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Excellence in Inclusive Leadership Honored by ABA Diversity Commission

Excellence in Inclusive Leadership Honored by ABA Diversity Commission

By Brian Graupner

The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession honored six lawyers with 2013 Spirit of Excellence Awards today for their significant contributions to advancing diversity in the profession.


From left: Reginald M. Turner Jr., chair, ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession; Thomas A. Saenz; President Bellows; Myles V. Lynk; Stacy L. Leeds; Walter L. Sutton Jr.; M. Javade Chaudhri. Not pictured: Jenny Rivera.

“These lawyers embody the ideals of the Spirit of Excellence Award,” said Reginald Turner, commission chair. “They have served as role models and mentors to young racially and ethnically diverse lawyers and law students. They are shining examples for future generations of lawyers.”

Award recipients (click each name for a video of their acceptance):

  • Javade Chaudhri, executive vice president and general counsel of Sempra Energy in San Diego, is the only South Asian-American general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. He is chair of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s In-House Counsel Committee, which is responsible for reaffirming to outside law firms the importance of diversity.
  • Stacy L. Leeds, dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, Ark., is the first Native American woman to be a law school dean. She is the first and only woman to serve as a justice of the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court.
  • Myles V. Lynk, the Peter Kiewit Foundation Professor of Law and the Legal Profession at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Tempe, Ariz., is the only African-American faculty member at the law school and only the second in the history of the law school to receive tenure.
  • Jenny Rivera, law professor at the City University of New York School of Law in New York City, is director of the Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality, which she founded to promote law reform scholarship, public education and litigation in support of expanded civil rights, with an emphasis on issues affecting the Latino community.
  • Thomas Saenz is president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Los Angeles, where he started as a staff attorney in 1993. Known as the Thurgood Marshall of the Latino community, Saenz has garnered praise for his efforts to bring justice to the disenfranchised.
  • Walter Sutton, associate general counsel for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark., is responsible for the development and coordination of diversity for Wal-Mart’s legal department. He was the first African-American to work as a lawyer at both Tenneco Oil Co. and Texas Instruments as well as the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas.

The mission of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is to promote racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. It serves as a catalyst for change, so that the profession may more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of society, and better serve society. The commission takes actions to promote the recruitment, hiring, promotion and advancement of attorneys of color, and works to ensure equal membership and employment opportunities for diverse lawyers in the American Bar Association.

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