Last year, two alumnae of Pepperdine Law were appointed to the U.S. District Court by some of the nation’s most prominent leaders.
On July 9 the United States Senate confirmed Jennifer Dorsey (JD ‘97) to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada after being nominated by President Barack Obama in September of 2012. A few months prior, in April, Beverly Reid O’Connell (JD ’90) was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California with a vote of 92–0, driven by a recommendation made by California senator Barbara Boxer.“These appointments mark a new milestone for this law school— our first two alumni to be appointed to these important judicial offices within the same year,” says School of Law dean Deanell Reece Tacha. “We are so proud of their distinguished careers and accomplishments. Both of these judges are models of the highest ideals of this law school and of the legal profession. They will be dedicated public servants and bring continuing credit to the School of Law at Pepperdine.” Here, they share details of their careers, their appointment, and their hopes for the future as leaders of their respective districts.
A few months ago, Dorsey was arguing civil appeals, class actions, and complex commercial disputes in the Nevada Supreme Court as an attorney on behalf of the firm she had been part of since graduating law school in 1997. Then, President Barack Obama nominated the native Las Vegan to serve as a U.S. district judge in her home state, a role she says every law student envisions filling at some point in his or her legal career. Now Dorsey is at the helm of her district and set to hear all categories of federal cases, ensuring fair and just trials throughout.
Q: How does it feel to represent your home state of Nevada in a federal capacity?
A: A s a native Nevadan, I could not be prouder than to be a member of the federal judiciary in this district. And as a practitioner in this court throughout my legal career, I have seen firsthand how full the dockets are in this jurisdiction; I am eager to roll up the sleeves on my new robe and help out.
Q: A s a law student, was occupying a seat on the United States District Court something that you envisioned in your future?
A: I think it’s nearly impossible to go through law school without at least once envisioning oneself occupying a judicial role. I think that inevitability is enhanced for students who have the opportunity to extern in the court system, as I did. But I found that my professors and extracurricular activities kept me far too busy to be thinking past my next exam, let alone nearly 20 years into the future!
Q: What were your first thoughts when you learned President Obama nominated you to serve as a U.S. district judge?
A: I felt profoundly honored and humbled that the president of the United States had placed such confidence in my character and legal ability. And I was hoping that I may finally get to live out a Pepperdine law-nerd dream of mine—sitting on the final-round bench of Pepperdine’s Vincent S. Dalsimer Moot Court Competition. Spoiler alert: I did.
Q: What is your greatest fear or the greatest challenge that you foresee in this new role?
A: I expect a primary challenge will be striking the balance of working swiftly through a large caseload while devoting to each issue the time necessary to reach properly informed and well-reasoned decisions.
Q: You have been at Kemp, Jones & Coulthard LLP since graduating law school. What lessons from your time as an attorney will you carry with you in this new phase of your career?
A: All of them. My firm gave me the support and space to learn my craft from the finest attorneys and then mentor a new generation of lawyers, while allowing me the opportunity to become a business owner and manager. I also learned how important and daunting the legal process is to the individuals who turn to it for dispute resolution, and I will endeavor to give all parties the respect and attention that their matters deserve.
Q: What would you tell a current law student hoping to break into the federal realm?
A: Extern for a federal judge during law school, and then seek a position as a judicial law clerk for the first year or two years after graduation. Those experiences will provide insight into the judicial process and help develop skills and knowledge that will be valuable to future legal employers.
Q: Though you are about to embark on a new career path, what do you think your next steps will be beyond this point?
A: As this is a lifetime appointment, I expect that my next steps will be part of this same journey, not headed toward a new destination. I also intend to remain close to my Pepperdine family, which has been immensely supportive during this nomination and confirmation process just as it was throughout my law school experience.
Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell (JD ’90) has much to be proud of. In April the United States Senate confirmed the Pepperdine School of Law alumna to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California with a vote of 92-0. Her latest role follows a seven-year run as a Superior Court judge for Los Angeles County.
O’Connell’s nomination to the U.S. District Court stemmed from a recommendation made by California senator Barbara Boxer. In response, Boxer said, “She brings with her decades of experience as a Superior Court judge, a federal prosecutor, and an attorney in private practice—all of which will make her a tremendous asset to the court.” O’Connell’s time on the federal bench began on May 6, and more than 330 cases immediately called for her attention in her new Los Angeles-based chambers.
O’Connell’s legal career, which began in civil litigation in 1990, has been made up of one success story after another. Despite her demanding schedule, O’Connell has remained an active member of the Pepperdine School of Law community, participating in moot court competitions and serving as an adjunct professor, as well as a mentor to students.
“The entire Pepperdine Law family is proud that President Obama and the Senate selected an outstanding Pepperdine School of Law alumnus to serve on the United States District Court,” said Dean Deanell Reece Tacha. “Judge O’Connell has served the State of California with distinction and will bring the highest standards of intellectual ability, public service, and integrity to the federal bench. As the first Pepperdine alumnus appointed to an Article III court, Judge O’Connell’s appointment is an important new milestone in the history of this law school. She joins a long line of Pepperdine lawyers who are modeling leadership throughout the legal profession.”
Here, O’Connell shares details of her career, her appointment, and her hopes for the future.
Q: As a law student, did you ever imagine that your career would lead to a confirmation to the U.S. District Court?
A: No, I never imagined I would become a United States District Court judge. I knew, however, that upon graduation, I had acquired the skills necessary to succeed in Los Angeles’ legal community. When Morrison & Foerster hired me as its first Pepperdine graduate, I became exposed to the sophisticated legal disputes such as those typically seen in federal court. That experience continued with my employment at the United States Attorney’s Office.
Q:What are your goals as a judge with U.S. District Court?
A: One of my goals as a federal judge is to continue to dispense justice fairly and expeditiously on a daily basis. I want to create a courtroom where all litigants are treated with respect and leave feeling that they have received the highest consideration, regardless of whether they win or lose the dispute. Another one of my goals is to proudly represent Pepperdine as its first federal judge.
Q:You began your career in civil litigation as an associate at Morrison & Foerster. How did you make the transition from civil litigation to your next stop as the assistant United States attorney in the Central District of California?
A: The partners at Morrison & Foerster trained me to methodically and meticulously prepare cases for trial. The firm also emphasized the responsibility to engage in pro bono work, to use my education to help those persons with fewer financial resources who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the legal system. The education I received from Pepperdine and the training I received at Morrison & Foerster prepared me to learn an entirely new area of law. My moral compass, fostered by the professors at Pepperdine, helped me to confidently seek justice on a daily basis.
Q: Please describe some of your experiences with the California Court of Appeal for the Second District, a designation you held from 2010 to 2011.
A: When presiding justice Tricia Bigelow (JD ’86) sought to have me appointed as a Court of Appeal justice pro tempore, I was especially honored. Justice Bigelow earned the reputation of being a great legal mind, especially in the area of criminal law. More importantly, she too graduated from Pepperdine School of Law. I was given the opportunity to work with a fellow Pepperdine graduate to build consensus. I found great pride in working with other justices to work through legal problems and bring clarity to trial courts regarding complex legal issues. I left the Court of Appeal with a greater appreciation of the requirement to make a complete record, thereby enabling the Court of Appeal to better understand the trial court proceedings. As a result, I became a better trial judge upon my return.
Q: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed you to the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2005. What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your role with the Los Angeles Superior Court?
A: I have been fulfilled on a daily basis helping litigants solve problems. Everyone deserves a fair trial, and I take great pride in ensuring that everyone who enters my courtroom receives that fairness. It is a pleasure to go to work every day knowing that my obligation is simply to do the right thing. Another one of the most fulfilling aspects of my role with the Superior Court has been my opportunity to help educate new judges. The new judges are the future of the court, and I am constantly amazed at the quality and integrity of my colleagues. I will miss them greatly.
Q: What lessons from your years as a law student have you carried with you throughout your career?
A: Throughout my career at Pepperdine, I learned that preparation is the bedrock to a successful legal career. There are no shortcuts in litigation, and hard work pays off. I also learned that one’s reputation is of paramount importance, earned by practicing with integrity and civility.
Q: You have kept close ties with Pepperdine, serving as an adjunct professor and regularly participating in events hosted by the School of Law. What has kept you so closely bonded with the University?
A: Pepperdine gave me the gift of an education. Pepperdine exhibited its faith in my skills by awarding me a scholarship. This generous gift made the decision to enter public service much easier. Unlike many of my colleagues, I did not spend years paying off student loans. I am very grateful for the opportunity Pepperdine gave me, and, as a result, I am loyal to the School of Law and want to participate in its events. I was mentored by many of the fine professors at Pepperdine and seek to give back to Pepperdine by mentoring law students.
Q: What are your hopes for the future both personally and professionally?
A: Professionally, I hope to continue to work hard and dispense justice on a daily basis. I would like to increase the breadth of my legal knowledge, trying both civil and criminal cases, among many other federal subject matters. I hope to mentor young lawyers, helping them to understand that their integrity in the practice of law is of the utmost importance. Personally, I hope to be a role model to all Pepperdine law students.
In the last year, two of the most promising alumnae