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Base paths to pride and diversity

James E. Herman 2002-03 President State Bar of California
Herman

By JAMES E. HERMAN
President, State Bar of California

Jackie Robinson never played for the scrappy Pacific League Sacramento River Cats although he did play briefly for my hometown Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. But Pacific League President Branch Rickey Jr.'s Jan. 11 Martin Luther King dinner announcement of the retirement of Robinson's jersey number 42 from their roster was a major league move by the River Cats.

It was a celebration of the trust and partnership between a remarkable athlete and a remarkable lawyer in changing the face of American sport and America itself forever. From Robinson's very first rookie of the year season, America reaped the richness of talent diversity brings to the national pastime and to our society.

The remarkable lawyer was Branch Rickey, in 1947 the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the dinner, Branch Rickey Jr. spoke of his grandfather's early experience with Jim Crow America.

On a trip with his college team to play Notre Dame, Branch Rickey's African-American teammate was denied accommodations in the team hotel until Rickey put him up in his own room. Changed by this experience and determined to make a difference, Rickey was able years later to help open professional sports to players of color.

The struggle for diversity is never over. In professional sports, for example, African-American quarterbacks and head coaches are still the rare exception. And as we grow increasingly diverse as a nation, new groups reach out to us for inclusion.

In addition to diversity, one of the themes for me this year is pride in our profession. Branch Rickey makes me proud to be a lawyer. There are many other lawyers who make me proud as well and their names become a mantra for me when unfair criticism is aimed at the profession.

This year I want to recognize those among us who make us proud, who are role models for our 190,000 members. On Jan. 11, I announced presentation to Sacramento lawyer Clarence Brown of our first Pride in the Profession Award because of his contributions to the practice and his community.

Mr. Brown's career is a long list of firsts: first African-American graduate of McGeorge Law School from which he graduated magna cum laude, first graduate of McGeorge to be hired by the California Attorney General's office, first African-American to head the Sacramento Legal Aid Society and a legal pioneer in civil rights and children's legal issues. This remarkable lawyer has again demonstrated the richness that opening the talent pool brings, not just to America but to our profession.

It was my privilege to personally inform Mr. Brown of our award, which will be formally presented at an event in his honor on Feb. 8 in Sacramento. This year, I would like to honor other lawyers who make us proud. If you have any nominations, please e-mail me ata jhermn@rppmh.com.

I also invite you to join me at our Bar Leaders' meeting and California Minority Attorneys Conference on March 21 and 22 in Long Beach — our first since the dues veto in 1997.

My special thanks to Justice George Nickerson, immediate past president of the Sacramento Bar, Mark Shusted, Vice President Joan Stone and State Bar Board Governor Windie Scott for inviting me to a wonderful event including the eloquent keynote remarks by Congressman John Lewis.

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