Two members of the law school community, JoAnne Epps and Sarah Deer, received the ABA Spirit of Excellence Award at the Midyear Meeting in San Diego in February. The awards are given annually by the ABA’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession to honor lawyers who excel professionally; who personify excellence on the national, state, or local level; and who demonstrate a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the profession.
JoAnne Epps became the dean of Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law in 2008 and has taught at Temple for more than 30 years. She is a long-time advocate for women and minorities in the profession, evidenced by her membership in the Consortium for Women’s Leadership at the Center for Women in the Law at the University of Texas School of Law and on the board of the National Association of Women Lawyers Foundation. A valued and highly respected community leader in Philadelphia, Dean Epps was recently appointed chair of the newly-created Police Oversight Board to ensure that a recent Justice Department recommendations for reform are carried out. In 2001, she chaired a mayor’s task force on police discipline. She has been a member of the Pennsylvania Judicial Independence Commission and a member of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Committee to Promote Fairness in the Judiciary.
Dean Epps' diversity efforts have been recognized by the Philadelphia Bar Association, which named her its 2014 Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award recipient, by Lawyers of Color magazine, which named her to its list of the nation’s 100 most influential African-American lawyers three times, and in 2012, by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.
Sarah Deer is a professor and co-director of the Indian Law Program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Professor Deer’s work is focused on tribal law and violent crime, particularly against women, on Indian reservations. She serves as a justice for the Prairie Island Indian Community Court of Appeals and as an appellate judge for the White Earth Nation, both in Minnesota. Professor Deer has worked steadfastly to reform federal policies around the tribal prosecution of violent offenders and to coordinate efforts by Native American leaders, health care professionals and women’s advocates to address sexual violence on Indian land. In 2014, her advocacy work was recognized by the MacArthur Fellows Program.