Irish Cultural Center from above - Weecks Productions

The Irish Cultural Center, Phoenix, from above (photo: Weecks Productions)

Earlier this month, Arizona’s own Sandra Day O’Connor was recognized at the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix for her achievements and contributions—and for being Irish.

As the Irish Central news hub announced, the retired Supreme Court Associate Justice received “the prestigious Anam Cara Award (Irish Soul Friend).” It was bestowed in honor of “her illustrious career, long-term service to the community and her family’s Irish heritage.”

Justice sandra Day O'Connor (ret.) and attorney Debbie Weecks

Justice sandra Day O’Connor (ret.) and attorney Debbie Weecks

You can read the whole story here. (But you may have to suppress a chuckle at the photo caption, which somehow misidentifies Justice O’Connor’s late husband John as being then-Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. Here is the photo and accurate cutline.)

Thank you for the heads-up to Arizona attorney Debbie Weecks, who attended the event. Her son Dan also runs a production company and provided some photos of the evening, as well as a video made for the occasion. Here is the great video on what Anam Cara means, and why Sandra Day O’Connor is a worthy recipient. It includes interviews with noteworthy folks like former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor.

And thank you to Dan Weecks of Weecks Productions for sharing the photos and the video.

More information on the Irish Cultural Center is here.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

This Sunday, January 8, Arizonans and many others around the country will recall a horrific shooting that killed six people and injured 13.

Though deaths by loaded weapon are relatively commonplace in this country, certain factors ensured that the Tucson shooting would ring in our memories far longer than the sound of the shots did. Among those felled were U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and U.S. District Court Judge John Roll. Giffords survived; Roll died.

I wrote about the event a few times in 2011, the first time just two days after the shooting:

“The lives of judges and Congress-folk are no more important than the lives of anyone else—not a jot. But a person of my age was raised on a nutritious diet of study—of history, of federalism, of the U.S. Constitution. We learned—and many of us still feel—that our government is OUR government.

“So when a criminal attacks a judge and a member of Congress, he takes arms against all of us. When he ratchets up political dissent to transform it into a chambered round, and then sends his rebellion hurtling out the end of a gun barrel, he aims it at every American citizen.”

(The complete post is here.)

Chief Judge John M. Roll

Since then, I’ve written about Giffords, the shooting, and the coverage of guns in the state more times than I would have guessed I ever would have.

This week, a PBS program shares some stories from survivors and aims to heal some of the wounds that have been made. Read more about it here.

Meanwhile, efforts at civil discourse continue. Another recent one featured former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Have a good and thoughtful weekend.

Finalists and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. L to R: Ryan Nelson, Matt Storrs, Justice O'Connor, Jodi Weisberg (first place), Trevor Cox and Bob Howard

Lawyer jokes rarely sit well with the profession, and for good reason: Those jibes are often mean-spirited and, worse, inaccurate.

But an event last week turned that rubric on its head. The John J. O’Connor Humor Competition offered up some of the funniest people in the profession, all for a good cause.

It was held at the monthly meeting of the Phoenix Rotary 100, generous and gracious hosts. And as you may have guessed by the event title, the effort is founded on a legal legacy.

John O’Connor contributed much to the profession and to the Rotary, as well as to his community and family. He and his wife, Sandra Day O’Connor, made a huge impact on the state.

Jodi Weisberg

Given that impact, it is not surprising that friends of the family asked the O’Connors what they could do to commemorate John’s life—a scholarship, an annual lecture?

What was surprising was the O’Connor family response: Let’s integrate some comedy to recognize John’s love of humor.

And so the competition idea was born. Winners would receive real dough–$3,000 for 1st place down to $500 to 4th place, all of which was to be funneled back to law students or law schools.

Specially selected comedy judges culled the group of applicants to a manageable number. And then on October 14, the final five lawyers and law students strode up to the stage and offered their best three to six minutes of comedy. To add to their pressure of playing in front of a full house, Justice O’Connor herself kindly attended (and she smiled and laughed occasionally, too!).

Lawyer Scott Rose outdid himself as emcee—he should have gotten a little of the winner’s purse himself!

(Thank you to UA Law’s Nancy Stanley, who got me a ticket to the event and who served as a pretty humorous lunch partner herself!)

To capture the day’s spirit, I will share the best joke or two from each finalist. That determination was made by me, based on my own laughable comedy standards—and the room’s response that day. Complaints or disagreements should be sent to the appropriate department.

In reverse order:

Fifth Place: Ryan Nelson, 3L at Phoenix School of Law

  • As the school year goes on, law school gets to be a more and more competitive place. In fact, you’re more likely to find Moammar Quaddafi in the library than a copy of the 2011 Probate Statute Book.

Fourth Place: Trevor Cox, 1L at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University

  • I’m a law student, so naturally I’m here because I smelled lunch.
  • Benjamin Franklin said the only thing more expensive than education is ignorance. Clearly he never went to law school.

Third Place: Matt Storrs, 1L at Phoenix School of Law

  • My mom told me that God never gives us anything we can’t handle. He must have a blind spot when it comes to mortgages.

Second Place: Bob Howard, lawyer at Jekel, Howard & Thomas, Scottsdale

  • My practice is in divorce, or, as I call it, anti-family law.
  • There are two marital statuses: single and pre-divorce.

First Place: Jodi Weisberg, Solo practitioner, Phoenix

  • As I get older, I find I care so much less about so much more.
  • When I was growing up, if I had ever told my parents I had googled myself or someone else, I would have been in big trouble.
  • When I was 7, my brother told me I was adopted. I asked my mom, who said, “Yes, dear, it’s true. But they returned you.”
  • Despite what you may have heard, women lawyers don’t now and have never suffered from subpoena envy.

Congratulations to all those who took part in this fantastic event.

More photos from the event are at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

I couldn’t let the day pass without noting a significant achievement in U.S. and legal history.

No, it’s not the death of Wyatt Earp in Arizona way back in 1900 (though that’s a good one, too).

President Reagan and his Supreme Court Justice nominee Sandra Day O’Connor at the White House, July 15, 1981.

More noteworthy, and more likely to be remembered in another hundred years, is this: It was on this day in 1981 that an Arizona Court of Appeals Judge named Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to sit on the United States Supreme Court.

By September of that year, she had been confirmed as the nation’s first woman Supreme Court Justice.

Thirty years later, her legacy is felt in a raft of the Court’s opinions. Back then, it didn’t take long for Court watchers and average Americans to forget that she was “the Lady Justice,” and to focus instead on her opinions. And they loved ’em or hated ’em, just as they did with “the boys’” opinions.

But the influence she wielded as a woman made a difference too. Back in early January, she admitted to a small gathering that she has been pleased to see the way made slightly less bumpy for other women who have the chops to serve on the Court. Now, she noted with a smile, there are three women Justices.

I reported before on her address to a group at the State Bar of Arizona’s Law School for Legislators. Her memories of judging and lawmaking in the state were poignant. But when one questioner asked her about her nomination to the Court, she recalled the raucous summer of 1981.

She admitted that she had tried not to think too much of it, even after she had been invited to the White House for a presidential sit-down. There are always a lot of candidates, she recalls thinking. But when she got the actual offer, she faced the daunting prospect of convincing herself and her husband—staunch westerners both—that moving east was not such a bad idea.

 

The four women who have served on the Court (from left to right: O’Connor and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan) on Oct. 1, 2010, prior to Justice Kagan’s Investiture Ceremony.

Thirty years later, we’re happy she and John decided to pack up the U-Haul and venture into a new challenge. Happy anniversary.

Grady Gammage Jr.

The way we pick judges has all the makings of a yawner, right up there with shareholder voting rules and ski-lift instructions. And yet in Arizona and across the country, the topic is red hot.

This year, as in the past, the Arizona Legislature is considering some bills that would alter what many argue is the flagship method for judicial selection in the nation. As Morrison Institute executive director Sue Clark-Johnson said, “Arizona has been considered a model in the United States.”

In response to the possibility of Legislative action, the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University hosted a panel presentation on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 22. (I previously posted some event photos at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.)

Held at the ASU downtown Phoenix campus, the roundtable included:

  • State Senator Adam Driggs (R-11), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Hon. Ruth V. McGregor, former Chief Justice, Arizona Supreme Court
  • Hon. Mary M. Schroeder, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the ninth Circuit
  • Hon. William J. “Bill” O’Neil, former judge, Arizona Superior Court for Pinal County (and now the state’s Presiding Disciplinary Judge; we wrote about him in the January issue of AzAt)

The moderator was lawyer Grady Gammage Jr.

Former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor

The roundtable was great, as far as it went. But events like this come perilously close to the scenario of heartfelt preachers assaulting the ears of the choir: They tend to be slated from a particular point of view, which the audience shares. The only mystery is will there be catering?

Given that, how do you achieve a vibrant evening, one where the assembled learn something new and important about the topic?

Have a great moderator.

Props to all the panelists, but Grady Gammage did his job with elán. He poked, prodded and incited the four panelists. And although he pretty much agreed with them about everything, he spent the evening playing the role not of the agreeable piece of furniture—the death knell for a roundtable—but of the mildly disagreeable event interloper.

Mind you, when I say disagreeable, I heap the greatest of praise. For the moderator who plays devil’s advocate is the audience’s surest friend. His insistence on hard answers from speakers sharpened their presentations and made their positions crystal clear. It made them and their presentation look even better.

The evening opened with remarks by Sue Clark-Johnson and Dr. David R. Berman, an Institute research fellow. Berman gave a historic overview of the state’s merit selection process.

And then Gammage explained the political landscape that faces that process. In the current Legislative session, he said, there are currently 10 House Concurrent Resolutions (HCRs) and one House Resolution (HR) that would alter that process in some way.

  • Most of the proposals would add Senate confirmation.
  • Two would remove the State Bar of Arizona from the process.
  • One would change the length of judges’ terms.
  • One would retain Pinal County as a judicial election county (its growing population would otherwise automatically make it a merit-selection county).
  • One would require the Commission on Judicial Court Appointments to rank the nominees whose names it forwards to the Governor.
  • One would allow the Governor to add names of her choosing.
  • One would require Senate reconfirmation of judges.

Chief Justice McGregor was especially concerned about the Senate confirmation idea: “It seems intended to make the process more political, and nothing else.”

Sandra Day O'Connor makes a point at the roundtable discussion.

She continued, “When people say, ‘Judges are nothing but politicians in robes,’ that is wrong, and not the case in Arizona.”

Senator Driggs tried to give some insight into the thinking of his colleagues, especially in regard to the Senate confirmation idea.

“I think some may have visions of C-SPAN in their heads, a big vetting process [like U.S. Senate confirmation]. It’s a little bit of a fantasy, like all of a sudden everyone will be down there and paying attention.”

McGregor added what became a recurring theme of the evening—what exactly is broke that requires fixing?

“Most who have studied the Arizona merit-selection system say that it is the best. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said [to other states], ‘We don’t take a position, but if you have merit selection, follow Arizona.’”

Gammage got some laughs and raised eyebrows when he asked Judge O’Neil if Pinal County was resisting “becoming a grown-up county” and adopting merit-selection. O’Neil took issue with the question—not the “grown-up” moniker, but with the inference that residents wanted to keep judicial elections. He said that the majority of the county would like to be a merit-selection jurisdiction.

O’Neil added that in preparation for the move to merit-selection, the court there began performing trial-run internal reviews, which would become the norm under the new process. And in a county where the judges have always been elected, he said that “not all did that well.”

Judge Mary Schroeder shared more background about merit selection. She reminded everyone that Judge Thomas Tang, a respected jurist, was thrown out of his elected judgeship because of a single criminal case.

In response, “The business community got merit-selection passed in a referendum.”

She also was troubled by the seeming hostility toward any organized bar association. She recalled a previous battle over splitting the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In testimony to Congress, Microsoft General Counsel Bill Neukom spoke in favor of the current Circuit. Many advised him to “play up” his Microsoft connection, and to downplay the fact that he was the President-Elect of the American Bar Association.

Gammage did not let the group off that easy, though. He urged them to discuss the ballot that contains “all those names” of judges standing for retention election.

“No one knows what to do with all those names. What an insulting process. If we agree that it is meaningless, and that it is not likely to have much impact, what is it for?”

“What is the effect on civic expectations,” he continued, “in what amounts to an essentially meaningless exercise? If the result is that 1 out of 50 gets marginal ratings, why send the names to the ballot at all?

Of course, panelists did not agree with his premise. But they did acknowledge that it creates a challenge for voters.

McGregor, Schroeder and O’Neil agreed that merit-selection’s very existence may serve to persuade those with more meager skills from seeking a judgeship in the first place. And that would mean those seeking to be retained would likely have high ratings

And Senator Driggs also spoke in favor of merit selection.

“I don’t care if someone is charismatic and goes to neighborhood picnics. I want them to know the Rules of Evidence.”

Finally, in the audience Q&A portion, a slight woman raised her hand and patiently waited her turn. When Gammage called on her, Sandra Day O’Connor, former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear.

“I grew up on a ranch, and we followed the motto of, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, it ain’t broke, and I don’t know what changes they’re going to implement.”

Gerda Weissman Klein speaks at a citizenship swearing-in, Mar. 23, 2009, Phoenix, Ariz.

Congratulations to Gerda Weissman Klein, a Scottsdale resident who this week was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

People who receive the award have made significant contributions “to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

It is the highest U.S. honor a civilian can receive.

As the story describes it:

Among the honorees was Weissmann Klein, a Holocaust survivor.

“As an author, a historian and a crusader for tolerance, she has taught the world that it is often in our most hopeless moments that we discover the extent of our strength and the depth of our love,” Obama said of Weissmann Klein.

The 86-year-old author, humanitarian and public speaker in 2008 founded Citizenship Counts, an organization dedicated to engaging young people in civics education and the responsibilities of citizenship. “All But My Life,” her 1958 memoir of her survival of Nazi persecution, formed the basis for the Academy Award-winning documentary, “One Survivor Remembers.”

Weissmann Klein was born in Poland and separated from her family when the Germans invaded. She endured six years in labor and concentration camps and a 350-mile forced march. In 1945, Kurt Klein, a German-born U.S. soldier, rescued her and they married. She later became a U.S. citizen.

Here at the State Bar of Arizona and Arizona Attorney Magazine, we know Gerda.

In the magazine, we have covered Citizenship Counts, in which retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has also been involved. Here is a story we ran about a 2009 citizenship swearing-in that counted Gerda Weissman Klein and Justice O’Connor among its speakers.

And a few years ago, Klein delivered a great speech at the annual Bar Convention. Her story, and her commitment to furthering good causes, is remarkable. Well done.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch at Law School for Legislators, Jan. 6, 2011

Last Thursday, January 6, the State Bar of Arizona hosted its fifth annual Law School for Legislators. I attended for the first time, and it was an insightful way to kick off a new legislative session, especially for the freshmen who are beginning their first term.

Held every two years at the House of Representatives, the school covers a variety of topics, including federal–state relations, how judges decide cases, and how the path can always be made smoother between branches of government.

Presenting were State Bar President Alan Bayham Jr. Bar CEO/ED John Phelps, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, and lawyer (and former newsman) Michael Grant. Keeping speakers on track was the Bar’s Chief Communications Officer, Rick DeBruhl. And Kathleen Lundgren, the Bar’s longtime Government Relations guru, put the event together.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (ret.) and Arizona Justice Scott Bales, Law School for Legislators, Jan. 6, 2011

Following the morning session, attendees strolled down the Capitol Mall into the Supreme Court. (Surprisingly but perhaps symbolic, there is no sidewalk that takes you directly between the Legislature and the Court. The path meanders, and more than one walker teetered on a curb, looked for oncoming cars, and dashed across the street. Thus the phrase “checks and balances.”)

At the Court, attendees enjoyed lunch while keynote speaker Sandra Day O’Connor addressed them.

Everyone recalls O’Connor as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. But she reminded those gathered that she had been a legislator herself. Thus, she was able to sympathize with the lawmakers and the hard road that lay ahead of them in regard to the budget.

In that vein, she told them that she was surprised to see that the state’s restrooms were closed for business on the freeways throughout Arizona.

“There must be some way to get those open again.” Justice O’Connor said. “Goodness. Maybe make them pay-as-you-go. Think about that, please.”

She told the legislators that she did not envy them the job of balancing a budget that is reported to be more than $1 billion out of whack.

“Maybe you’ll find a path. I hope so.”

She added her memory of the many affiliated tasks that lawmakers must take up.

“I remember being annoyed that the Legislature had to make the bola tie the official state neckwear. ‘Is that what we’re here for?’ I asked. I guess so.”

O’Connor ended her remarks by talking about her appointment to the Court by President Ronald Reagan. “It was a shock” when Reagan telephoned her, she said, and not an entirely welcome one. Though gratified to be selected, she did not look forward to relocating her family back east.

But when she recently attended oral argument at the Court as a spectator, she found reason to be pleased with the number of women Justices.

U.S. Supreme Court, 2010

“I looked and saw a woman on the far right, and a woman on the far left, and a woman in the middle. It was an amazing sight, and I’m glad that we’ve graduated to that level.”

More photos from the event are here on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,441 other followers