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Midyear Meeting 2008

Seven Receive Spirit of Excellence Awards

Posted Feb 8, 2008 10:58 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Seven distinguished practitioners were honored Saturday with Spirit of Excellence Awards at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles for their contributions to the legal profession and society.

The award, which is administered by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, “celebrates the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers and judges who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession,” as the commission explains on an ABA Web page.

The recipients are: Cesar L. Alvarez, chief executive officer of Greenberg Traurig; Christopher J. Arriola, assistant district attorney in Santa Clara County, Calif.; Lawrence R. Baca, a senior trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice who also serves as deputy director of the Office of Tribal Justice there; John W. Kozyak, a partner of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton; George Bundy Smith, a partner of Chadbourne & Parke who is a former associate judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court; Margaret Bush Wilson, who established her own firm; and Mia F. Yamamoto, who also established her own firm.

Alvarez heads a major law firm that has been recognized for its successful recruitment efforts and minority partners, and Kozyak, who is also a Miami lawyer, for the past 15 years "has played a major role in promoting black law school students at the University of Miami and, more recently, at other law schools in Florida, as well as the Washington School of Law in St. Louis," reports the South Florida Business Journal.

Arriola, considered a local Latino hero, has helped develop an innovative prosecution unit. It brings together various law enforcement and social service agencies in an unified effort to address crime issues and improve the quality of life in blighted communities in the San Francisco area, writes KQED, a public broadcasting station.

Baca, who is a member of the Pawnee tribe, is a senior Native American attorney at the Department of Justice, according to an online biography by his alma mater, Harvard Law School. A nationally recognized expert on federal Indian rights, he is also responsible for groundbreaking civil rights work on behalf of American Indians concerning credit, voting and education, recounts the University of California at Santa Barbara, at which he did his undergraduate work, in another online bio.

Smith has received numerous awards in recognition of his civil rights work and distinguished 30-year career as a New York judge, Chadbourne & Parke notes in a biography on the law firm's website. He is also an adjunct professor at two New York law schools.

Wilson, who was born in St. Louis in 1919 before women were allowed to vote, was the second woman of color admitted to the Missouri bar. She was the first woman to chair the NAACP National Board of Directors, and served for nine terms. As a practitioner, she is particularly known for her real estate and civil rights work, and was instrumental in winning a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that racially discriminatory housing covenants were unenforceable, according to online biographies by the ABA and the University of Missouri.

Yamamoto is a solo criminal defense lawyer who has tried more than 150 jury cases since she went into private practice in 1984, including two death penalty cases, reports Lawyers.com. Previously, she worked as a legal aid lawyer and public defender. She has helped found several bar associations and is a past president of the Japanese American Bar Association of Greater Los Angeles.

A luncheon honoring the award recipients was held on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. For more information, see the commission’s Web page.

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