Plenary Session Speakers

Addressing the Opening Plenary on Thursday, November 5

Chief Justice Bernette Johnson is a leading advocate for social justice and civil rights. She was first elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1994 and became Chief Justice in 2013. She has also worked as a community organizer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense & Educational Fund and at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Following law school, Chief Justice Johnson became the Managing Attorney of the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation (NOLAC), where she provided legal services to clients in socio-economically deprived neighborhoods. She practiced in federal, state, and juvenile courts, advancing the rights of children, the poor, the elderly, and the disenfranchised. In 1981, Chief Justice Johnson joined the City Attorney’s staff, and later became a Deputy City Attorney for the City of New Orleans. Her judicial career began in 1984 when she was the first woman elected to serve on the Civil District Court of New Orleans. In 1994, her colleagues elected her Chief Judge.

Dr. Gail C. Christopher serves on the president’s cabinet that provides overall direction and leadership for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Since joining the foundation in 2007, she has served as vice president for program strategy with responsibility for multiple areas of programming, including Racial Equity; Food, Health & Well-Being; Community Engagement and Leadership; as well as place-based programming in New Orleans and New Mexico. Dr. Christopher is a nationally recognized leader in health policy, with particular expertise and experience in the issues related to social determinants of health, health inequities, and public policy issues of concern to our nation’s future. Her distinguished career and contributions to public service were honored in 1996 when she was elected as a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. In 2011, she was awarded the “Change Agent Award” by the Schott Foundation for Public Education; in 2012, she was the recipient of the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs (AMCHP) John C. MacQueen Lecture Award for her innovation and leadership in the field of maternal and child health. Earlier this year, she was the recipient of the Terrance Keenan award for Grantmakers in Health. She is president of the board of the Trust for America’s Health.

Addressing the Awards Luncheon on Friday, November 6

Paulette Brown, partner and co-chair of the firm-wide Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Locke Lord LLP, became president of the American Bar Association in August 2015. She is the first woman of color to become president of the 136-year-old organization. Previously, Ms. Brown had been a member of the ABA House of Delegates since 1997 and is a former member of the ABA Board of Governors and its Executive Committee and Governance Commission. While serving on the Board of Governors, she chaired the Program, Planning, and Evaluation Committee. Brown has served on the Commission on Women in the Profession and was a co-author of “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms.” Brown also chaired the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice (now Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice) and is a past co-chair of the Commission on Civic Education in our Nation's Schools. Brown served on the Section of Legal Education’s Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and its Executive Committee. Brown joined the ABA Young Lawyers Division in 1976. She became active in the Section of Litigation in 1995, which has continued to be her section “home” ever since. She is a former member of The Fund for Justice and Education (FJE), FJE President's Club, and a Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Brown has been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of “The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” and by the New Jersey Law Journal as one of the “prominent women and minority attorneys in the State of New Jersey.” She has received the New Jersey Medal from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and currently serves on its Board of Trustees.

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