Across the nation last week, participants of Law Day 2013 remembered that promise as they focused on this year’s theme of “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All.”
Officially recognized on May 1, federal law describes Law Day in part as “a special day of celebration by the people of the United States in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law …”
Clearly, these ideals of equality and justice under the law cannot be achieved without the efforts of our leaders and our entire community. This year’s Law Day provided a forum for exploring the progress which our nation has made through civil and human rights movements and contemplating what may be done in the future to promote the ideal of equality under the law.
Although many great strides toward equality have been made since the era of the Emancipation Proclamation, we still cannot claim that slavery is a thing of the past. Modern slavery and human trafficking still run rampant within our own borders, and the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking estimates that between 20.9 and 27 million people remain enslaved worldwide.
Additionally, even women and minorities who enjoy personal freedom remain grossly underrepresented in positions of leadership and power. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, females working full-time face a significant disparity in pay, making only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Undoubtedly, the absolute attainment of equality under the rule of law remains unrealized. However, with this common goal shared between Law Day participants nationwide, forward progress seems imminent.
The speaker at the April 30 Blue Ridge Bar Association Law Day Luncheon was a woman who clearly has triumphed over inequality, paving not only her own way but the path for many women and minorities pursuing legal careers. Judge M. Yvette Miller was the first African-American woman appointed to the Court of Appeals, and the first woman to serve as chief judge. Judge Miller has attained numerous inspiring achievements, and it was an honor for the Blue Ridge Bar Association to have her as our keynote speaker.
Law Day 2013 was not only a day to identify how we can achieve equality under the law in the future, but also a day to recognize individuals who have already made noteworthy contributions to the rule of law.
The Liberty Bell Award is the most prestigious award given by lawyers to a nonlawyer. This Award serves to recognize community service outside of regular employment that has strengthened the American system of freedom under the law. This year, the Liberty Bell Committee selected Byron Dobbs as the 2013 recipient. Mr. Dobbs, who has enjoyed a broadcasting career spanning more than 50 years, was honored as a man of tireless work ethic, high standards of professionalism, and devotion to his community.
The Liberty Bell Committee also chose to present a second award in 2013, the Robert S. “Bob” Stubbs Distinguished Service Award. This award recognizes outstanding dedication by a non-lawyer to a profession within the judicial or legal system. Regrettably, our community recently lost three bailiffs whose assistance with law and order in our courtrooms will be sorely missed, and the decision to present the Stubbs award posthumously was unanimous. The 2013 Stubbs Award was presented to the families of Johnny Nelson, Bob Stoner, and Frederick Barrows in recognition of their distinguished service to our court system.
Also recognized for their contributions to the rule of law and our community were recently retired Superior Court Chief Judge Frank C. Mills III and State Court Chief Judge C.J. Gober, who were both presented with a Lifetime Service Award at the luncheon.
Rachel D. Conley is the staff attorney to Superior Court Judge David L. Cannon, Jr. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia and of the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University