Sequins, Elegance and Medallions

Joy Freeman Coulbary | 5/16/2012, 4:15 p.m.

While President Barack Obama kicked off his re-election campaign in Columbus, Ohio, attorneys of note in the District gathered to celebrate two of the area's most prominent jurists.

During a night of sequins, sophistication and jurisprudence at the JW Marriott Hotel in Northwest, more than 100 guests showed up to honor D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Inez Smith Reid and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Saturday, May 5.

"The upcoming election is the most pivotal our nation, indeed the world, has seen," said Henderson, 64, one of the nation's premier civil and human rights attorneys. "Without seeming overly partisan, I'd like to say that it's important that we see the first African-American president elected for a second term, based on an objective analysis of our goals for moving the nation forward."

The black tie affair hosted by the Washington Bar Association (WBA) and the Washington Bar Association Educational Foundation, Inc., honored Henderson and Smith Reid, 75, by awarding the two legal stalwarts the Medallion of Merit.

The night's distinguished guests also included Billy Martin, WBA's first vice president and attorney with Dorsey & Whitney; Judge Emmet G. Sullivan; Judge Zoe Bush; Judge Mary Oates Walker; Chief Judge Eric T. Washington; and attorney Darrell G. Mottley, president of the D.C. Bar and principal shareholder of Banner & Witcoff, an intellectual property firm in Northwest.

"The award is named for Charles Hamilton Houston - a Howard University Law professor and mentor to Thurgood Marshall and co-founder of the Washington Bar Association," said Felicia L. Chambers, former WBA president and a civil attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. "We want to continue the work [Houston] set us on the path to do."

Judge Iris McCollum Green, WBA's president, spoke of how "the recipients embody the spirit of Charles Hamilton Houston."

"Wade Henderson has had a long and distinguished legal career advancing human and civil rights," Green said.

Likewise, Bush praised Smith Reid's exceptional performance and thoroughness while on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

"Judge Smith Reid serves as a role model and mentor for many presiding judges at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia," Bush said

Houston, in whose memory the award is presented annually, was born in Washington, D.C. in 1895. Before his death in 1950, he was a preeminent African-American attorney and legal scholar, dean of Howard University Law School, and NAACP litigation director - playing a pivotal role in dismantling Jim Crow.

Indeed Houston's legacy lives on through young attorneys like David Morrow, 26, who attended the WBA affair. "I am an attorney in the finance division of Buckley Sandler LLP, and appreciate the Washington Bar Association's career oriented events for young lawyers," Morrow said.

Jonathan Luckett, 24, another young legal protege of WBA's Law Student's Division and 2012 WBA scholarship recipient, graduated from Howard University School of Law on May 12. He said that he plans to model himself after Houston. "Graduating from Howard Law School affords me the opportunity to continue the legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston, as an attorney and an agent of social change."

Billy Martin, 62, addressed the audience - during his remarks he mentioned the Egyptian Spring and the Trayvon Martin tragedy. He said there's still a lot of work to be done.

"The recent struggles of the family of Trayvon Martin and the uprising in Egypt, point out in a very public and painful way, that we are still employing Houstonian jurisprudence at home and abroad to guarantee that all men and women are indeed created equal and are entitled to equal protection and due process of law," Martin said.