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Two distinguished, nationally recognized figures in legal and academic communities were on hand at the Philadelphia Bar Association quarterly meeting and luncheon last week. The association bestowed the Bar Medal, its highest award, upon retiring Temple University President Peter J. Liacouras. Also, Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree delivered the second annual Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Public Interest Lecture. Ogletree, an author and frequent legal commentator for numerous top-rated national network and cable news programs, spoke about the legacy of his friend and mentor, the late Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, for whom the lecture is named. In her introduction, Charisse Lillie, former chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association board of governors and attorney at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, referred to Ogletree as “the perfect person at the perfect time” to deliver the keynote speech by virtue of his unique relationship with the late judge. Ogletree began his address by doing what he said the late judge would have done, acknowledging some of the “lesser known yet more significant members” of the legal community, specifically, public interest lawyers. Ogletree continued by summarizing, from the judge’s perspective, issues that shaped the young minority lawyer who would become one of the most prominent and visible African-American judges on the federal bench. “America is different today,” he said and shifted his comments to reflect the judge’s experience. “He would tell you about an America that was segregated; he would tell you we didn’t have Brown v. the Board of Education; we didn’t have voting rights; we didn’t have the right to travel around the country; we didn’t have all the important significant accomplishments 50 years ago that we have now.” Ogletree pointed out, however, that 50 years ago lawyers were viewed in a more favorable light. The professor, to the obvious amusement of the audience gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Park Hyatt Philadelphia, joked about sitting next to a used-car salesman on his flight to Philadelphia who, thrilled at being “lifted professionally” by finding himself in the company of an attorney, rattled off a seemingly nonstop series of irreverent lawyer jokes. “And yet some of the most important things that have happened in our nation — in our nation’s history — are the result of the courageous efforts of lawyers like A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.” Ogletree said, referring to his mentor as a visionary and reformer who received over 60 honorary degrees as well America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. Enumerating Judge Higginbotham’s impressive educational credentials, judicial appointments, well-received publications, scholarly accomplishments, and civil and human rights activities, Ogletree continued by recounting some of the judge’s more controversial acts. “In his most thoughtful and compassionate address in the 1990s, he went to Washington and appeared before the House committee, and argued against the impeachment of President Clinton. He didn’t do it because he believed Clinton committed no wrong — he admitted that Clinton committed many wrongs — but those wrongs should have been resolved in a private forum between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton.” When Congressman Bob Barr then accused Judge Higginbotham of not being representative of the ‘real people,’ he replied to the congressman that his mother cleaned houses and his father was a laborer. “He represented real people who were from Trenton, New Jersey, when being black wasn’t easy or always forgiven … He talked about the countless ways the people who were poor and black and who were voiceless and faceless had changed the terrain of America.” Professor Ogletree dispelled the rumor that the judge was disappointed when, despite being endorsed by President Johnson’s advisors as an ideal Supreme Court candidate, the president allegedly said, “The only people who know him are him and his mother.” Claiming he preferred someone better-known within the African American community, Johnson chose Thurgood Marshall, which, in many peoples’ opinion, permanently altered Higginbotham’s outlook. “His concern was not that Marshall was the first appointed,” Ogletree said, “but that he should not be the last.” Ending on a light note, Ogletree wrapped up the speech by reading a “fax” he said was sent to him from heaven by Judge Higginbotham. In it, the judge asks Ogletree to express his gratitude to his friends in Philadelphia for the recognition of his accomplishments. He then describes God as a beautiful but stern African-American woman who rejects his demands for numerous telephone lines and space for his 300 volumes of books. He went on to relate an anecdote about a debate between Justice Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr., in which they argue about which made the greater contribution to civil rights movement. The judge says he settled the argument between the two by telling them they both made equally significant contributions to improving race relations in America during their lifetime. Acknowledging another lifetime achievement yesterday, Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Doreen Davis praised retiring Temple University President Liacouras for his 18-year tenure, during which time he helped the school “achieve greater national and international prominence as one of America’s major research university.” Davis said that when she called Liacouras to ask him if he would accept the award, he was reluctant at first because he customarily turns down accolades of this sort. Former recipients include former Mayor Ed Rendell and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. “He was kind enough to make an exception in this case, especially because Chancellor-elect Carl S. Primavera, vice-chancellor Allan Gordon and I are all proud graduates of Temple’s Beasley School of Law,” Davis said. Liacouras served as dean of the law school for 10 years before becoming Temple’s seventh president in 1982. Liacouras wrote a letter to Davis in which he expressed his love of American democracy and the role of the legal profession in pursuing justice. After recognizing several prominent members of the bench and bar seated in the audience, Liacouras predicted that the young, idealistic lawyers of today will achieve even higher levels of service in the community than he and his contemporaries. “The entire Temple community are proud of the success of our students and delighted that you’ve elected three of our own, Doreen Davis, Carl Primavera and Allan Gordon as successive chancellors,” he said. “I often think of how far I could have gone if I had a Temple degree, but I have had a Temple education.” On behalf of the Philadelphia Bar Association, the chancellor also honored senior lawyers of the bar by inducting new members into the 50-, 60-, and 70-year clubs.

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