Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Today I will happily be leading a webinar on the topic of blogging. So there may be no better day than this to share news from an event last week. That annual event, coincidentally, was the subject of my first legal blog post more than five years ago. (I know; you’re tearing up along with me.)

The Learned Hand luncheon continues to wow a packed room at the Hyatt Phoenix with its awards to smart legal luminaries. And the magic of the event continues to be the stellar speeches, not only be the worthy recipients, but also by their nominators. These folks bring it.

This year’s event was last Wednesday, March 11, and as always it is sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s Arizona Chapter.

AJC American Jewish Committee logoThis year’s honorees were Lawrence Robinson, Elliot Glicksman, and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. (I know; what took them so long?!)

I won’t go on about each of the honoree’s accomplishments. All of the folks were well selected, and, as always, the acceptance speeches were matched by the nominators’ speeches for verve and punch.

The luncheon provides attendees a moment to pause and hear from esteemed peers. As those lawyers and judges, we recall the best ideals of our profession. I’m confident that as listeners stream out onto the busy sidewalk, full from a salmon lunch, they are at least briefly refreshed as they head back to work. Ideally, the lessons they heard will take root and bear fruit in their own lives.

And if you have a moment, <strong>here is what I wrote five years ago, on the occasion of the same lunch in 2010 (when the honorees were Keri Lazarus Silvyn, E.G. “Ted” Noyes, Jr., and Debbie Hill).

Last Wednesday, the Learned Hand Awards continued its run as one of the most impressive legal events of the year. If it were a franchise, its success would be comparable to McDonalds.

Or maybe Katz’s Delicatessen, given that the event sponsor is the American Jewish Committee, Arizona chapter.

In fact, any misconceptions about the host were eliminated in the luncheon’s opening introductory video, which set the stage for the day’s festivities. As hundreds of people tucked into their salads at a legal event, they heard a voiceover warn that America had a dire need for “energy independence.” Curiosity piqued, diners listened to an impassioned lecture about Iran, a “longtime opponent of the Jewish State.”

By the time we started our salmon, the event had segued from the heavy-handed to the elegant, as Rabbi John Linder offered his well-wrought invocation. He invited listeners to consider what kind of world they wanted to live in. Answering for the room, he said it is one in which we hold dignity and respect for all. One in which we recognize that a threat to one is a threat to all.

“May we leave today with our sleeves rolled up, ready to perspire and work for justice.”

Perspiration was the perfect lead-in to the accomplishments of the three honorees: Lindsay Marshall of the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, and Perkins Coie partner Howard Cabot.

As I’ve said before, the Learned Hand awards are remarkable for many reasons. One of the most intriguing is the high caliber of the three introductory speeches honoring the three awardees. This year, they were delivered, respectively, by Milagros Cisneros, Illinois Judge Kevin Lyon and Paul Eckstein. Each did a terrific job at encapsulating a life and a career.

Events like this remind us that a legal community is comprised of more than a geographic region. Arizona is no more likely to be a cohesive and collaborative place than, say, a bus station or a supermarket if we lack leaders and a vision of excellence. That is what lawyers like Marshall, LaWall and Cabot provide a fortunate bar.

Ariz. Vice Chief Justice Hurwitz, Mar. 14, 2012

That good fortune was poignantly brought home early in the lunch when Vice Chief Justice Hurwitz delivered a moving introduction. The jurist who will soon be headed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reminded attendees that on the same day we sat in a Hyatt ballroom, Justice Michael Ryan’s interment was occurring in Arlington National Cemetery.

Justice Hurwitz’s request for a moment of silence was kind, but unnecessary. For at the utterance of Justice Ryan’s name, the cavernous room had grown silent and pensive as a community recalled another who had given time, talent and much perspiration to the cause of justice.

Here are more photos from the event.

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This Wednesday, one of the most significant legal events of the year occurs in Phoenix; have you bought your ticket?

The Judge Learned Hand Awards luncheon is an annual event that honors a select few lawyers. And one of the lunch’s most endearing features is the fact that each honoree is introduced by a friend or colleague—each of whom crafts an introductory speech that is amazing in its own right (no pressure!).

For more information or to purchase tickets to this great event, contact Karolyn Kiburz at (480) 990-1887 or karolyn@mcsource.net.

And here is how the sponsor, the Arizona chapter of the American Jewish Committee, describes the honorees and the event:

The Arizona Region of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) will pay tribute to three outstanding legal professionals at its annual Judge Learned Hand Awards luncheon, on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix.

Howard R. Cabot, a partner with Perkins Coie, Barbara LaWall, the Pima County Attorney, and Lindsay N. Marshall, the Executive Director of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, will be honored for their exceptional professional achievements and profound dedication to civic and philanthropic causes and organizations.

Commenting on this year’s honorees, Timothy J. Eckstein, chair of AJC’s Judge Learned Hand Awards luncheon, commented: “Howard, Barbara, and Lindsay embody the very best in our legal community. Their professional contributions help advance a more just society and their philanthropic efforts help shape a world in which human rights and human dignity are protected for all peoples.”

Over the course of its 107-year history, AJC has worked to safeguard minorities; fight terrorism, anti-Semitism, hatred and bigotry; pursue social justice; advance human dignity; support Israel’s right to exist in peace and security; defend religious freedom; and provide humanitarian relief to those in need. Through innovative programs, education, research, media outreach, and extensive diplomatic advocacy, AJC works to advance freedom, liberty, tolerance and mutual respect.

Although it’s typically better to be right up front at noteworthy events, some events are great enough that any seat is a good one. That was my experience at today’s luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, where the Learned Hand Awards were, well, awarded.

Sponsored by the Arizona chapter of the American Jewish Committee, this ceremony has grown to be one of the best-attended legal events of the year. And for good reason.

First, they select great people for the three categories. In public service, community service and emerging leadership, the honorees’ names cause you to slap your head and say, “Of course!” This year’s winners were Keri Lazarus Silvyn, E.G. “Ted” Noyes, Jr., and Debbie Hill.

Second, the selection committee is a who’s who of legal talent. Choosing the honorees must be hard work, but if they could carve out some extra time in their busy schedules, this brain trust should be put to work solving even tougher issues, so the cratering state economy. But I suppose that will be left to the “professionals.”

Finally, the main reason that this affair is a cool gig is the format they select: Each honoree chooses on their own whom to ask to give their introductory speech. Two winning speeches for the price of one! So we first get to hear from a great orator (or at least someone who brought their A game), and then we get to hear from the winner herself.

Understand, each of the speakers is a legal luminary in his or her own right. And speakers really have learned to spend the time to craft a great message.

This year, for instance, we got to hear from Toni Massaro, formerly the dean at the UA Law School. She introduced Keri Silvyn, the “emerging leader.” Massaro spoke eloquently, as always. Today, she talked about the “suffering of our institutions” in the economic downturn, and why leaders are more important than ever. FDR was wrong, she offered: We need not fear only fear itself, but we must fear passivity and jingoism, simplistic reasoning that resists nuance, and an exaggerated sense of our own exceptionalism that forgets the past. Last year, Toni Massaro was an honoree herself, and her speech wowed the room then. This was a worthy encore.

And Keri Silvyn followed, joking about how her “years of bossiness” are “apparently called ‘leadership’ now.” She also chided her father, esteemed zoning lawyer Larry Lazarus, for his less-than-charitable commentary early in her career when she called with legal questions. “You don’t know that yet?” he would ask. Soon, Silvyn laughed, she learned to take her questions to her own law firm colleagues, who suppressed her pater’s urge to tell her it was a stupid question.

Ted Noyes also was a worthy choice. He was introduced by Noel Fidel, and then Noyes spoke. The former appellate judge had retired and gained a position as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office – not a supervisor, just a line prosecutor. He reminded the crowd that, “The government wins whenever justice is done.” He also recalled the “benediction for those in public service” uttered at his own judicial investiture in 1983: “In service to others, correct the wrong and live and inspire the right.”

Finally, Debbie Hill was introduced by Larry Hammond, who spoke movingly of Hill’s work representing prisoners and others in need. When she rose to speak, she opted to say nothing about her current work or about service generally. Instead, she launched a video—“The Girl Effect”—which suggests a powerful way to effect change in the world.

Hill concluded by reminding the listeners of Sandra Day O’Connor’s words: “We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone.”

A great event, and quite a few good messages.