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April 07, 2023 Judicial Division

Building the Pipeline: Outreach Efforts during the Midyear Meeting

By Col. Linda Strite Murnane (Ret.), Xenia, OH

Sophie B. Hall High School Students Leave Lasting Impression

Members of the ABA Judicial Division (JD) were inspired and invigorated by students at the Sophie B. Wright Charter School in New Orleans, LA, as they began their attendance at the 2023 Midyear Meeting.

“From the moment we walked into the school gymnasium for the meeting with the students, we knew these students were being equipped with great skills to prepare them for their post-high school lives,” said Linda Murnane, one of the more than 15 lawyers and judges who participated in the Youth Outreach Program.

The Youth Outreach Program is one of a series of events organized and carried out by the JD’s Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary (SCDJ) during the ABA's Midyear and Annual Meetings.

This year’s program site was organized with the assistance of the JD Chair, the Honorable Ernestine Gray. As the meeting was being held in New Orleans, Judge Gray’s hometown, she was very familiar with the educational programs in the area since she has dedicated nearly four decades serving on the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Bench.

Members of the JD's Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary volunteer for the Youth Outreach Program at the 2023 Midyear Meeting

Members of the JD's Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary volunteer for the Youth Outreach Program at the 2023 Midyear Meeting

Courtesy of Col. Linda Strite Murnane (ret.)

“Judge Gray was instrumental in selecting and organizing this year’s event,” shared Judge Diana Song Quiroga, who chairs the SCDJ this year. “She knew the school administrators, and knew that our program was something that both the students and our JD members would find a worthwhile use of their time.”

During the outreach program, two or three judges led a group of six to eight students while they discussed the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The discussion used a case study discussing an invasion by space creatures who demanded that five of the ten rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights must be surrendered. Students were asked to rank the rights they valued most, and those they valued least and to explain why and how they felt the loss of some rights might change their life on a day-to-day basis.

The judges and lawyers participating in the event were immediately impressed with the participating students from Sophie B. Hall when the students came up to the speaker table where the judges and lawyers were seated and introduced themselves one by one. “In all my years of doing this, that was something that had never happened before,” Judge Jim Gilbert said.

Students from Sophie B. Wright High School greet the judges and lawyers volunteering at the Youth Outreach Program

Students from Sophie B. Wright High School greet the judges and lawyers volunteering at the Youth Outreach Program

Courtesy of Col. Linda Strite Murnane (ret.)

Each student group selected a speaker to report on which rights the students in the group had decided they needed to keep and which they would surrender, and to explain why they made those choices. “One of the many strengths of this program is that it opens up a discussion with the students about current events and how these rights we were discussing might interface with current events,” Judge Emily Chafa noted. “This year was particularly difficult for the students given the investigation into the death of Tyre Nichols.”

Dr. Sharon Clark, Director of the Sophie B. Wright Charter High School, added: " I was honored that the Judicial Division's Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary chose our school to conduct its Youth Outreach Program. Our students are still excitedly talking about the opportunity they had to not only learn about the law but also the privilege to meet judges from around the country. As the Director of a school of predominantly African-American and Hispanic students, this visit showed our students that with hard work and determination, they can choose any career and achieve any goal that they set for themselves."

Each student was provided with their own copy of the U.S. Constitution as part of the program that they can take home. Members of the JD, even those who don't attend the program, make this possible through donations to the JD’s Fund for Justice and Education.

The judges all said that this was truly the highlight of the Midyear Meeting for them, and as they departed wished the students continued success.

Stellar Panel of Jurists Share their Pathways to the Bench with Law Students from Loyola and Tulane

Later in the evening, more than 70 law students, law professors, lawyers and judges gathered at Loyola Law School, New Orleans, to hear the stories of courage, perseverance and success at the SCDJ law school outreach. The program, titled “Judicial Clerkships and Pathways to the Bench” provided an opportunity to hear the path taken by trailblazing judges who each represented a uniquely diverse set of challenges in achieving their positions.

Panelists (l-r): Hon. James G. Gilbert, Hon. Nanette Jolivette Brown, Hon. Bernadette D'Souza, Hon. Piper D. Griffin, and Hon. Dana M. Douglas

Panelists (l-r): Hon. James G. Gilbert, Hon. Nanette Jolivette Brown, Hon. Bernadette D'Souza, Hon. Piper D. Griffin, and Hon. Dana M. Douglas

Courtesy of Col. Linda Strite Murnane (ret.)

Associate Justice Piper D. Griffin detailed her decision to return to her home state of Louisiana after she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame where she was a Notre Dame Scholar. Justice Griffin attended law school at the Louisiana State University, and after earning her J.D. degree, she remained in her state to serve as a law clerk and build her law practice. She decided to run for a judgeship and described the lessons she learned after losing her first election. She was later appointed and then elected to serve on the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where she also served as its Chief Judge from 2008 – 2010.  In 2020, she was elected as an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. She has held many leadership positions in the organized bar and her work has resulted in her receiving many recognitions and awards both in the state and nationally. “It doesn’t matter where your pathway to the bench begins,” Justice Griffin said. “Service as a judge can be stressful, demanding and emotionally draining, but it is also very rewarding. Treat each person in the courtroom with respect,” Justice Griffin advised the audience.

Judge Dana M. Douglas serves as the first African American to serve as a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, having been confirmed in December 2022. She previously served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana. “My family has been engaged in public service for as long as I can remember,” Judge Douglas said. “Even when I was enjoying the benefits of private practice, my ‘public service DNA’ won out,” she said. When asked to describe the most important quality for a judge, Judge Douglas said “Listening.” She went on to explain, “Win or lose, litigants want to know that their case has been heard and that the issues in their case were understood,” she continued. Like the other judges on the panel, Judge Douglas has an extensive history of service to her community of New Orleans and to the organized bar. She served as the third Black president of the New Orleans Bar. In that role, she worked to organize pro bono clinics in underserved communities to assist indigent unrepresented persons.

Another distinguished panelist was U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown, who serves as the first African American Federal District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana. She described the experience of being the first woman of color in her position as a challenge, but noted that “You have to get used to feeling uncomfortable when you decide to take on the mantle of being a ‘first’.” Judge Brown related that while working as the City Attorney of New Orleans she had the opportunity to explore multiple aspects of constitutional law. Nominated to bench in the Eastern District of Louisiana by President Barack Obama in 2011, Judge Brown now serves as the Chief Judge for the Court. “My advice to young lawyers is to learn to build consensus,” Judge Brown said. She also shared her criteria for law clerks, indicating that demonstrated discipline and a willingness to learn are two of the criteria she looks for when screening for law clerks.

Although not a native of New Orleans, Judge Bernadette D’Souza shared how she built her family life and legal career in the city as she attended law school while her husband completed his medical residency. She received her J.D. degree from Tulane Law School and immediately set about pursuing her area of special interest addressing housing and domestic violence cases. She had volunteered with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services during the summers while attending law school. She served on the Board of the YWCA, and her work with victims of domestic violence extended to that role as well. During her work, she found support from other women judges in Louisiana, including current ABA JD Chair, Ernestine Gray, Judge Madeline Landrieu (now the Dean of the Loyola Law School New Orleans) and Associate Justice Piper Griffin. With their support and her exceptional record of public service, she was appointed as the first Indian American and immigrant to serve as a judge on the Orleans Civil District Court. Judge D'Souza has received numerous awards for her public service and is a past president of the National Association of Women Judges.

Judge James G. Gilbert, Chief Administrative Law Judge for the United States Postal Service, exposed law students to lesser known judicial clerkship opportunities in administrative courts. He described the job of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and how he landed in the unique role as the Chief ALJ for the U.S. Postal Service. “The U.S. Postal Service is one of the largest retailers in the United States,” Judge Gilbert explained. “My docket involves a wide range of cases including issues involving mail fraud and civil penalties.”  Judge Gilbert shared his unique journey as an openly gay man serving in the Administrative Law Judiciary. “As a white male, who came from an upper middle class white family, I know I had some advantages,” Judge Gilbert said. “However, working in a large Boston area firm during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and announcing to the firm that I was gay at that time posed its own set of barriers.” Judge Gilbert shared concerns he and other ALJs have with the current status of ALJs and discussed the pending case of SEC v. Cochran in the Supreme Court that challenges the traditional judicial framework of agency review.

Although the program was scheduled for an hour, the lively discussion with attendees extended the session which was ably co-moderated by Clarke Perkins, a Tulane 3L, and Taylor Smith, a Loyola Law School 2L. “The ABA Judicial Division’s Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary is committed to assisting law students in seeing a clear pathway for them to join the judiciary at the right moment in their careers,” said Judge Diana Song Quiroga who chairs the Standing Committee. “A diverse judiciary increases public confidence in the justice system, and serves all constituents,” she added. The evening program was followed by a reception hosted at the handsome Greenville Hall. “We thank the Tulane and Loyola Law schools for their support of this important event,” Judge Song Quiroga added. 

Col. Linda Strite Murnane (USAF, Ret.)

Xenia, OH

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