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.

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