Penelope Pether, 55, Villanova law professor

Penelope Pether
Penelope Pether
Posted: September 14, 2013

Penelope Pether, 55, of Haverford, a law professor at Villanova University, died Tuesday, Sept. 10, of cancer at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Dr. Pether was a widely published legal scholar, specializing in the theory and practice of judging in the federal courts; feminist legal theory; the history of racial discrimination; and rape-law reform.

"Penny Pether was a well-respected educator, dedicated mentor, and beloved friend and colleague," said John Gotanda, dean of the Villanova School of Law. "Her passion for teaching was immeasurable, and her death is a tremendous loss for the Villanova Law community."

Over the last eight years, she taught courses there about criminal law, comparative constitutional law, and law and literature.

She also brought Villanova law students and inmates together in an unusual seminar at Graterford Prison to study issues of crime and justice from behind prison walls, Gotanda said.

Her husband, David Caudill, said that even in failing health, Dr. Pether went to the prison to teach. She insisted that the inmates could master the difficult legal concepts, and that they should try.

"She really cared about those guys," her husband said.

Dr. Pether was a prolific writer. The second edition of her coauthored Criminal Law casebook was recently published, and at the time of her death, she was working on  the fifth in a series of groundbreaking articles on adjudication practices in U.S. federal courts.

Dr. Pether's look back at the law of indefinite detention, Terrorists, and Business as Usual: Indefinite Before and After 9/11 will be published in 2015, according to the Villanova Law School website.

Born and raised in rural New South Wales in Australia, Dr. Pether earned her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Sydney.

She became a solicitor in the Sydney law offices of Freehill, Hollingdale & Page before moving to the New South Wales Ombudsman's Office to investigate alleged police misconduct.

She later earned her master of letters from the University of New England in New South Wales, and was an assistant lecturer in English at Sydney, where she earned her doctorate in English studies. Her dissertation focused on the authors E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf.

She taught law at the University of Wollongong and Sydney.

In 1996, she met Caudill at a conference in California, and came to the United States to build a life with him, although she never lost her Australian accent. She taught at the University of California-Irvine, Southern Illinois University, American University, and Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School.

In 1998, they married. Caudill is the Arthur M. Goldberg Family Chair in Law at Villanova. The two joined the law-school faculty together in 2005.

In private, Dr. Pether enjoyed gardening and was a serious cook. She had a great laugh, but was all business when it came to teaching; she rose at 4 a.m. to prepare for class, her husband said.

Surviving, besides her husband, are a stepson, Christopher William Caudill; her mother, Betty Alma Pether; a brother; two nephews; and a niece.

A memorial reception will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at St. Asaph's Episcopal Church, 27 Conshohocken State Rd., Bala Cynwyd. A funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the church, with burial in the church cemetery.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or


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