Two Pioneering Female Judges Fêted by Columbia Law Women’s Association

Embrace the unexpected, the judges told the crowd at the Myra Bradwell Banquet.

Judges Pamela Chen (left) and Margo Brodie (right) with Neta Levanon ’11, who moderated their discussion. 

Judges Pamela Chen and Margo Brodie are federal district judges in the Eastern District of New York who were sworn in one year apart—Brodie in March 2012, and Chen the following March. Besides sharing a chamber in the Brooklyn courthouse they call their office, the two self-proclaimed “BFFs” shared an award on March 8, when they were jointly honored by the Columbia Law Women’s Association for their respective accomplishments and contributions to the legal profession. 

The two Obama-appointees were this year’s honorees at the 37th annual Myra Bradwell Banquet, held the evening of International Women’s Day in the grand rotunda of Columbia University’s Low Library. Before an audience of students, alumni, faculty, and friends, the award recipients spoke about their careers and delivered words of wisdom about embracing serendipity, answering questions from Neta Levanon ’11.

“I started off going to law school for the noble purpose of becoming a public defender, and ended up as a prosecutor,” Chen, originally from Chicago, said to laughter. “So my message is: ‘Accept the things you don’t expect, and don’t try plot out your career from beginning to end.’”

She added, “I ended up having the dream job prosecuting hate crimes, human trafficking, and excessive force for police misconduct. So for me, serendipity really worked out well.” Brodie knew at age 10 that she wanted to go to law school, but had no idea what would come after. “My entire career was a surprise,” said the Antigua-born judge, who also made history when she became the first Afro-Caribbean-born federal judge to serve in the United States. She was urged to apply for the district court position after twice being rejected as a lower magistrate judge. “My suggestion for young lawyers is, ‘Wherever you end up, make the most of it.’ You never know where the learning may take you.”

CLWA co-presidents Laura Baron ’18 (left middle) and Sabrina Singer ’18 (right middle), with CLWA Myra Bradwell co-chairs Antonia Hyman ’18 (left) and Hope Daily ’18 (right).

For more than three decades, CLWA has celebrated pioneering attorneys and advocates who have made important progress for women in the legal profession by holding the Myra Bradwell award dinner, an event that honors a true trailblazer. After passing the Chicago bar association admission test in 1869, Bradwell was denied entry because, as a married woman, she could not enter legally binding contracts. She fought for decades to reverse the ruling, which finally occurred in 1892.

This year’s honorees credited another pioneer, President Barack Obama, with diversifying the courts, pointing out that he appointed a record number of Asian and gay judges, and 138 female judges—more than any president to date. “Our court of active judges now has more women than men,” said Chen, the first openly gay Asian Pacific American to be confirmed as a judge on the federal bench.

In expanding on Chen’s comments about diversity and inclusion, Brodie offered a parting message directed to the handful of men in the room. “Men are in charge of a lot of things, and—when deciding who to hire and who to promote—at the end of the day, they look to hiring people who look like [them], who [they’re] comfortable with. We have to expand that, and understand that as women we bring so much more to the table.”

Also honored during the evening was Myra Bradwell note winner Andrea Kozak-Oxnard ’17 for her piece in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law entitled, “Care and Community Empowerment: Coalition-Building Between Home Care Workers and Disability Rights Activists.” She was introduced by Alice Wang ’17 and Francesca Cocuzza ’17, notes editors for the journal. 

Right: CLWA co-presidents Laura Baron ’18 and Sabrina Singer ’18, and left: Myra Bradwell note winner Andrea Kozak-Oxnard ’17.

CLWA Co-Presidents Laura Baron ’18 and Sabrina Singer ’18, along with the Myra Bradwell event co-chairs, Antonia Hyman ’18 and Hope Daily ’18, bid farewell to graduating board members.

Graduating CLWA board members, from left to right: Kate Walsh '17, Ashley Lherisson '17, Joanne Liu '17, Andrea Kozak-Oxnard '17, Abigail Cooper '17, and Hilary Greenwald '17. 

The organizers expressed appreciation to the evening’s sponsors, which included the law firms: Cahill Gordon & Reindel and Davis Polk & Wardwell (platinum); and Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Kirkland & Ellis; O’Melveny & Myers; Schulte Roth & Zabel; Simpson Thacher; Skadden Arps; and Sullivan & Cromwell (gold).

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Posted March 22, 2017.

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