Lawyers Club of San Diego celebrated its 40th anniversary Wednesday night by honoring three figures pivotal to the group's formation.
Lawyers Club co-founders Lynn Schenk and Judith McConnell were honored with the group's prestigious ICON award, while University of San Diego School of Law professor Hugh Friedman received the Belva Lockwood Award for outstanding contributions.
"I'm deeply grateful to the generations of women who came before Judy and me because they forged a path for us to follow," Schenk said before a sold-out crowd at the US Grant hotel. "I'm thrilled and deeply, deeply touched to receive this recognition from an organization that means more to me than I can say."
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye was scheduled to give the keynote address, but she had to cancel her appearance to deal with the budget woes in Sacramento. She sent along her sincere regrets.
"While I can't be with you, I'm working for you, doing all I can to restore funding to our courts," she said in a letter McConnell read to the gathering.
In 1971, Schenk and McConnell – along with Elaine Alexander – famously waged a successful fight to abolish the US Grant's "men's only" policy used during lunch hours at the hotel's Grant Grill. At the time, San Diego was becoming the focus of a movement in California to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
The two good friends then helped launch Lawyers Club when a survey of San Diego's 24 practicing female lawyers overwhelmingly requested a new bar association to address issues of gender discrimination in the law, in the profession and in the community.
Schenk, McConnell, Sharron Voorhees, Christine Pate and Louise De Carl Malugen were elected as directors of the Lawyers Club when it began in July 1972.
"Judy and I may have started Lawyers Club, but we didn't do it alone," said Schenk, who later became the first woman to serve San Diego in the U.S. House of Representatives and then was chief of staff to California Gov. Gray Davis.
McConnell was Lawyers Club's first president and currently is the administrative presiding justice of the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Friedman, Schenk's husband, is credited with coining the term "Lawyers Club" in a conscious effort to portray a more gender neutral image. The group had been considering names like "San Diego Women Lawyers Club" or "the San Diego Women's Bar Association," but Friedman thought those weren't very inviting to men.
The general counsel for the Westgate Company at the time, Friedman was one of the first men to join Lawyers Club. He was a champion of equal rights and even left the downtown Rotary Club because they didn't admit women then.
"In the past 40 years, much has changed and been achieved," Friedman said, "but inequality still exists. So let's not ever get complacent about what we've accomplished."
Schenk agreed, saying there is progress left to be made.
"On many fronts we've stalled and maybe even gone backward," she said. "Is Lawyers Club still relevant, still needed? To quote (Sarah Palin), 'You betcha.'"
The Center for Community Solutions, a nonprofit agency serving those affected by rape, domestic violence and elder abuse, was honored Wednesday as well for its outstanding service to the San Diego community.
Lawyers Club's membership has grown to approximately 1,000 women and men, and its members have made great strides toward achieving gender equality. For example, numerous members have become judges and former Lawyers Club president, Bonnie Dumanis, was elected San Diego's first female district attorney.
"It's the young people carrying on who inspire me," McConnell said.
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