As a teenager in Cheltenham JoAnne A. Epps dreamed of becoming a secretary like her two heroes - her mother, who worked at Temple Univerity and Della Street, the know-it-all assistant on the old

Perry Mason

television series.

Instead, at the urging of a college mentor, she become a lawyer and yesterday was named dean of Temple University's James E. Beasley School of Law.

"Back in the '60s, I didn't know any women lawyers, and I certainly didn't know any black women lawyers," said Epps, 56. "I didn't see that in my future but one of my college mentors did, for which I'll be eternally grateful."

When she takes over on July 1, Epps will oversee 64 faculty members, more than 1,200 students at Temple's main campus and nearly 150 students enrolled in Temple's law programs in China and Japan.

Epps has been a Temple faculty member for more than two decades but her connections to the university go much deeper. Her first job was as a 16-year-old cashier in the bookstore. Her late mother, Ellen, who worked at the university for more than 20 years, retired as registrar at Tyler School of Art.

"Several people have written who knew my mom and said she was looking down," said Epps. "It was gratifying. I feel very honored to be in this position."

Temple president Ann Weaver Hart called Epps "a universally respected scholar" with a devotion to Temple's mission and contagious energy.

An authority on evidence, criminal procedure and litigation advocacy, Epps has written several books that are widely used in law schools. Before joining the faculy, she was assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and deputy city attorney for Los Angeles.

Her work in international legal education includes training Sudanese lawyers representing victims of the Darfur crisis and teaching advocacy skills to prosecutors in Tanzania at the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

She received her law degree from Yale School of Law in 1976 after graduating from Trinity College in Hartford.

Epps succeeds Dean Robert J. Reinstein, who will retire on June 30 after 19 years in the job, making him among the longest-serving deans in an American law school.

As dean, Epps said she would like to continue to recruit outstanding faculty and students and expand Temple's connections with the legal community.

"I want people in the city to believe that what's going on at Temple Law School is of interest to them," she said.

Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.