The late Judge Earl B. Gilliam was many things to many people. He was a trail-blazer, a highly-respected judge, a law professor and, most of all, a beloved figure to all who knew him.
That is why the dedication ceremony of Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s Earl B. Gilliam Moot Courtroom in his honor was such a meaningful and emotional experience for those who attended the formal ceremony on the evening of June 22. In 1995, the law school dedicated the original Honorable Earl B. Gilliam Moot Courtroom at the school’s Old Town Campus, and now the beautifully appointed, high tech moot courtroom at TJSL’s new downtown campus will also honor his name.
“It is so important to honor Earl B. Gilliam, who was so important to the life of this institution,” said TJSL Dean Rudy Hasl of the man who was one of the original faculty members when law school opened in 1969 as Western State University College of Law.
“For me, he was legend,” said Valoree Wortham, who was one of Judge Gilliam’s former students, a TJSL alumna and the current president of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association. “He was an accomplished man. A man with balance and a great sense of humor.”
Earl B. Gilliam was the first African-American judge to be appointed to the Superior Court bench in San Diego and later he had the same distinction on the U.S. District Court in San Diego.
One of the measures of the man was the distinguished group of people who came to the standing-room-only event to honor him – civic leaders, lawyers, judges, law professors, students and of course, Judge Gilliam’s wife, Rebecca Prater and many of family members, including son Derrick, grandson Tooran and nephew Tony Galyean, a 1997 TJSL graduate.
Among them was Dennis Archer, the first African-American president of the American Bar Association, former Mayor of Detroit and former Michigan Supreme Court justice.
“As the former National Bar Association President and ABA president,” said Archer. “I am deeply grateful for everything he (Gilliam) did during his life to make us proud to be lawyers. Being the first at anything can be difficult, challenging and a great responsibility. Earl Gilliam used his left hand to pull himself up, but he used his right hand, his strongest hand, to pull others up and put them ahead of him.”
“I’m very proud to have known him as a friend and a colleague,” said TJSL Professor Thom Golden, who taught at TJSL during the same era as Judge Gilliam. “He was a big man in every sense of the word. In stature, presence, heart, humor, wisdom and commitment to everything.” Professor Golden said his former colleague was deeply involved in student life, both in and out of the classroom. “Earl Gilliam put people first,” he said.
The evening was very inspiring for the CLEO Scholars who were in the audience. CLEO, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, selected TJSL to host one of its two Summer Institute programs this year. CLEO gives prospective law students from groups that are underrepresented in the legal profession a head start before their first year of law school. TJSL also hosted CLEO Summer Institutes in 2006 and 2008.
Some CLEO Scholars mentioned to Dean Hasl that they were very moved by the dedication ceremony.
“It was really inspiring for a lot of us,” said CLEO Scholar Amanda Butler Jones. “It spoke to Judge Gilliam outside the courtroom as a real person and it really resonated with me.”
“It was an intimate look at Judge Gilliam,” said J.B. Campbell, another CLEO Scholar, who will attend TJSL in the fall. “It was also a great opportunity to meet people in the San Diego legal profession and to see the camaraderie among them.”
“It was nice to view the history of someone who was a true trailblazer,” according to CLEO Scholar Samuel Negatu. “The event really connected with us and it will help us to blaze our own trails.”
Following the ceremony, there was a reception on the law school’s beautiful eighth floor outdoor terrace, with the harbor and skyline of San Diego as a spectacular backdrop. It was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to relax, reminisce and network.
Many of the CLEO Scholars took the opportunity to speak with the honored guests. For example, Dennis Archer found himself surrounded with CLEO students who were soaking up his wisdom and advice.
"To hear the speakers talk about where they came from and what they had to overcome could not help but lift your spirits about what is possible," said TJSL Adjunct Professor Paul Spiegleman. "And to have our CLEO students there brought message full cycle from the past to the future."
The evening was a great tribute to Earl B. Gilliam, who w will be remembered as one of the great shining lights of his profession in San Diego. And thanks to Rebecca Prater, some of his personal memorabilia, including the chair he used for many years on the federal bench, has found a permanent home at TJSL, along with his legacy.
“I am very proud to be part of a law school that honors his legacy,” said Professor Golden.
“Thank you for preserving the memory and legacy of Judge Gilliam,” said Valerie Wortham.
We can all be sure that Earl B. Gilliam’s legacy will never be forgotten – especially in the courtroom at TJSL that will bear his name forever.