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VBA Recognizes Distinguished Service

Friday, February 13, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Honoring retired chief justice, leader in advocacy for children, young lawyers

Former Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser received the highest honor of The Virginia Bar Association during its 2015 Annual Meeting, the Gerald L. Baliles Distinguished Service Award.

Margaret Ivey Bacigal, professor at the University of Richmond Law School and a longtime head of the VBA Commission on the Needs of Children, was given the Robert E. Shepherd Jr. Award. Shepherd, who died in 2008, dedicated himself to creating, protecting and preserving children’s rights in Virginia.

The Young Lawyers Division recognized three stand-out members: Fairfax County Circuit Judge Daniel E. Ortiz and Samuel T. Towell, deputy secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, for their outstanding work and long-term service to the YLD and the VBA. Also, J. Britton Williston, an associate in the Norfolk office of Kaufman & Canoles, for his enthusiasm, loyalty and dedication to the YLD in 2014.

Distinguished Service Award

Kinser, the 25th chief justice of Virginia and the first female chief justice, served the Supreme Court during significant change and budgetary concerns, Baliles said.

“The chief has been a quietly persistent voice for Virginia’s judiciary, reminding legislators and governors alike that the judiciary, in her words, is an independent and co-equal branch of government and provides a core service and that significant cuts result in significant delays," Baliles said. "With this award tonight, the VBA declares that Chief Justice Kinser has … earned the admiration, respect and gratitude of lawyers and citizens all across the commonwealth. So tonight’s award is presented in appreciation of a legal career of distinguished service but it also marks the VBA’s continued commitment to justice, fairness and the rule of law.”

In her remarks, Kinser focused on service generally and “how service, in the context of this organization’s history, has helped to preserve the rule of law.” She talked about the state of the legal profession before 100 men came together in 1888 to form what has become the VBA. “While The Virginia Bar Association was not formed with the expressed intent to strengthen and preserve the rule of law, that nevertheless, in my opinion, has become a welcome consequence,” the retired chief justice said.

Robert E. Shepherd Jr. Award

John L. Walker III, the 2014 president of the VBA, presented the award to Professor Bacigal, who is director of the University of Richmond Law School Clinical Placement Program.

“Margaret has served the VBA in numerous leadership roles over the years, including as a member of the VBA’s Board of Governors, a member of the VBA’s Community Service Council, and as the chair of the VBA’s Commission on the Needs of Children,” Walker said. “She has done a superb job in every VBA role she has undertaken.”

The commission, which advocates for children’s rights and drafts and supports legislation protecting children’s rights, was founded by Robert E. Shepherd Jr. Bacigal has been its chair for the past six years.

She is a past president of The Virginia Poverty Law Center, the founding board president of the Richmond Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program, a former chair of the Richmond Youth Services Commission, and a former chair of the Citizens Advisory Council to the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court in the City of Richmond.

Young Lawyers Division awards

The 2014 chair of the Young Lawyers Division, Elaina L. Blanks-Green, thanked all the contributors to the YLD mission for working so hard throughout the year. The YLD, a perennial top performer nationally among all voluntary bar groups of its size, “maintains its excellence because of the work of the dedicated membership,” said the tax attorney with Norfolk Southern Corp. The YLD awards committee selected these top recipients:

  • J. Britton Williston of Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. – Emerson G. Spies Award for enthusiasm, loyalty and dedication to the VBA in a given year

“This year’s recipient has been involved with the YLD since he moved down to the Hampton Roads area," Blanks-Green said. "Just this year alone, has been involved in our membership initiatives, mentoring opportunities, the American Bar Association Awards of Achievement and the Legal Food Frenzy.”

  • Judge Daniel E. Ortiz – Sandra P. Thompson Award for long-term outstanding service
  • Samuel T. Towell – Sandra P. Thompson Award for long-term outstanding service

“Dan Ortiz’s initials should be changed to ‘Y-L-D,’” Blanks-Green said. “He has been actively involved in the YLD since beginning his practice and has gone through every position imaginable in the YLD. … He implemented lasting programs, such as Pints and Pairings and the CLE component of our executive committee meetings,” she added.

“Sam Towell has been involved with the YLD since he began practicing law and jumped in to assist with the Model Judiciary Program, which he has co-chaired over the years. … He has been actively involved on the Executive Council, the Executive Committee, assisting with membership initiatives, and even chaired our nominations committee this past year.”

During his term as VBA president, Walker emphasized that a young lawyer’s success is accelerated by active involvement in the YLD.

“It bears repeating," Walker told the banquet audience, "that in 2014 the General Assembly elected one of our YLD award winners and a past YLD chair, Dan Ortiz, as a circuit court judge in Fairfax County, and the governor appointed another of our YLD award winners, Sam Towell, as a deputy secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. These are impressive accomplishments for two of our members who are not yet 40 years old.”


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