Perry Mason is responsible for launching the legal careers of at least two of the bench's luminaries, students at Howard University Law School heard today.
Judge Ann Claire Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia both revealed their childhood devotion to television's greatest defense attorney. "He made it look so easy," said Williams. "He would just pressure one of the guys on the stand into confessing, or better yet, someone in the audience would jump up and cry, 'I did it!'"
Williams and Lamberth joined Judge Wiley Daniel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to share their insights on forging a career path to the bench. It was one of the nine "Robes in the Schools" sessions held at law schools in Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The sessions kicked off the eighth biennial conference of the non-profit Just the Beginning Foundation, which works to advance the legal careers of young people from ethnic backgrounds under-represented in the profession.
This year's conference theme is "Reaching Back, Lifting Up," and all of the judges stressed the role that mentors had played in their own careers. They also agreed that making connections is essential for those setting their sights on the judiciary. "At the end of the day, these are political appointments, and you've got to get your name circulated in the communities in which you live," said Daniel.
Reflecting on the hardest parts of the job, Williams said criminal sentencing was often "agonizing," particularly where mandatory minimums were required. Daniel spoke about the heavy workload of managing the docket. "I need to master it. I need to keep it moving, and I need to spend enough time on each case so that it has my personal imprint. . . . While there is some glamour and prestige, don't aim for the bench unless you're prepared to do the hard work."
The first African-American judge appointed to the 7th Circuit, Williams said she battled both racism and sexism during her career. She was inspired by the experience of her father, a psychology graduate who drove buses for 20 years because he could not get a job in his chosen field. "Somebody in your family has sacrificed a lot for you to be here," she told the students. "We have an obligation to all of them to hang tough."
-- By Joanna McCarthy