Plans once again are moving forward for the long-stalled University of North Texas Dallas College of the Law.

University administrators announced on Jan. 11 that they have hired Judge Royal Furgeson Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas as dean, starting in April 2013. They plan to open the school in August 2014.

The school has been discussed for years. The Texas Legislature authorized the project in 2009, with initial plans to open the doors in 2011, but budget shortfalls slowed planning.

Administrators now say they hope to launch a $24 million renovation of a former department store in downtown Dallas this year. That building will house the law school for at least three years, pending extensive renovations to its eventual home in Dallas’ beaux-arts Old Municipal Building.

Once open, it would be the only public law school in north Texas, home to Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth and Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas.

Ferguson will remain on the bench for 15 months to fulfill his responsibilities as president of the Federal Judges Association. His work with the law school will be limited during that period, so University of North Texas System Vice Chancellor Rosemary Haggett will lead efforts to get the law school off the ground until then.

“Our extensive search brought us into contact with many highly regarded legal educators,” said Chancellor Lee Jackson. “But Judge Furgeson, besides possessing a fine legal mind, brings the kind of broad range of practice experience we were looking for. He’s a distinguished judge well known throughout Texas, a respected litigator, and he shares our vision of providing students with an affordable and accessible, high-quality legal education.”

Ferguson was appointed to the federal bench by Bill Clinton in 1993. Earlier, he was a shareholder in the litigation section of Kemp, Smith, Duncan & Hammond for 24 years.

“Several colleagues have asked me why I would give up a lifetime appointment to take on a start-up law school during these tough economic times, when tuition is rising and demand for lawyers is declining,” Furgeson said. “But the prospect of pioneering a new law school that addresses these issues head-on was too challenging and exciting to pass up.”

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