in the courtroom soon after they graduate,” Mosteller says. “Teaching people who really want to learn about part of the practice of law that I find interesting has been rewarding.”
Also rewarding has been guiding students in independent studies. “Someone has an idea, and you help them frame their thoughts and put it together. To watch them turn an idea into a really interesting paper…is very gratifying,” he says.
Given his work representing indigent defendants, Mosteller appreciates Carolina Law’s public service mission. “The school offers a world-class legal education at a more affordable price and focuses on public interest.
“Those things matter to me,” he says. “Teaching law at a really fine institution has been a wonderful opportunity.”
Despite his success practicing law, Mosteller was drawn to teaching partly for a more predictable schedule and less stress as he and Gibson started a family. “I sometimes say trials are good to have had. They are incredibly tension-filled,” he says. “There’s a lot at stake for the people you represent.”
He likes the structure of teaching and the opportunity for scholarship. “You have a lot of freedom to write about what interests you,” he says. While also interested in criminal procedure issues, including the death penalty, he is best known for his evidence scholarship, which includes becoming the general editor of the forthcoming edition of McCormick on Evidence treatise.
While he has thrived on the scholarship, Mosteller, who was associate dean for academic affairs for three years, embraces Carolina Law’s teaching commitment. “People take pride in it and work hard at it,” he says. “That’s my value system, and I enjoy being around other people with that value system.”
Mosteller, a 1970 Carolina history major, benefited from attentive faculty. Even though Carolina is a big school, “faculty members respond so well to students who care about learning,” he says.
Reflecting on his career, Mosteller, a “Perry Mason” show fan growing up, says, “I got a chance to pretty much live my dream. I got to be Perry Mason. And I got to teach in Chapel Hill. It was fun.”
As he transitioned from practicing law, Mosteller now is transitioning to retirement. He’ll return to his roots more often at his farm, where he knows the land as well as he knows the law. “It’s off the beaten path in the rolling hills of the western Piedmont,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed being active and outdoors as part of who I am.” — Jessica Clarke
-May 28, 2019