First Gala Honors Judge Pryor and Leslie Thornton
UDC David A. Clarke School of Law hosted its first-ever annual Gala, in the University’s new LEED platinum Student Center ballroom on June 1, 2017. The event was a spectacular success – raising nearly half a million dollars for student scholarships and summer public interest fellowships. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Ward 3 member Mary Cheh, judges, public interest and major law firm lawyers, alumni, faculty and law students — some 300 strong — came out to honor Leslie Thornton, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Washington Gas, and the Honorable William C. Pryor, Senior Judge, DC Court of Appeals and beloved UDC Law professor for 29 years.
Welcome and School of Law Video
Dean Shelley Broderick led off the evening by thanking the lead Gala sponsor, Washington Gas, and other funders and supporters as well as the 41 members of the event Steering Committee. She then introduced UDC Law‘s mission as depicted in a five-minute video featuring members of the law school community, community leaders and friends.
Eric Holder Takes the Stage
Eric Holder then joined Dean Broderick on the stage. He began by commending the UDC Law clinical model of legal education and the many millions of hours of additional legal services that would be generated if other law schools adopted a similar service requirement of 700 hours per student. Borrowing from Bobby Kennedy’s famous words, he spoke of the “millions of ripples of hope” such service would create, enough to form a powerful “current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance” of justice, much needed particularly “in today’s troubling times of oppression and resistance.”
Mr. Holder then praised Leslie Thornton, who started her career at the DC Public Defender Service under the legendary Charles Ogletree. He observed and marveled at her commitment to service – to the public interest, to diversity, to mentoring – and wondered if she ever slept!
Mr. Holder also introduced a video in which Vernon Jordan, BET’s Debra Lee, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Washington College of Law Professor Angela Davis paid tribute to Ms. Thornton for her storied career and her devotion to serving those less fortunate.
A Surprise Scholarship Gift of $50K from Honoree Leslie Thornton!
Ms. Thornton was visibly moved as she accepted the award from Mr. Holder and Dean Broderick. She described Dean Broderick, another former criminal defense lawyer for many years, as “a sister from another mother” and gave thanks to her family, friends and colleagues in attendance. She then pledged to personally donate fifty thousand dollars for scholarships in honor of the DC Public Defender Service Class of 1983, which itself had contributed $10,000 for scholarships in her honor, and thanked them for coming together, so many years later, and for donating to UDC Law in support of her recognition.
Kind Words of Appreciation from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser
After dinner, Mayor Bowser came bearing gifts – handsome “appreciation” plaques for each honoree. She extolled the importance and virtues of UDC Law, describing how students and graduates help to build the fabric of the DC Community. By way of example, she commended the Dean for her 2016 service in helping to draft a new constitution for the state of New Columbia. She referenced the UDC Law Review’s recent DC Democracy in the Time of Trump Symposium, which brought together District officials, nonprofit organizations, and the media to discuss strategies to protect, defend, and extend democracy under the Trump administration. She spoke of her many experiences as a DC Councilmember, and later as Mayor, with UDC Law students, faculty and alumni, so many of whom are hard at work in all walks of District government life and an integral part of the struggle for full democratic rights. We later learned that the Mayor had such a good time that she looks forward to coming back next year for the Second Annual UDC Law Gala!
Surprises Keep on Coming!
Dean Broderick returned to the stage and, wiping away tears, announced that longtime supporter, DC developer and philanthropist, Michele Hagans, had been so inspired by Ms. Thornton’s pledge that she also pledged $50,000 to fund four additional UDC Law scholarships, in honor of Dean Broderick, with the hope that other supporters would be similarly moved. Ms. Hagans and Dean Broderick later agreed to name one of the scholarships in honor of founding Dean, Bill Robinson.
The Dean also announced that Ms. Thornton had agreed to join the UDC Law’s Foundation Board and that DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson had just let her know the DC Council will, once again, match our fundraising – with the University and School of Law sharing one dollar for every two dollars raised over the next ten months!
Two Fabulous Law Students Share Service Experiences
Dean Broderick then described the UDC Law’s clinical and service-learning programs and introduced rising 3L law students Carmen Diaz Jones and John Blake.
Ms. Jones, who participated in the spring 2017 Service Learning Program, powerfully described an intense interaction she had with a young man named Rossell at a family detention center in Karnes, Texas. Rossell and his mother had fled Honduras after he had been threatened and pressed to join the MS-13 gang. Ms. Jones, herself an immigrant from Honduras, had met Rossell’s mother while helping to prepare her for a “credible fear” asylum interview. Upon hearing of Rossell’s interest in serving in the U.S. military, Ms. Jones told him of her own U.S. military and police service, giving him hope that he too could one day so serve. In the process of sharing a glimpse of the American Dream, she deepened her own confidence and commitment to serve others.
Law student John Blake described in detail some of his own Housing Clinic work on behalf of tenants whose right to organize and right to adequate notice of eviction had been routinely violated. Referencing his own upbringing in public housing, he challenged those in attendance to work with the UDC Law to end such abuses.
Broderick and Alum James King Introduce Judge Pryor
Dean Broderick and alum James King then shared an introduction of Judge Pryor. The Dean, who in 1988 served as Administrator of the then-DC School of Law, described interviewing the Judge for a faculty position just after he stepped down as Chief Judge of the DC Court of Appeals. The interview took place during the chaos of building renovations. Judge Pryor explained his desire to teach at the new public school where students who could not otherwise afford to attend would have the chance for a legal education. It was then, the Dean reported that, she “fell in love” with him (apologizing to the Judge’s wife Elaine seated nearby).
Dean Broderick then introduced James King. She told the crowd that after being signed by the Cleveland Browns, Mr. King had been arrested in connection with a college bar fight and charged with second degree murder and manslaughter. While incarcerated pre-trial, his jailer gave him an LSAT preparation book and his focus changed from football to justice. Mr. King described his countless tutoring sessions with Judge/Professor Pryor whose refrain was “this is easy.” Ultimately, this built his confidence and helped him and countless other students to succeed in law school. Mr. King, who is now 14 and 0 as a trial lawyer at the DC Public Defender Service, teased the judge, a former prosecutor, that thanks to his training, the government had yet to beat him!
A Most Magical Night
It was a magical night. Leslie Thornton emailed the dean the next day saying,
“I’ve gotten the most incredible feedback you could possibly hope for. Literally scores of people have reached out about the special energy and feel in the room. There is a really interesting and clear theme – that folks felt like they’d never been to an event like that where there was so much genuine kindness, and purity and importance of purpose, and a very special energy. Shelley – you and I have the privilege of really knowing and understanding what that thing is – I’m so glad it came across so clearly.”
With nearly $400K raised for the evening, the D.C. Council’s match will add in nearly $100K, bringing the scholarship and fellowship funds raised to nearly $500K! 52 alumni donated or helped to orchestrate the donations for more than $57,000 of those dollars, many specifically in honor of Judge Pryor. Dean Broderick personally contributed at the Advocate for Change ($5,000) level and the UDC Law faculty also kicked in at the Partner for Change ($2,500) level.
Comments from Alumni
Miguel Santiago, a 1981 Antioch School of Law grad, traveled from the Bronx to attend the Gala said, “What an awesome event! It is so inspiring to see, nearly 40 years after I started at Antioch, that we remain the vanguard of clinical law schools. Those who haven’t taken a close look at this wonderful institution lately – you have to visit it, see it for yourself. You’ll be amazed and you will want to find a way to contribute and serve.”
Perhaps our outgoing Student Bar Association President Jonathan Newton summed it up best when he wrote afterward, “Bravo! The Gala was OUTSTANDING!!! It instantly created a tradition I hope will last forever. I’m a broke man right now, but I’ll be making a donation on my first paycheck!”
Thanks to all those in attendance and all our donors – and “hats off” to our new development director Mizue Suito, development consultant David Simmons, and to Dean Shelley Broderick for one of the best first Gala events ever seen in this town!
– See some of the Gala photos on Flickr!
– Like and share our Facebook post on this event!
– Information on our Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program