The idea was to capture on videotape the stories of leaders in our field. So they would serve as a source of inspiration and motivation for lawyers and judges now and in the future to do the right thing, to strive for excellence and professionalism.
And so I was privileged to sit and talk with several incredible individuals: former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justices Mary Ann McMorrow and Thomas Fitzgerald; renowned lawyer Thomas Sullivan; United States District Judge Ann Claire Williams and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ilana Rovner. All were “firsts” in many and varied ways and I am confident all will generate powerful video stories that will be shared in this blog in 2013.
Unexpectedly, I was transfixed and transformed by my interaction with Judge Rovner. Her presence has remained in my mind and heart throughout the week. And her potent story amplifies our truth and purpose as lawyers. She is Lady Justice personified.
As a baby, Ilana and her mother narrowly, miraculously, escaped Latvia and the clutches of Hitler, joining her father who had already settled in Philadelphia. Her parents worked tirelessly to extricate family members who ultimately and tragically perished. But they never forgot.
Ilana knew from a very young age that she would become a lawyer. Her family life consisted of frank discussions about the horrors of the Holocaust and how it resulted from a failure of the Rule of Law. Lawyers, she said, could make sure that never again could hatred rise up and trample, annihilate people based on their ethnicity, their religion, their sexual preference, their gender…Judge Rovner’s voice trailed off and her eyes told me that frequently, she was reliving the horrors of an unseen past.
She explained with wonder that her parents could have—by all human accounts should have—been bitter, but they were not. Neither is she.
Ilana was told by her parents that she lived, and needed to live, for her relatives, particularly her young cousins, whose chance at life was snuffed out. Maybe that is part of why she has such a large personality—she is living for those in her generation who did not live, she is living in service to justice. I asked if it felt like a burden to her, and she said no—it just is who she is. No rancor, no anger. Steely determination, yet a joy for life, for the gift of living. Summarizing her words of wisdom, Judge Rovner expressed, with such palpable sincerity and goodness that I was moved to tears, her feeling of being greatly blessed to have the honor and privilege to work every day for fairness, for justice, in the greatest country in the world. Thank you, Lady Justice.