A sports trailblazer, an ambassador, and two Berkeley Law faculty members were feted at the school’s annual Citation Award Dinner last fall.
National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts ’80 and U.S. Ambassador to Italy and San Marino John Phillips ’69 each won a Citation Award, the school’s highest honor. Professor Emerita Eleanor Swift received the Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award, and East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) Executive Director Tirien Steinbach ’99 the Young Alumni Award. Before becoming a top private-practice litigator, Roberts worked as a public defender in Washington, D.C.
Three of her acquitted defendants were so grateful they named children after her. In 2002, Washingtonian magazine called her “the finest pure trial lawyer in Washington—magic with juries, loved by judges, feared by opposing counsel.”
Raised in a South Bronx housing project, Roberts credited her mother—who died two months after Roberts passed the bar—for her success. “When she’d ask why I wanted to be a lawyer, I told her, ‘I just want to help people in trouble,’ ” Roberts recalled.
Phillips co-founded the pioneering Center for Law in the Public Interest just two years after graduating. Among his many triumphs: exposing bribes and payoffs by U.S. companies to foreign governments, which led Congress to pass the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977.
He later played a lead role in reviving the long dormant False Claims Act—the government’s whistleblower reward program to deter contractor fraud. It now helps recover billions of dollars stolen annually via U.S. government contracts. “There’s a real sense of public responsibility that Berkeley ingrained in me and in many of my classmates,” Phillips said.
An expert in evidence and civil procedure, Swift retired in May 2015 after 35 years at the law school. She is revered for her dedication to teaching, mentorship of junior faculty, and leadership in developing Berkeley Law’s clinical and social justice programs.
Steinbach, who joined EBCLC in 2001, has been a driving force in its ascension to Alameda County’s largest provider of free legal services. More than 100 Berkeley Law students work each year at the clinic, which serves thousands of clients.
University of California President and event emcee Janet Napolitano hailed the honorees for “heeding a call to give something back to their communities. This is the call that Berkeley Law helps instill in its alumni.”