ABA diversity commission honors 7 trailblazers

 The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession has selected seven lawyers to receive the 2014 Spirit of Excellence Award for their outstanding achievements toward advancing diversity in the legal profession. 

“Diversity, like justice itself, is a goal that requires constant vigilance and hard work,” Commission Chair Reginald M. Turner Jr. said. “This year’s honorees have distinguished themselves as legal trailblazers. They are also leaders in the fight for equal opportunities within our noble profession. It is our privilege and our pleasure to recognize them all with the ABA Spirit of Excellence Award.”  

The awards will be presented at the 2014 Spirit of Excellence Awards Luncheon on Feb. 8 at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago during the ABA Midyear Meeting. 
Award recipients are:
• Frankie Muse Freeman, a well-known civil rights pioneer in St. Louis, Mo., was the first woman to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She also served as the lead attorney in a 1952 landmark case that led to a ruling that declared segregation in public housing illegal.

• Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte, a Superior Court judge in Alameda County, Calif., has led efforts in her state to increase diversity in the legal profession and on the bench — convening the first judicial diversity summit and instituting a process to assess the demographic makeup of the California bench.

• I.S. Leevy Johnson, a nationally renowned criminal defense attorney, became one of the first African-Americans to be elected to the South Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction and the first African-American president of the South Carolina Bar.

• Patricia D. Lee has played a key role in developing and implementing important diversity initiatives at the State Bar of California. She began her legal career as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) attorney in San Francisco,

• Leo M. Romero is a longtime professor and former dean at the University of New Mexico School of Law. As dean, he created the school’s Indian Law Certificate Program and helped to shape the state’s judicial selection process.

• Wendy C. Shiba is a retired corporate attorney and immediate past president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Her 30-year legal career includes stints in private practice, government service, teaching and as executive officer for three top U.S. companies.

• Benjamin F. Wilson is a highly respected environmental lawyer and adjunct professor of environmental law. He founded the D.C. Diverse Partners Network, which provides support and networking for more than 300 minority partners, and the African-American General Counsel and Managing Partners Network.