Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

May 01, 2004
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws to be Awarded at Commencement

Southwestern is pleased to announce that the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws will be awarded to this year’s commencement speaker, the Honorable Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, in recognition of her dedication to the people of Los Angeles and serving as an outstanding role model for future generations of civic leaders. Honorary degrees will also be conferred upon Mr. Harold J. Decker ’73, Dr. Frank L. Ellsworth, and the Honorable Charles Z. Smith. Brief biographies follow.

The Honorable Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, currently serving her third term as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the Second District, has spent more than forty years in public service at national, state and local government levels, including three terms in the California State Assembly and another three in the United States House of Representatives.

As a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Burke is directly involved in meeting her district's needs for child welfare, economic development, education, recreation, and civic beautification. She was a prime motivator in promoting the placement of foster children in homes near their original neighborhoods and established numerous childcare centers that provide enrichment programs and nutritious meals. She has also brought businesses to underserved areas, provided services to small businesses, promoted computer ownership and the availability of cyber technology in underserved communities and worked to expand public transit, parks and other amenities in the district.

In addition to providing constituent services, Supervisor Burke is responsible for the County's Department of Affirmative Action Compliance, Community Development Commission, Department of Human Resources, Museum of Natural History, Department of Parks and Recreation, the County Public Library and the Department of Public Social Services. She is also working to establish a County Archives system. In addition, Supervisor Burke is a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission and the Local Agency Formation Commission. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

In past affiliations, Supervisor Burke served as vice chair of the 1972 Democratic National Convention, vice chair of the 1984 United States Olympic Organizing Committee, vice chair of the University of California Board of Regents, chair of the Los Angeles Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank and a member of the board of directors of the Educational Testing Service, the Ford Foundation, MGM/UA and Nestle.

In her long and distinguished career, Supervisor Burke has garnered many "firsts," awards and honors. In 1972, she was the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress from California and, in 1993, the first to serve as chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. In the early 1970s, she was named one of "America's 200 Future Leaders" by Time Magazine and a "Woman of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times. In 1994, she received the Outstanding Alumni Award from her law school alma mater, the University of Southern California (USC), and in 1996 was similarly honored by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with its Alumnus of the Year Award.

Supervisor Burke is a native of Los Angeles. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA in 1953 and her Juris Doctor degree from USC in 1956. She began her career with the California Department of Corporations. She also worked for several law firms and served as staff attorney for the McCone Commission before her election to the California State Assembly in 1966.

Harold J. Decker is senior counsel in the Michigan law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C., where he represents major corporate defendants in commercial, patent and insurance coverage litigation. Prior to assuming his current position in 2003, Mr. Decker served as interim president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross in Washington D.C.

Mr. Decker took the helm of the Red Cross in the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when the organization faced its own crisis in effectively allocating resources. While implementing immediate policy changes, he consulted with the President, cabinet secretaries and other government leaders, and used press conferences and media appearances to help restore the confidence of the public as well as the organization's 36,000 employees and 1.2 million volunteers.

Mr. Decker had joined the Red Cross just nine months earlier as deputy general counsel, with the mission of restructuring the Office of the General Counsel. In short order, he was named corporate secretary and deputy general counsel and then was promoted to general counsel and corporate secretary prior to assuming the mantle of chief executive officer in October 2001. From 1980 to 2001, Mr. Decker served Pharmacia Corporation in its legal department for two decades as staff counsel, assistant general counsel and executive director, and for several years, as associate general counsel and vice president of corporate litigation and product stewardship. During his tenure at Pharmacia, he was responsible for business counseling and managing a range of legal issues for this Fortune 250 company, including dispute resolution and cost recovery, corporate transactions, intellectual property, patent protection and corporate and regulatory affairs. In 1991, he was honored with the W.E. Upjohn Prize, the company’s highest award. Earlier in his career, Mr. Decker was a partner in the law firms of Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Christensen, Fazio, Briggs & Ward in La Habra, California. He began his legal career in 1974 with the firm of Parker, Stanbury, McGee & Babcock in Los Angeles. Mr. Decker served in the United States Army in Vietnam from 1968 until 1970 as an infantry sergeant. He received the Bronze Star, Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal for distinguished and meritorious service.

Mr. Decker earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Kalamazoo College in 1967 and his Juris Doctor degree from Southwestern University School of Law in 1973. From 1986 to 1998, he was an adjunct professor at The Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. He is a sought-after speaker and frequently addresses trade and legal associations on a broad range of legal subjects. In 2003, Mr. Decker presented the Annual Paul E. and Phyllis F. Treusch Public Service Lecture at Southwestern. Mr. Decker is admitted to practice in California, Michigan and the District of Columbia. He is a member of the American Judicature Society and serves on the board of directors for the Stulberg International String Competition.

Dr. Frank Ellsworth, President of the Japan Society, is an authority on intercultural and interdisciplinary education. He has been a leader in higher education for more than thirty years, including twelve as president of Pitzer College. He also served six years as president of the Independent Colleges of Southern California.

Dr. Ellsworth has long been committed to the law and legal education. He served in the Office of the Dean at Columbia University School of Law and as an assistant dean at The University of Chicago Law School, prior to becoming the youngest president in the history of The Claremont Colleges. He was a member of the editorial board of California Lawyer magazine and chair of the long-range planning committee for Public Counsel. He has also been a member of the Southwestern Board of Trustees for more than twenty years.

Dr. Ellsworth began his affiliation with Southwestern in 1980 as a charter member of the law school's board of visitors. In 1982, he was elected a trustee, and over the next two decades, served on all of the board's committees, chairing both the executive and membership committees for many years. He was vice chair of the board from 1986 to 1997. Throughout his tenure, Dr. Ellsworth contributed greatly to the enhancement of Southwestern's curriculum, faculty and facilities. He was named Trustee Emeritus in 2003. Following his career in higher education, Dr. Ellsworth joined The Capital Group Companies, where he served as president and director of Endowments and vice president of the Capital Research and Management Company, where he oversaw the company's philanthropic programs and worked to expand its services in the non-profit community. Dr. Ellsworth co-edited two highly regarded books on foundation management: From Grantmaker to Leader: Emerging Strategies for 21st Century Foundations and Foundation Management: Innovation and Responsibility at Home and Abroad.

Dr. Ellsworth has had a long-standing interest in Japanese education and culture. In 1979, while serving as Pitzer's president, he initiated one of the earliest culture-based language learning programs in association with ISA, International, a Tokyo-based company. As chair of the strategic planning and endowment committees of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, he orchestrated an $80 million fundraising campaign that built a new pavilion and launched an endowment and planned giving effort. In Fall 2003, he assumed his current position as president of Japan Society. Located in New York City, Japan Society offers programs in the arts, business, education and public affairs to promote greater understanding and cooperation between Japan and the United States.

Always active in community affairs, Dr. Ellsworth currently serves as chair of the board of the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy and as chair of the board of directors of Global Partners, Canada, a non-profit organization. He serves on the board of trustees of Pitzer College. His honors include the first Distinguished Young Alumnus Award from Case Western Reserve University and the Tree of Life Award from the National Jewish Fund.

Dr. Ellsworth earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Adelbert College, Case Western Reserve University in 1965. He went on to earn a Master of Education degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1967, a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1969, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from The University of Chicago in 1976.

Washington's highly esteemed Justice Charles Z. Smith retired from the state’s Supreme Court in December 2002 following a distinguished legal career that spanned more than forty-seven years. During that time, in addition to being the first person of color to serve the state of Washington as a judge of the municipal court, judge of the superior court and justice of the supreme court, he practiced law in the public and private sectors and was a legal educator and member of the news media.

Justice Smith’s tenure on the Washington State Supreme Court began in 1988 when the governor appointed him to fill an unexpired term. He was elected unopposed for the remainder of that term, as he would be for two more terms in 1990 and 1996. Prior to his service on the state's high court, Justice Smith was a principal in the law firm of Theodore M. Rosenblume, Charles Z. Smith and Associates, P.S., in Seattle from 1982 to 1988. From 1973 to 1979, he was a news commentator for the ABC television and radio affiliate in Seattle. He was first appointed to the bench in 1965 as judge of the Municipal Court of Seattle, Criminal Department. A year later, he was appointed general trial and juvenile court judge in the Superior Court of Washington for King County, where he served until 1973. He also chaired the Juvenile Court committee of the Washington State Superior Court Judges Association. In 1961, Justice Smith joined the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., as special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. From 1955 to 1961, Justice Smith served as a deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, in private practice and as law clerk for Washington State Supreme Court Justice Matthew W. Hill.

Long active in legal education, Justice Smith is a Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Washington School of Law, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1973 and served as associate dean, director of University District Defender Services and director of Law School Clinical Programs. He continues to serve as a member of the Graduate Faculty and the Social Welfare Doctoral Group at the University’s School of Social Work. Justice Smith has also been a strong supporter of Southwestern over the years and graciously served on the final bench for the law school’s intramural moot court competition during his tenure on the Washington State Supreme Court.

Throughout his career, Justice Smith has held leadership posts in a wide range of international, national, state and local civic and non-profit commissions and boards. Among them are the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Stockholm Accords on Ethnic Cleansing sponsored by the Center for Global Strategies International, the Juvenile Justice Standards Commission of the American Bar Association/Institute of Judicial Administration and the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission. So extensive were his contributions to the public and the legal profession that in 2001, the Washington State Bar Association honored Justice Smith with its Lifetime Service Award. He has also been honored by the A&E Network as one of ten Washington State Biography Community Heroes and by the King County Bar Foundation with the 2002 Champion of Diversity Award, among many others.

Justice Smith is a native of Lakeland, Florida, the son of Cuban and African American parents. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Temple University in 1952 and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Washington School of Law in 1955. In 1990, he was honored with the law school's Distinguished Alumnus Award.