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Michele Martinez Campbell

A photo of Michele Martinez Campbell
I love teaching and I love the students, and I get to delve into law in a format and environment that encourages creativity and thoughtfulness.”

Associate Professor of Law

For eight years, Michele Martinez Campbell's job was the stuff of novels, "a constant adrenaline rush," as she puts it. As the assistant United States attorney in the eastern district of New York, she prosecuted Mexican cocaine cartels who loaded bundles of cash into tractor-trailers, Burmese warlords who smuggled heroin through ports in containers, and local drug lords who ran murderous operations in Brooklyn and queens. "It was my dream job," she says.

Then it became, literally, the stuff of novels. She gave birth to two sons who were "little whirlwinds—I was torn between giving 100 percent to them and 100 percent to my job, and realized the math didn't work out." Searching for options, she started writing a thriller; the opening scene actually came to her in a vivid dream involving the fiery death of a silver-haired lawyer with a double life. Her heroine, Melanie Vargas, was a swashbuckling prosecutor—Michele's alter ego, with a lot more sex and violence thrown in. The book, Most Wanted, took off; others followed, and in 2001, she left the prosecutor's office. "I did not go peacefully," she says. "I missed the work terribly."

She moved with her husband four years ago to the Upper Valley, the ideal place to raise the boys. Then came Chapter 3 in her professional life. An author's talk at a local library eventually led to discussions with Dean Jeff Shields about teaching. "I jumped at the chance," she says. "I always wanted a door back into criminal law." After a semester as an adjunct, she was appointed visiting assistant professor.

She now teaches courses in criminal law and criminal procedure, drawing on her expertise in trial and appellate advocacy, Title III wiretap law, and international extradition law. Having conducted more than 100 grand jury investigations and scores of jury trials, evidentiary hearings, appellate oral arguments, and sentencing proceedings, she enlivens her lectures with true-life cases of murder, kidnapping, and international drug trafficking.

"I love teaching and I love the students, and I get to delve into law in a format and environment that encourages creativity and thoughtfulness," she says. "My favorite thing about VLS is the incredible community of students, faculty, and staff, which is unique and special—supportive, talented, collegial, and service-oriented."

Michele grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, during the height of urban tensions in the late 60s and 70s. Her father, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Manhattan, got his GED, went to college on the GI Bill, and ran prison inmate education programs; her mother, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, was a secretary. "They taught me that I could achieve anything if I worked hard," she says. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, received her JD with distinction from Stanford, clerked for a judge, and worked as a corporate lawyer before becoming a prosecutor in 1993.

So is a novel in the works about murder in the Vermont backwoods, perhaps involving a crabby law professor or overworked student? No—but she is working on a thriller about the crack epidemic in New York in the 1980s. Although she is often approached by would-be writers with a novel in their head or desk drawer, that seldom happens at VLS, she says: "Here, people are very focused on the law."