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Snapshot: James W. Houck

on October 26, 2012 6:00 AM

It is a homecoming for Vice Admiral James W. Houck, the retired 41st Judge Advocate General of the United States Navy. Houck, who grew up in State College and attended State College Area High School, finds himself back in Happy Valley, but this time as a professor.

The Penn State University Dickinson School of Law welcomed Houck to its staff this fall. He will begin teaching in the spring, focusing on international and national security law as well as maritime law and policy.

“I always enjoyed working with younger attorneys, so I think it is a natural extension of that to have a chance to work with aspiring attorneys,” he says.

Houck left State College to attend the Naval Academy right after high school, and had only been back for visits. After he graduated from the academy, he started working on a destroyer as an officer. It was not until he was accepted into a program within the Navy that he started practicing law.

As the Judge Advocate General, he was in charge of the military justice systems. He also served as the principal military legal counsel to the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations, and led more than 2,000 attorneys, civilian employees, and legal staff that make up the worldwide Navy JAG Corps. He held this position from August 2009 to this past July, but was active with the Navy for 32 years. During that time he was able to travel the world.

One opportunity that stands out to him was working as the Chief Navy Lawyer in the Middle East — he advised in the Persian Gulf and in Africa.

When he visited Penn State in previous years he was impressed with the quality of the faculty and the combination of the law school and school of international affairs.

“The law school here has partnerships with the law schools in China, Turkey, and the Dubai Judicial Institute,” he says. “These are places around the world where, years ago, one would not have associated with. The international focus is a way of the future and a great thing for Penn State to be involved.”

Houck is eager and excited about his new journey. He looks forward to working in an environment where the same values he learned in the Navy are held.

“I was very privileged to be a part of a job with the values of honor and courage and commitment that I respect,” he says. “I wanted to go to a place for my second career that would allow me to work in an atmosphere with the same kind of goodness that was in the Navy.”

He is preparing for the spring by working and making sure that he will be a good professor. He participates in other professors’ lectures and is active in events within the school of law.

“I have been so impressed with the people I have met here, primarily in the law school, who have demonstrated real commitment to scholarship and students,” he says. “There are exciting things going on with the law school, and I think the future here is very bright.”

Fact Box:

What do you do in your spare time for fun?: My wife and I live on a small farm and I like gardening with her, and I am a very big fan of Penn State wrestling.

Favorite place to visit: They are all interesting in their own way but the Navy has a lot of activity and presence in Italy and I’ve been there enough to know it — I love Italy.

Career you would you have chosen if you weren’t a lawyer: I wanted to be a journalism major and wanted to be a newspaper reporter.

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