By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law enjoyed a banner night at the National Bar Association’s recent mid-year conference dinner. Six of the seven awards handed out went to graduates of the law school, with John Burris ’73 and Pamela Price ’82 receiving the Herman Marion Sweatt Award and Robert Harris ’72, Thelton Henderson ’62, William Hunter ’70, and Eva Patterson ’75 winning the Gertrude E. Rush Award.
The National Bar Association was established by a dozen African-American attorneys in 1925, when there were fewer than 1,000 African-American lawyers in the United States. Today, its membership exceeds 20,000 lawyers, judges, educators, and law students.
Burris’ and Price’s award honors Sweatt, an African-American who sued the State of Texas after being denied admission into its then racially segregated law school and eventually won his case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Burris, who formed the Law Offices of John L. Burris in Oakland in 1985, is widely known for his plaintiff’s civil rights work and as a legal analyst on Fox, MSNBC, Court TV, CNN, and other media outlets. His main practice areas include police misconduct, employment discrimination, and criminal defense.
Price founded Price and Associates in Oakland in 1991. She specializes in civil rights cases, real estate, and legal malpractice defense. Price often represents plaintiffs in discrimination cases, and has secured large settlements for clients in several high-profile sexual harassment and racial discrimination cases.
The Rush Award honors the National Bar Association’s only woman co-founder and the first African-American woman to practice law in Iowa. Recipients are chosen for manifesting Rush’s pioneering spirit, demonstrating leadership in the their community and profession, and showing concern for human and civil rights.
Harris, a retired vice president at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), is PG&E’s first and only lawyer to argue and win a case in the U.S. Supreme Court, where he proved that a corporation, like an individual, has negative First Amendment rights. A longtime community leader, Harris five times been named one of the year’s “100 Most Influential Blacks in America” by Ebony magazine.
Henderson, a federal judge in the Northern District of California, has been civil rights leader as a lawyer, educator, and jurist. In 1962, he became the U.S. Justice Department’s first African-American lawyer in the Civil Rights Division. Henderson was director of San Mateo County’s Legal Aid Society, assistant dean at Stanford Law School, and a law professor at Golden Gate University before joining the U.S. District Court in 1980.
Hunter has been executive director of the National Basketball Players Association since 1996. He also formed and heads the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. A former National Football League player, Hunter was a special prosecutor in Alameda County and a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. From 1984-1996, he managed his own law firm that focused on municipal finance, entertainment law, white-collar criminal defense, and other high-profile civil litigation.
Patterson is founder and president of the Equal Justice Society, a national nonprofit dedicated to changing the law through progressive legal theory, public policy, and practice. Northwestern University’s first African-American student government president, she worked for the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County and spent 23 years at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, including 13 as its executive director.