J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Rex Lee Award presented to Patricia A. Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

On April 16, 2015, the D.C. Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society held its annual Rex E. Lee Advocacy Award and Shawn Bentley Public Service Award Luncheon.  Stacy Cheney, the chair of the D.C. Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Law Society, organized the event with his chapter committee. The forum was the beautiful Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. The Shawn Bentley award is a stipend given to several students who have demonstrated a willingness to explore a public service opportunity in the legal profession in Washington D.C. Shawn spent over a decade working for the U.S. Senate and was the Deputy Chief Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. He passed away several years ago and because of his great service in the law, this award keeps his memory alive. The recipients for the award this year were Shaunte Ruiz and Mauricio Torres. 

Stacy Cheney with Judge Patricia Millet and Dean Ronnell Jones
Following the presentation of the Shawn Bentley awards, Ronnell Jones, Associate Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School, spoke and introduced Patricia A. Millett as the recipient of the 2015 Rex E. Lee Advocacy Award. Ronnell spoke about the fact that this was the 15th Annual Rex Lee Award Luncheon. She spoke of Rex Lee’s other fame, besides being Solicitor General of the United States, as the founding dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School. The Law Society owes a great debt to Rex Lee for its creation. 

Rex Lee loved appellate advocacy. It was almost his religion. When Rex Lee was asked to serve as the President of BYU, he insisted on an arrangement where he could still make arguments before the Supreme Court. Dean Jones shared one story about him. During the time that he was going through cancer treatment, he insisted that his wife read to him daily from the Supreme Court Advance sheets on the various cases. Like a violin virtuoso, it was who he was.

Judge Millett is cut from the same cloth as Rex Lee. She graduated from the University of Illinois and has a law degree from Harvard. She is a first-class appellate advocate. She clerked from Judge Thomas Tenny on the 9th circuit and worked at the Department of Justice, arguing 20 cases before appellate courts. She served as an assistant to the Solicitor General, briefed 50 cases, and argued 25 cases before the Supreme Court. She was confirmed in 2013 to the Federal Appellate bench after being appointed by President Obama. She shows great poise and acumen before the court, and is one of the best appellate brief writers. Dean Jones shared a story from when she was working on a series of cases at Jones Day with one of her mentors, Jeff Sutton. Judge Millett wrote a brief for the opposing side that they were responding to. Jeff came into her office, sat across the desk from Dean Jones, and methodically stepped through the genius of Judge Millett’s brief. He showed her how carefully it endeavored to control exactly how the case and the issues were conceptualized. What a savvy sense it demonstrated of the Justices’ likely receptivity to various arguments. Dean Jones thought, “Wow!  If he is using an opposing brief to teach me about the fine art of brief writing, we are truly cooked.” It turned out that Dean Jones won that case, but she learned about her craftsmanship through studying that brief.

Dean Jones concluded her introduction by saying, “Patty Millett is advocacy’s Kevin Bacon. Virtually all of the people I know and love in the field, also know and love Judge Millett.” Dean Jones considers Judge Millet both the best lawyer and the most decent, the rare and magical combination of intensely smart and supremely genuine. “She has a sense of grace and gratitude. Her life is rich with family, faith, and meaningful contributions to the lives of others. People may even fear her because she sometimes references her black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She has a tireless dedication to get it right. Like the virtuoso, she has a dazzling body of work to show for it.”  

Judge Millett spoke and joked that she was at a loss for words, which was strange for the recipient of an advocacy award. She paid tribute to Sandra Day O’Connor who was at the luncheon. She noted that Justice O’Connor changed history by her being the first woman on the Supreme Court. Her work made gender a non-issue and made it possible for people like her (Judge Millett) to be advocates and judges. She praised her husband as a great support for her successes. She notes that the list of recipients of this award is the best of the best. She remembered Barbara McDowell as a mentor and friend who was an early recipient who passed away several years ago. She noted many pioneers in the law and talked of those who were kind and who supported her and live dreams that she had that she thought would perhaps never be fulfilled.  She said,

What touches me the most, it is excellence in principled advocacy. That is something that is not seen often enough. It is sometimes maligned. The award reminds me of what a great privilege it is to work within our legal system and what a life of service it is. Rex Lee set the highest standard. He was brilliant but he combined that brilliance with the highlight integrity and level of professionalism, humility, candor, and civility. He had a passion for the law and a compassion for everyone involved in the system. He lived the reality that effective advocacy and principled advocacy are one and the same. You must have principled advocacy or else you do not have effective advocacy.

Praising the service component of the legal profession, Judge Millet commented, “It is a high privilege and calling to shepherd people through that legal system. We are very blessed to have the judicial system that we have. Supreme Court cases are exciting but they were never mine, she said. Someone has asked you to be their champion in that forum. They are often fighting for their lives or their liberty. I have always treasured that relationship with clients.” She notes that Rex Lee embodied a concept of reaching out for your clients but not reaching up for your own benefit. You should help young lawyers to grow. She promised to honor Rex Lee’s devotion to principled excellence in our justice system. 

Following her talk, Judge Thomas Griffiths and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had a “conversation” where he asked her a number of questions about the law and her career and she shared many wonderful stories about growing up in Arizona and how she ended up on the Supreme Court. One question he asked was whether she is optimistic about our country. She said that “we have muddled along pretty well as a people, as presidents of the United States and as citizens. I have an optimized view of how we are able to solve problems in the future. I don’t know about you but I think we are doing alright and will do well in the future.”

By Tom Isaacson, Media Committee

Posted: May 5, 2015