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January 27, 2023

The 2023 Spirit of Excellence Awards: Celebrating 25 Years!

Michelle Behnke, Author | Judge Jackson Hatcher, Editor

The Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession will be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Spirit of Excellence Awards on Feb 4, 2023. Technically, the 25th Anniversary year was 2021. However, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the in-person awards program was postponed, but award recipients were honored virtually. The award was created in 1995, with the first award given in 1996. Since its inception, we have honored 156 lawyers and judges who have been working to improve diversity in the profession, blazing trails, opening doors, and making paths for others to follow. The Spirit of Excellence Award has been a way of recognizing the excellence and perseverance in the face of adversity shown by diverse lawyers.

This year we add four stellar lawyers and judges to the ranks of the award recipients:

Goodwin H. Liu joined the California Supreme Court in 2011, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown and retained by voters in 2014. Before joining the court, Judge Liu was a professor and associate dean at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. He is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, grew up in Sacramento, California, is a Rhodes Scholar and helped launch the AmeriCorps national service program. He teaches constitutional law as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. 

Roger Gregory was the first Black judge on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. He was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton in 2000 and President George W. Bush in 2001, and has served as chief judge since 2016. Judge Gregory has worked with the ABA Appellate Judges Education Institute on Diversity and Inclusion and the National Judicial College to help diversify the judiciary and the legal profession. Before joining the appeals court, Judge Gregory worked for law firms in Richmond, Virginia.

Reginald M. Turner is immediate past president of the ABA, serving from 2021 to 2022. He is a lawyer with Clark Hill in Detroit, where he is an accomplished litigator, government affairs advocate and strategic adviser. Turner is also a past president of the National Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan. He is a former chair of this Commission, where he developed policies and procedures that enhanced the commission and its work.

Diandra Benally is the first female general counsel of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, a former special assistant U.S. attorney and former staff attorney with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice. She has led the National Native American Bar Association, the Native American Bar Association of Arizona and the Navajo Nation Bar Association. To increase the number of Native American students in colleges and law schools, she helped start a mentoring program and spends hours personally mentoring students.

This will be our first in-person celebration since 2020. To make the event even more special we’ve invited our 2021 and 2022 Spirit of Excellence Award recipients to join us to be part of this special celebration. We will also be presenting our 4th Annual Diversity Champion Award to an ABA Section, Division or Forum, that has implemented metrics-driven, successful diversity and inclusion activities and programs.

For more information, please visit the Spirit of Excellence Award page.

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