Home February 2012 AJC Summons Honorees

AJC Summons Honorees

Each year, as the American Jewish Committee prepares to announce the recipients of its Judge Learned Hand Awards, law offices across Orange County go on high alert.  Who among the many firms and colleagues would be the targets of these highly prized honors?
At its December 8 luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel in Newport Beach, President Susan Glass welcomed the more than 150 guests who gathered to witness the ceremony.  The legal profession was well represented.  Before the awards were announced, Glass spoke of the mission of the AJC and the importance of continuing its goal of reaching out to diverse religious and ethnic groups through “civil dialogue” on immigration.  In particular, she noted, with Latino community leaders.  After Rabbi Arnold Rachlis provided a meaningful “motzi” by connecting the transformation of the Biblical Jacob to “Israel,” and Jacob’s struggles with his conscience during this period to those attorneys who had worked so hard and given so much of themselves to help humanity, keynote speaker, Justice Richard D. Fybel, made his presentation.
But all eyes were on the distinguished stars of the day: namely Andra Barmash Greene of Irell and Manella; Adam Muchnick of Edwards Lifesciences; and Jordon Steinberg of Minyard Morris.  Steinberg received the Emerging Leadership Award after being presented by Mark Minyard; the Community Service Award was presented to Muchnick by Elan Carr; and the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Greene by Marc Maister.  These attorneys were shown to have provided far and above the norm in service to humanitarian causes and social justice after their presenters each described the work they had done in earning their awards; the guests gave a rousing standing applause that was well-deserved. And each surely exemplified the highest principles in the legal profession to earn the Judge Learned Hand Awards, with the desire to “give back to the community.”
The honorees had not only performed well in their respective firms, but have given so much time, effort and service to their communities, synagogues, women’s issues, youth activities, the homeless, the Merage Jewish Community Center and supporting Israel.
I soon learned that Justice Fybel was the perfect keynoter, since his work has focused on judicial ethics and civil liberties, as well as being awarded the UCLA Law School Award for Public and Community Service.  His talk focused on the Nazi form of law and how German judges conformed to a system of the denial of human rights.  He said there was “a basic absence of humanity.”  All the German judges, he said, “were ethically corrupt.”  So why did they bow to this system, since they were judges, after all, in a former lawful system?  But by 1939, he said, all law in Germany bowed to Hitler and the purpose became to “root out all enemies of the state…the legal profession then became a moral abyss.  Not one judge resigned, and only one complained.”
Our system in the United States, he continued, is that we” take oaths to the constitution, not to a person.”  This is the rule of law based on ethics and morals.  California judges are obligated to be faithful to the law and must perform their judicial duties without bias or prejudice to race, religion or ethnicity, he noted.
And as for Judge Learned Hand, being curious, I decided to do some research.  I discovered that his full name was really Billings Learned Hand — all family names.  And what a guy he was!  After reading eight computer page notations of his works, litigations, cases, constitutional decisions and hundreds of writings on free speech and social problems, I found that, unfortunately, he was never appointed to the Supreme Court, even though he is quoted more often than any other lower court judge in history.  A fierce and liberal defender of civil liberties and tolerance, he was appointed to the Federal Court in 1909 and became known as “a judicial philosopher.”  So it wasn’t a far reach when the American Jewish Committee named its most prestigious award, the Judge Learned Hand Award, and the recipients of this honor should always be justly proud.


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