The ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession honored four 2018 The Spirit of Excellence Award recipients for their commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. The awards were presented during a luncheon on Feb. 3 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver.
Spirit of Excellence Award recipients (from left): Kenneth D. Gray, Alan N. Braverman, Heather Kendall-Miller and James A. Wynn Jr.
The 2018 award recipients are: (click on each name to view acceptance videos)
Alan N. Braverman, senior executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of The Walt Disney Company since 2003. As the company’s chief legal officer, Braverman oversees its team of attorneys responsible for all aspects of Disney’s legal affairs around the world. He previously served as executive vice president and general counsel for Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., and deputy general counsel for Disney. Prior to joining Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., he was a partner with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, where he started in 1976. He specialized in complex commercial and administrative litigation. Braverman also was a law clerk for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas W. Pomeroy Jr. Braverman, a Boston native, earned his J.D. degree from Duquesne University.
“Problem-solving in a pluralistic society demands pluralistic perspectives,” he said in accepting the award, adding that he wanted Disney’s legal department to “truly reflect the mosaic of society…how do you get there? By literally opening the doors of opportunity.”
Saying “you can find great talent everywhere – you just have to look,” Braverman said his department assesses talent by “considering the character of the individual and their social intelligence as well as their analytical ability” and that has helped them become more effective at what they do.
Major General (ret.) Kenneth D. Gray, a native of McDowell County, W. Va., was the first African-American general in the history of the active Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He received his B.A. degree in political science from West Virginia State College in 1966 and was commissioned a second lieutenant from the Reserve Officers Training Corps. In 1969, he received his J.D. from West Virginia University’s College of Law, where he was the only African-American student for the entire three years he attended. After law school, Gray served on active duty in the JAG Corps and eventually became the Army deputy judge advocate general. Gray graduated with honors from the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Following his military career, Gray served as vice president for student affairs at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
At the luncheon, Gray recalled what it was like when he got involved in working for diversity. “Following a tour in Vietnam, I was asked to recruit minorities and women to the JAG Corps. At that time, there were 8 women and 16 African-American lawyers out of about 1,600,” he said. “Today, there are about 6.7 percent African Americans and 28 percent women out of 1,850.”
He credited those who came before him, “many who did not have the opportunity to achieve the success that I was able to achieve. They actually paved the way for my journey by the sacrifices, challenges and obstacles that they had to overcome,” and said when he faced obstacles he drew strength from his parents, teachers, ROTC officers and law school professors.
Heather Kendall-Miller, an Alaska native (Athabascan), is a senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Anchorage. Kendall-Miller is a graduate of Harvard Law School and has dedicated her career to public service. She was a law clerk at the Alaska Supreme Court and then served as a Skadden Fellow, where she worked as a staff attorney for the Alaska Legal Services Corporation representing indigent clients in court and in administrative hearings. During the second year of her fellowship, she worked for the Native American Rights Fund, where she continues her groundbreaking work. With more than 25 years practicing in federal and state courts, Kendall-Miller has established foundational legal principles protecting Native American subsistence, tribal sovereignty and human rights. Her activities outside the law include board memberships with the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the Wilderness Society, the Alaska Native Justice Center, the Social Justice Fund, the Honoring Nations Governing Board and the Conservation Foundation. In addition, she serves on the Alaska Supreme Court Committee on Fairness and Access to the Judicial System and as liaison to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I have had the great pleasure of the past 27 years of working in that field and using my law degree to make change, and it’s been an incredibly fulfilling profession to be able to work in,” Kendall-Miller said when she accepted her award.
She said like many in the audience she was used to being called “one of the first,” but that is now “way in the past,” and men and women of color are in the profession “making huge contributions.” She congratulated them for not having “lost any momentum; you’re picking it up and you’re moving it forward.”
Judge James A. Wynn Jr. serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. Wynn was nominated for the bench by President Barack Obama and confirmed unanimously in 2010. Prior to his appointment, Wynn served for 20 years on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of North Carolina. He received his J.D. from Marquette University School of Law and an LL.M. in Judicial Process from the University of Virginia School of Law. Wynn’s legal career began in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps, where he served for four years on active duty and 26 years in the reserves. He was a certified military trial judge and retired at the rank of captain. Before becoming a state appellate judge in 1990, Wynn was a litigator in the law firm of Fitch, Butterfield & Wynn in Wilson, N.C. He currently serves on the Marquette University board of trustees and is a senior lecturing fellow at Duke University School of Law. Wynn is one of the drafters of the 2007 ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct. He recently was appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to serve on the Judicial Conference’s Information Technology Committee.
Recalling when he heard Justice Antonin Scalia say that judges don’t come to the court as a tabula rasa; they don’t come with a blank slate, Wynn said at the luncheon, “And I said thank you, Justice Scalia, you’ve just given the best case for diversity I know.”
He noted NAACP President Sherilynn Ifill’s distinction between representative diversity and substantive diversity. “In other words you can look diverse, but you may not bring substantive diversity to that spot, and I have sought through the years to bring both to this process.”
Of the challenges of being a judge, Wynn said, “I submit you should be respectful, you should be honorable in the way you treat others, but you should never compromise that which for you have earned to get to where you are.”