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July 05, 2023

ABA to honor three attorneys at event celebrating government law efforts

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2023 — The American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law will honor California lawyer Michael Berger, Pace University law professor John R. Nolon and Denver lawyer Makenna X. Johnson with Jefferson B. Fordham Awards.

The presentations will be held at a luncheon during the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver on Friday, Aug. 4, from 12-2 p.m. MDT at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant at 500 16th Street, Suite 150.

Colorado Attorney General Philip Weiser will be the keynote speaker.

“Each year we seek to honor state and local government law practitioners who embody excellence and commitment to public service,” said Jennifer Bragar, chair of the Section of State and Local Government Law.  “They offer insight, training and mentorship to our members and advance the rule of law in the communities they serve.”

The Jefferson B. Fordham Awards, the highest honors given by the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law, recognize the accomplishments of those who have been active in the various areas of state and local government law. The award is named for the section’s first chair in 1949. Fordham diligently served and made the section the national resource for the advancement of state and local government law practice.

The Jefferson B. Fordham awardees are:

Michael Berger — Lifetime Achievement Award (presented in recognition of outstanding contributions to the practice of state and local government law by an individual over an entire career, for contributions over several years of service)

Berger, one of the top land use and condemnation attorneys in the United States, is a California lawyer and a senior counsel at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, in the real estate and the appellate practice. His appellate cases have involved planning, zoning, eminent domain, various kinds of business litigation, landslides, contract, due process, equal protection, defective construction, nuisance, insurance and environmental law. Berger has argued four cases before the United States Supreme Court as well as cases before appellate courts throughout California, numerous federal courts of appeal and other state supreme courts. He is also the frequent author of amicus curiae briefs in various appellate courts, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, pressing client interests in important pending cases.

Berger has spent more than 50 years as a practicing lawyer, adjunct professor, faculty member at various continuing legal education courses and author of both practical and scholarly articles in the fields of land use and eminent domain law. He earned a J.D. degree from Washington University School of Law and an LL.M. from the University of Southern California.

John R. Nolon Anita P. Miller Advocacy Award (presented in recognition of outstanding legal advocacy within the area of state and local government law and celebrates excellence in advocacy, both written and otherwise)

Nolon is the Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in White Plains, New York. He supervises student research and publications regarding land use, sustainable development, climate change, housing insecurity, racial inequity and the coronavirus pandemic. He is co-counsel to the law school’s Land Use Law Center, which he founded in 1993. Nolon served as adjunct professor of land use law and policy at the Yale School of the Environment from 2001-2016. Before he joined the law school faculty, he founded and directed the Housing Action Counsel to foster the development of affordable housing.

Nolon received a J.D. degree from the University of Michigan Law School where he was a member of the Barrister's Academic Honor Society. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Nebraska, where he was president of the Senior Honor Society. The Haub School of Law recognizes him in two ways: The John R. Nolon Land Use Student Achievement award is presented each year at the land use conference and at graduation, and the Pace Environmental Law Review awards the annual Professor John R. Nolon Student Writing Competition to the top three submissions by law students from law schools throughout the nation.

Nolon is co-author of the nation’s oldest casebook on land use law, Land Use and Sustainable Development Law: Cases and Materials, currently in its ninth edition. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to develop a framework law for sustainable development in Argentina where he worked from 1994-1996. His current research focuses on the management of climate change through a strategy known as Climate Resilient Development on which he is working with more than 40 Haub land use students.

Makenna X. Johnson Up & Comers Award (presented to a young practitioner, up to age 36, who, through their efforts and accomplishments, shows great promise to continue these contributions for future achievements)

Johnson, an associate at Alderman Bernstein in Denver, is the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division State and Local Government Committee vice chair. She was recently appointed as the Young Lawyers Division State and Local Government Committee chair and liaison to the Section of State and Local Government. She was also recently appointed to the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Executive Council. Johnson earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Colorado and a J.D. degree from William and Mary Law School.

Johnson serves in multiple bar associations in her practice area — eminent domain and condemnation law. She has led the charge to reinvigorate the Young Lawyers Division State and Local Government Committee and is involved in recruiting members and advertising the committee. She also coordinates with the Section of State and Local Government regarding co-sponsoring programs and relaying information from the section to committee members. Johnson hopes to continue contributing to these efforts in order to bring more young lawyers’ attention to the many careers and opportunities encompassed within the Section of State and Local Government.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.