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Three weeks may be too far past an event to report much value—that is, for most events. But a few speakers I heard in March—and failed to report on in a timely way—still yielded insights I believe are worth sharing. This cookie, as they say, ain’t stale.

The first event to share—the one most distant in time—is the annual Learned Hand Awards luncheon. As always, the three honorees were well chosen. And, in a Learned Hand tradition, just as much was expected of the introducer’s speech as was of the honoree herself.

Justice Scott Bales emceed, and he hit exactly the right note by honoring the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright. In a ballroom full of lawyers, the reference was spot on.

Nicole France Stanton at the Learned Hand Awards luncheon, 2013

Nicole France Stanton at the Learned Hand Awards luncheon, 2013

The first award—called the Emerging Leadership Award—went to Nicole France Stanton. Andy Sherwood explained her talented background, as well as her commitment to fight bullying and cystic fibrosis.

Stanton urged all lawyers to find their ethical center.

“Finding your voice as a leader at a law firm does not have to wait until you’re an equity partner,” she concluded.

Terry Fenzl introduces Terry Goddard.

Terry Fenzl introduces Terry Goddard.

Terry Fenzl took a more humorous tack in his introduction of the next honoree, Terry Goddard. He displayed—with accompanying ribbing—a photo of a boyish Goddard being sworn in as Phoenix Mayor in 1984.

But like Learned Hand, Fenzl said, Goddard always spoke up for the rule of law, in the fight over polygamy in a Utah border town, in the use of methamphetamine, in mortgage fraud.

Goddard used his speech indicate his gratitude—a commonplace in remarks like these—but also to hurl some political barbs.

“I remember I got to discuss constitutional law with Russell Pearce,” he said. “Maybe not the highest point of my career, but memorable nonetheless.”

He criticized the efforts of legislators to alter the law regarding recall elections, including making the new law’s effects retroactive.

“They claimed it was the will of the people,” Goddard said, “and not just trying to save Joe Arpaio’s behind.”

“Respect for the rule of law is not common in Arizona,” he concluded.

Charles "Chick" Arnold, 2013 Learned Hand Awards

Charles “Chick” Arnold, 2013 Learned Hand Awards

The final honoree was Charles “Chick” Arnold, of Arnold v. Sarn fame. It was his lawsuit that led to massive changes in the way the State of Arizona addressed the needs of it mentally ill residents.

Arnold’s advocate was Judge James McDougall, and he provided eloquent testimony as to Arnold’s fitness for the award. He recalled how the then-Maricopa County Public Fiduciary filed a class action suit on behalf of his 600 wards, demanding that the state live up to its statutory obligations to provide a “continuum of services” for those who had been deinstitutionalized.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors were angered by the action and fired Arnold—only to have to reinstate him after a separate lawsuit.

The stories reflecting courage were touching and remarkable. And that pointed out a fact that I should have noticed in covering years of Hand lunches: The speeches tend to get better and better as the lunch goes on. Not because the speech drafters vary widely in skill level—they all tend to be excellent writers. No, the difference comes from the vastness of life stories that the (usually) older lawyers can marshall.

And so the day opened with ethics and then moved seamlessly to the rule of law, featured by both Goddard and Arnold. Terry Goddard reflected on his career through the prism of that rule, and Arnold did also, always believing that his obligation to his wards trumped his duty to his employer. And for that, all of Arizona should be grateful.

Terry Goddard congratulates Chick Arnold following the 2013 Learned Hand Awards

Terry Goddard congratulates Chick Arnold following the 2013 Learned Hand Awards

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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"We're 1!" I typed.

Later, I will post a story about an annual awards ceremony at which three Arizona lawyers were honored. But before we get to that, I have to tell why that event is significant to me and this blog.

It was one year ago, on March 17, 2010, that I launched my daily posting on this blog, AZ Attorney (and yes, I generally mean weekdays only – cut a guy some slack). And the story that historic day was a post about the same awards banquet, in the 2010 version.

Yes, I had blogged more occasionally before over the preceding six months. And I had started it originally to write my novel-in-a-month, called The Supremes. (The entire thing is still online. Go here to read the Prologue and Chapter 1. And if you want to keep reading about Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine—“Dead Duck”—have at it.)

I’m not much for birthdays, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment. Writing is a wonderful outlet, and I am pleased that it has become an essential part of my daily routine. It’s as second nature as drinking too much coffee and failing in my battle to not roll my eyes at nonsensical directives.

When I tell others that I write, I often feel that I should add an asterisk. After all, I live and work in Arizona, where the circus never leaves town, and where everyone from the governor on down happily shovels piles of steaming ideas on my writer’s doorstep every day. The primary challenge: selecting among the piles for just the right material for that day’s entries.

And now, I’ll turn to writing about the awards ceremony: the American Jewish Committee’s 2011 Learned Hand Awards Luncheon Honorees.

In the meantime, feel free to send some drinks to my table, or tell the waiter it’s my blog’s birthday—we’ll take the free cake.

You may enjoy watching the video “The Girl Effect,” played by Debbie Hill at the Learned Hand Awards on March 16.

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.