A group of distinguished legal professions gathered at Fordham Law School for an event put on by Just the Beginning — A Pipeline Organization, on Friday, September 16.
A panel titled “Trailblazer One-on-One Conversations” was led by Hon. Gerald Bruce Lee. Members of the U.S. judiciary were interviewed by colleagues about the journeys they took to becoming leading professionals in the legal community.
The panel consisted of five one-on-one interviews:
- Chief Judge Brian Jackson of the U.S. District Court, Middle District, Louisiana, interviewed Hon. Pamela Chen, a U.S. district court judge for the Eastern District of New York.
- Chief Judge Roger Gregory of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, interviewed Hon. Gerald Bruce Lee of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia.
- Leslie Kobayashi of the U.S. District Court of Hawaii interviewed Chief Judge Theodore McKee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
- Christine Arguello of the U.S. District Court of Colorado interviewed Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
- Vanessa Gilmore of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas interviewed Hon. Frank Zapata, a U.S. district court judge for the District of Arizona.
Throughout his tenure on the bench, Judge Lee exercised what he calls an adrenaline for excellence when entering the courtroom.
“That feeling you have when you walk into a courtroom, before they announce your name and your body sort of tenses and your heart starts to race—that’s not fear; that’s your mind and body letting you know you’re ready,” Judge Lee said. “That’s what I take into court, and that’s what I [pass on]to all the young people that intern and work for me.”
Judge McKee spoke about his own experience in the courtroom and a particular homicide case that still resonates with him. After convicting a defendant of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree and sentencing him to life in prison, the defendant, surprisingly, thanked Judge McKee for treating him with respect.
“This taught me that you never know how the slightest little manifestation of humanity is going to impact somebody,” Judge McKee said.
Following the panel, Hon. Amalya L. Kearse was interviewed by Fordham Law alumnus Hon. Denny Chin ’78 and Hon. Raymond Lohier.
“We here at Fordham Law School are very pleased to be hosting this event and applaud Just the Beginning’s singular mission: to develop and nurture interest in the law among young persons from socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds who are underrepresented in the legal profession,” Dean Matthew Diller said before the judges took the stage. “Diversity is a key part of a Fordham Law education. In order to be a great lawyer, you have to come to terms with different viewpoints and experiences, and you can’t do that in a homogenous environment.”
Judge Kearse became the first African-American woman to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit after she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
“There is no more respected judge on our court, indeed on any court in the country, than Amalya Kearse,” Judge Chin said. “A recent National Law Journal article reported that she is one of the most influential judges in the country.”
Growing up in New Jersey with a doctor mother and postmaster father, Judge Kearse decided, after reading countless Perry Mason mysteries, that she would go into law. Prior to attending University of Michigan Law School, she attended Wellesley College and was among three African Americans in her freshman class.
After graduating from law school she became the first African-American woman to work for a Wall Street law firm.
“I remember going to argue a motion once in the Southern District and the associate helping me was also a women, and when the case was called and two women walked up to the front the judge had a very surprised look on his face,” Judge Kearse said.
In 1978, Congress passed the Omnibus Judgeship Act, which created 37 new court of appeals judgeships and 115 new district judgeships. Judge Kearse saw this as her opportunity to achieve more in her areas of interest surrounding legal research and writing.
When Kearse was appointed to the Second Circuit court in 1979, she became the first woman of color to be appointed to any federal appellate court and the second youngest person, at the age of 42, to be appointed to the Second Circuit. She remained the only female judge on the Second Circuit for about 20 year; however, these types of milestones were not particularly unusual for Kearse.
“After I got out of the eighth grade, I was usually the only African-American in any of my classes in high school, college, law school, and even at the law firm,” she said.