Tuesday, February 3, 2004
Supervisor Yvonne Burke Honored as Person of Year, Sees Better Times Ahead for County Government
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke, being honored at a downtown dinner as the Metropolitan News-Enterprise “Person of the Year,” expressed optimism that better times are ahead for county government and advised attorneys in politics to “never give up your bar membership.”
Burke, after having been praised by Los Angeles County Bar Association President Robin Meadow for what he called “one of your favorite sayings,” delivered it on cue to an audience of about 125 at the Biltmore Hotel Friday when she declared:
“It’s going to be all right.”
Though the county and the state courts face a budget crisis in the wake of cuts planned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in spite of headlines predicting the demise of Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center in her own Second District, Burke was upbeat in accepting the award from MetNews co-publisher and newly announced candidate for State Bar Board of Governors Jo-Ann Grace. Burke became the 22nd person honored since the inaugural year of the award in 1983, when it was given to the late Mildred L. Lillie, then a justice of this district’s Court of Appeal.
She expressed confidence that the problems local government faces, like those it has faced in the past, will be overcome. But she also warned lawyers who go into politics to hang onto their bar cards, noting that “you never know when you might” lose an election and need the practice of law to fall back on.
Burke, who was the first African American woman in the California Legislature and the first to represent the state in Congress, herself had that experience in 1980 when she failed to retain a seat on the Board of Supervisors to which she had been appointed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. She returned to law practice, spending over a decade with the law firm of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue before being elected to succeed the late Kenneth Hahn on the board in 1992.
The issue of bar membership was much in the air at the gathering, with MetNews editor and co-publisher Roger M. Grace lauding county Public Defender Michael Judge, who was criticized in a Los Angeles Times editorial last week for filing demurrers in misdemeanor cases challenging the authority of City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to bring the charges. A Jan. 9 column by Grace suggested that Delgadillo lacked the qualifications for office mandated by the City Charter because his bar membership was inactive during a part of the five-year period immediately preceding his election.
Burke also praised Judge, though without specifically mentioning the issue of Delgadillo’s qualifications, for his vigorous representation of indigent criminal defendants.
Judge, in turn, praised Burke for bringing “dignity and grace” to public office, saying it was “not just a matter of style” but of raising the level of public discourse.
“Things don’t get out of control when Yvonne Burke is around,” Judge said.
Also making presentations to Burke, along with Judge, Meadow, and Jo-Ann Grace, were Fifth District Supervisor Mike Antonovich on behalf of the board and Los Angeles Superior Court Criminal Courts Supervising Judge David Wesley on behalf of the Superior Court.
Antonovich, who was himself honored as “Person of the Year” for 2002, said Burke has “brought grace, charm and poise to the eighth floor of the Hall of Administration” where the supervisors work. Wesley, recalling Burke’s work as chair of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, said Burke is “easy to talk to, and she listens.”
Jo-Ann Grace, speaking before an audience mostly made up of lawyers and judges, said that as a lawyer Burke “adds a unique perspective to the board’s discussions.”
Grace explained that Burke “demonstrates to them how lawyers approach issues and argue positions.”
Meadow said Burke’s optimism was more than just a matter of disposition or attitude, reflecting instead her faith in her ability to accomplish her goals and make things better.
“You have given us a lifetime of example of how dedication and hard work can make everything turn out all right.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company