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February 11, 2022

5 diversity trailblazers you should know

The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession  recognized five recipients of its 2022 Spirit of Excellence Award for their commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. The honors were conferred Feb. 10 during an online ceremony at the ABA Virtual Midyear Meeting.

Spirit of Excellence Award recipients (left to right): Gabriel S. Galanda, Steven C. González, Kay H. Hodge, Carlos E. Moore and Adrienne C. Nelson

Spirit of Excellence Award recipients (left to right): Gabriel S. Galanda, Steven C. González, Kay H. Hodge, Carlos E. Moore and Adrienne C. Nelson

Among the association’s highest recognitions, Spirit of Excellence Awards are presented to lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national, state or local level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in law.

In opening remarks, ABA President Reginald Turner, a former chair of the commission, emphasized the vital role of the five trailblazers. “During these times of uncertainty engendered by the pandemic and social unrest, it is more important than ever to pause in reflection of the dedicated leaders who strive for racial equity in the legal profession and the community.”

Turner said the awardees are “catalysts” to moving forward diversity and inclusion in law.

The 2022 award recipients are:
(click on recipients' name for video of remarks)

Gabriel S. Galanda is an indigenous rights attorney and the founder of Galanda Broadman PLLC in Seattle. His practice focuses on regulatory disputes for tribal governments, among other enterprises.

Galanda speaks and writes frequently about tribal litigation sovereignty and Indian civil rights issues. He has been named to Best Lawyers in America in the fields of Native American Law and Gaming Law from 2007 to 2021 and dubbed a Super Lawyer by his peers from 2013 to 2021.

The awardee gave particular thanks to five women who “shaped the trajectory” of his life and career: his great grandmother, grandmother, mother, wife, and an inspirational figure to indigenous people everywhere, Julia Martinez. She was the respondent in the landmark 1978 case Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, in which the Supreme Court upheld a law that discriminated on the basis of sex.

A recognized and respected voice in federal Indian and tribal law, Galanda urged the ABA to address the rights of indigenous people, including property protection. He said these rights, “are not or should not be exclusive in today’s America.”

Steven C. González was elected in January 2021 to a four-year term as chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court. Before joining the state Supreme Court in 2012, González served for 10 years as a trial judge on the King County Superior Court hearing criminal, civil, juvenile and family law cases. Prior to his election to the King County Superior Court, he practiced criminal and civil law. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of Washington, a domestic violence prosecutor for the City of Seattle and in private practice at a Seattle law firm.

González said the award is a “recognition of potential to achieve rather than achievement itself,” saying that there still is “much more” work to do.

González said he rededicates himself to that work, as well as “to the promise of justice for all.”

Kay H. Hodge is an equity partner at the Boston law firm of Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP. She has built a national reputation as a management-side employment lawyer while serving the legal profession as a bar leader. Her 2007 induction into the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel is a testament to her legal prowess and acumen.

Hodge was described as a mentor to many and a leader in her field.

Once the only woman or person of color in professional situations, Hodge said she is excited that there is more diversity in law – but there still progress to be made. She called on her fellow attorneys – and the association – to strengthen the pipeline to the profession, ensuring that children have the fundamentals they need to become a lawyer.

Carlos E. Moore is managing partner of The Cochran Firm – Mississippi Delta, located in Grenada, Mississippi, and is current president of the National Bar Association. Moore has the distinction of being appointed the first Black Municipal Judge Pro Tem for the Mississippi cities of Clarksdale (2017) and Grenada (2020).

While accepting his award, Moore said, “My life’s mission has been to pave the way for tomorrow’s generation of black and brown leaders.”

Moore said the work to end racial inequality and oppression is a work that must go on.

“Today we are witnessing a concerted effort across this nation to wash away the progress that people of color have enjoyed over the past half century,” Moore said.  “Our country is at a pivotal moment in time; a time when we must come together use our collective platforms, raise our voices and allow this generation and the next to stand up and be heard.”

Adrienne C. Nelson is Oregon’s first Black Supreme Court justice, appointed in January 2018. 

Nelson, a former litigator, was appointed in 2006 to the Multnomah County Circuit Court, making her only the second Black woman judge in Oregon history. Currently, she is only one of eight Black women who are sitting justices in the country.

Described as a visionary for diversity, equity and inclusion, Nelson advocates and volunteers on behalf of others. Recently a high school was named in her honor in Happy Valley, Oregon.

While accepting her award she said, “Today I encourage each of you to do something to create a better world,” Nelson said.  “It cannot be done without commitment and sustained effort.”

She added, “Let’s do our work, our voices and efforts are more important than ever.”

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. The commission 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 promotes the recruitment, hiring, promotion and advancement of attorneys of color and works to ensure equal membership and employment opportunities for diverse lawyers in the ABA. The commission accomplishes this through many initiatives, activities and programs, including the annual Spirit of Excellence Award.