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Deputy AG, Santa Clara bar win diversity awards

The Santa Clara County Bar Association and Gordon “Sam” Overton, a Van Nuys deputy attorney general who has been a leader in legal access and fairness for the disabled and LGBT communities, are the 2007 recipients of the State Bar’s Diversity Awards.

Gordon “Sam” Overton

The awards recognize the outstanding efforts made by a bar association and individual attorneys in promoting diversity in the legal profession.

Outside his full Justice Department workload in a practice that has included health, social welfare, employment, education, land use and coastal zone regulation, Overton, 58, has voluntarily worked to protect and promote the legal rights of the often disenfranchised. As a member of the Judicial Council’s Access and Fairness Advisory Committee since its formation in 1994, he proposed amendments (adopted in 2004) for jury selection standards in recognizing domestic partnerships.

As chair of the subcommittee on persons with disabilities, he developed a curriculum for a statewide Americans with Disabilities Act conference. He also developed a 1996 proposal for a rule of court dealing with accommodations for persons with disabilities. And he is currently working on a study of the fair treatment of transgender people, including attorneys, in the courts.

Overton has been continuously engaged in education efforts to further the diversity of the legal profession and has written numerous articles and pamphlets, as well as produced a nationally recognized video, on such topics as disability access, equal justice for women and men, gender bias and diversity in the profession. From 2004 to 2006, Overton served as co-chair of the Court Access Advisory Committee for the United States Access Board, which toured and evaluated court facilities throughout the country. He also has worked to make law schools and bar examinations more accessible.

The Santa Clara County Bar Association, which hosted the State Bar’s Diversity Summit in 2006, has long had a Minority Access Committee (MAC), which works to encourage membership from minority ethnic groups, women, Muslim and LGBT attorneys, and a Rainbow Committee for LGBT attorneys. The bar hosts an annual Unsung Heroes reception honoring attorneys and minority organizations that work to increase access to justice for minority groups and to increase diversity in the profession.

In 2006, under the leadership of President Christopher Arriola, the Santa Clara Bar Association established a Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity in the Legal Profession, which formed subcommittees on hiring and retention and glass ceiling and pipeline issues. The bar association has been assertive in encouraging law firms and private sector companies to recruit and hire qualified minority attorneys and to provide mentors.

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