Esteemed Federal Judges Demonstrate Possibility of Success in Legal Field

Lorah Steichen

Photo by Emily Volpert

Last Friday, Oct. 4, students interested in law traded their casual attire for their finest formal dress in order to attend a lunch with three of the most distinguished federal judges on the West Coast. The lunch was an interactive question and answer session held in Memorial 331, where Whitman students had the opportunity to interact with three models of success in the legal field.

This event was just one of a diverse schedule of activities¬†planned around the visit of Federal Judges Richard Jones, Ricardo Martinez and James Robart. The event was organized between President Bridges and Judge Robart ’69, a former member of the Whitman Board of Trustees. The judges’ visit was designed to give Whitman students the opportunity to connect with prominent¬†leaders in the legal community.

“I thought it would be a really cool opportunity to interact with really influential people in the legal community who were obviously successful lawyers and reached the top of their profession,” said sophomore Jack Percival.¬†“I also thought it was neat that one of them was a Whitman alumnus, and I thought that it would be really insightful for him to share his experiences transitioning from Whitman to law school.”

Although the visit from the judges was primarily beneficial to students interested in pursuing law, a multitude of programs were scheduled to reach a range of students. In addition to the question-and-answer style lunchtime event, the judges attended Assistant Professor of Politics Jack Jackson’s Constitutional Law class, met with “State of the State for Washington Latinos” students, discussed leadership with the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and sat down with student activists at the Glover Alston Center (GAC).

“They’re people who are incredibly successful in the legal community, so they want to connect with students who are interested in going into law. They’re leaders, so they’re interested in connecting with groups of students that are really focusing on leadership … and they’re also people who are from communities that face extra challenges to reach the levels of success that they have” said Assistant Dean for Student Engagement and pre-law advisor Noah Leavitt.

Photo by Emily Volpert

These themes were particularly relevant in the discussion that students had with the judges on Friday afternoon at the GAC. The Intercultural Center hosted an intimate session where student activists from a range of student organizations had the opportunity to ask the judges questions not only of their professional background but also about the personal obstacles each has faced along the way.

Judge Martinez was the first member in his family to attend high school before becoming the first Latino judge in the Western District of Washington. Judge Jones is an African-American attorney who overcame similar odds before becoming a United States Federal District judge. United States Federal Judge Robart also came from working-class roots.

“I watched my mom and my dad work at terrible jobs, menial jobs to be able to put food on the table and put a roof over our head … You guys have this incredible opportunity to do something different … You’re already at a school like this. That’s an incredible upside to so many other people that don’t have that same opportunity,” said Martinez.

The dialogue that ensued between the judges and students played out so naturally that it ran a half hour over schedule. Students in attendance seemed to really connect with the judges and appreciate the candid discussion.

“I think [the event] went really well,” said Intercultural Center Intern junior Alisha Agard, who helped organize the event. “It kind of leveled the playing field, so it wasn’t as if these judges were talking to us and we were at a lecture, but there was more interaction and I felt like we were people having a chill conversation. So that was really cool.”

Photo by Emily Volpert