Change agent

Politics and Public Affairs
July 18, 2016

After he arrived at Denison, Dean Hansell ’74 spent an entire summer on a faculty-student committee that designed curricular proposals — which included the original proposal for Denison students to create individually designed majors. “I think that’s what education does best. So I took advantage of the new program and studied the most effective way to affect change in my individually designed major,” said Hansell.

“I really explored the dichotomy of change-making. You can either work through institutions like law that affect a large number of people or you can work one-on-one through institutions like education or religion to affect a small number of people very profoundly,” he said.

These two directions were reflected in his senior year, when Hansell applied both to law school and the Reform Jewish rabbinical seminary. Ultimately, he choose law school and the opportunity to impact change on a large scale, which he now will do in his new appointment as a California Superior Court Judge.

“It’s the court of the people and courts exists to serve the people. Now I can serve the public on a much broader scale.”

“Judges work with people every day – on the bench and off the bench as a role model. And this job is intellectually challenging, especially in a county as large as Los Angeles, which is the largest in the U.S. with more than 10 million people and its vast diversity of issues and people.”

After earning his juris doctor from Northwestern University School of Law, Hansell began his legal career as assistant attorney general of Illinois for environmental and energy prosecution. There, at the beginning of modern environmental law dealing with hazardous and nuclear waste and air and water pollution, he filed the first Resource Conservation and Recovery Act lawsuit in the country.

In 1980, he joined the Federal Trade Commission as a prosecutor to coordinate an energy fraud program in the 24 western states and successfully brought consumer protection and antitrust prosecutions against many industries including housing, recreation and energy.

During his partnership at Hogan Lovells Los Angeles, Hansell focused on complex litigation and class actions in the consumer protection, insurance and reinsurance, labor and employment, privacy, environmental and government regulatory fields.

The legal profession even follows Hansell home. He owns several hundred pieces of art including an entire wall of art relating to the history of Los Angeles and the legal profession.

“A good piece will take you where the artist wants you to go.”

In his law career, Hansell has advocated for consumers, the environment and anti-fraud measures, but his desire to promote change has infiltrated his life in other ways as well.

Hansell co-founded the GLAAD/LA, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. He was awarded the first Founders Award in recognition of his 27-plus years of service to GLAAD, which spearheaded the use of cultural advocacy to change attitudes about LGBT people and even housed the organization’s first hotline in his own home.

“GLAAD was started at a time when the New York Post ran some awful articles about AIDS and gays that should have raised an outcry – but didn’t.”

“Our idea was to change cultural institutions. For instance, Hallmark used to have ‘make-it-yourself’ card machines in store. One woman tried to make a card for her girlfriend using the word “lesbian” — and the machine kept rejecting it. We discovered that the machine handbook held a list of obscenities, and ‘lesbian’ was on that list. We contacted Hallmark and got that changed.”

Ultimately, Hansell believes that the responsibility for change lies with the individual. “We have to be aware of what are the messages we hear and how we hear them.”

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