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Arizona justices honored by attorney's group

July 13, 2009

Who's Who of Arizona women judges and lawyers gathered on July 9 at an historic event where the namesake of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law posed for photos, quoted Shakespeare, and later joined in a chorus of "Happy Trails" for a beloved friend and recently retired member of the Arizona Supreme Court.

The occasion was a reception, hosted by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association (AWLA), for Rebecca White Berch, who was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court on July 1, and Ruth V. McGregor, who retired as Chief Justice on June 30. U.S. Supreme Court Justice (Ret.) Sandra Day O'Connor introduced McGregor, a 1974 College of Law alumna and former O'Connor clerk, and McGregor introduced Jessica Berch, daughter of the new Chief Justice and Professor Michael Berch of the College of Law. Jessica Berch, after sharing some tender and amusing memories of her mother, introduced Berch, who graduated from the College of Law in 1979.

"This state is so lucky to have had her (McGregor's) services," Justice O'Connor, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court, told the audience of about 200. "And this state is equally lucky to have the services of Rebecca Berch, who is also enormously talented."

Justice O'Connor described McGregor as "articulate and unfailingly pleasant," a woman with tremendous energy and intelligence. "She was there that whole year (as a court clerk), and she taught me how to be a justice," she said. "She leaves the court system in the state of Arizona even better than she found it."

McGregor thanked the AWLA for encouraging, even forcing, women to move outside their comfort zones and to compete in a male-dominated field. She said women have always been trustworthy confidantes.

"In 1971, 14 percent of the members of my class at ASU law were women, and every one of us knew we could rely on each other for help if we needed it, and to understand what we were going through," McGregor said. "When we began to practice law, we knew we could talk with one another openly. We knew the bonds of sisterhood would prevent anyone from telling what we were feeling."

Jessica Berch described her mother as a sensible and creative woman, a calm and consistent disciplinarian who took time from her busy career to attend her daughter's fieldtrips, drive her to plays and piano lessons, and teach "summer school" sessions at home. Berch is someone who can fix most anything, and will stop on a busy freeway to rescue a stray animal, Jessica Berch said.

"Mom was the glue that held it all together," said Jessica Berch, a graduate of Columbia Law School who is clerking for 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Mary Schroeder. "I don't remember thinking about or knowing about her job when I was little. She just balanced it all. Apparently, she's done all right at work, too."

Justice Berch told the AWLA audience that it was "a great honor and absolute pleasure" to work with McGregor. Despite Arizona's many strides in electing women to various leadership roles at the judicial, executive and legislative levels, organizations such as AWLA still are needed, she said.

"We need to make sure our voices are heard on boards and commissions, in charitable and business groups, and in the judicial selection process. We need to be sure we are represented in partnerships; we need to be sure we don't just do our jobs and go home," Berch said. "There is something to making change from the inside of an organization."

She closed by quoting, in part, from Sen. Robert Kennedy's Day of Affirmation Address, "A Tiny Ripple of Hope," which he delivered on June 6, 1966, at Cape Town University in South Africa:

"Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and then the total -- all of these acts -- will be written in the history of this generation.

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Said Berch, "Do one good act, and start a little ripple. Together we can build a better society. We're well on the way."

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law