Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Remembering a Civil Law Property Giant: Athanassios Yiannopoulos

It is with great sadness that I post regarding the passing of a civil law property giant—my colleague, my mentor, my partner on numerous reform efforts to the Louisiana Civil Code property articles, my intellectual opponent on some issues, and above all, my very dear friend, Thanassi Yiannopoulos.

A plethora of tributes have been written about Thanassi, and undoubtedly many more are in the works. For the purposes of this blog, I wanted to share what Thanassi did for property law.

At this point, many of you may be wondering, “who is this professor you are honoring?” Given that Thanassi did not regularly comment on American common law property, it is unsurprising that many American property law scholars may have missed his contributions. But one should not mistake a lack of commentary in traditional American law reviews for a lack of knowledge. Thanassi Yiannopoulos knew more about common law property than most. Thanassi’s extensive knowledge did not stop with common law property or general precepts of civil law property. Thanassi was the only legal scholar I know of who brought to the table a vast knowledge of current English law, old English law, German civil law, French civil law from the early 1800s, French civil law today, Greek civil law, ancient Greek legal systems, and much, much more.

All of this knowledge Thanassi brought to the relatively small state of Louisiana. Arriving at Louisiana State University in 1958 (and moving to Tulane in 1979), Thanassi took the Louisiana legal system by storm. Beginning in the 1960s, Thanassi helped lead a systematic revision of the Louisiana Civil Code. Thanassi’s particular expertise was in property law, and thus he was the reporter in charge of revising most of the property law articles. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Thanassi led the charge in amending all of Louisiana’s Civil Code articles relating to property law. Everything from acquisitive prescription to usufructs to nuisance to enclosed estates to classification of things, Thanassi had a leading hand in crafting current Louisiana law.

Thanassi’s impact on Louisiana property law ran far deeper than just revising the legislative text itself; he also wrote prolifically, trying to explain Louisiana property law. He is the author of three treatises on the subject, as well as the editor for the entire Louisiana Civil Code. He wrote numerous civil law textbooks and countless law review articles. If that scholarship was not enough to influence Louisiana property law, Thanassi also spent large amounts of his time consulting on property cases. He was cited in more than 600 cases and now doubt will be cited in many, many more posthumously.

It is hard to identify exactly what Thanassi’s biggest contribution was to Louisiana property law and, truly, civil law property around the world because he made so many contributions. As a colleague both at Tulane and on the state’s main law reform organization, what I will miss most about Thanassi, though, is the comparative knowledge he brought to every meeting, every conversation. Louisiana property law is better today because the man centrally responsible for drafting it in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s knew the successes and shortcomings of Greek property law and German property law and French property law and English property law and American property law. That vast knowledge is hard to acquire, but something I learned from Thanassi that we should all strive for, as understanding the property systems of others can help us improve our own.

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