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Judge Wesley Addresses GRAWA at Annual Installation Dinner

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

  • By: Nora Jones
  • Organization: VLSP

Incoming GRAWA President Audrey Peartree delivered an affectionate and humorous introduction for the keynote speaker at the annual installation dinner for the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys last week. Welcoming Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard C. Wesley to the podium, Peartree's remarks reflected the warm appreciation of the whole audience in having Judge Wesley speak and administer the oath of office to GRAWA's new board members.

Judge Wesley's comments included his gratitude to numerous female mentors who have shaped his legal career. From colleague Susan Robfogel to New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye, the stories were heartfelt and interesting.

"All of my mentors were women," Judge Wesley stated. "Susan Robfogel was mentally tough, always prepared and better than her opponent. Judges Dolores Denman and Elizabeth Pine were true trail blazers for women in the profession."

Sharing one of his fond memories of Denman, Judge Wesley explained how, feeling overwhelmed after his first day at the Court of Appeals, he called his former boss to tell her he'd made a terrible mistake moving to the higher court. Imitating her gravelly voice, he relayed her "no nonsense" response that marked the beginning of Judge Wesley's 6.5 year stint on the bench in Albany.

He described Judge Kaye as the "crowning achievement of women" and noted the "vision, courage, intellect and integrity" of his current Second Circuit colleague, Justice Rosemary Pooler.

He also proudly spoke of his daughter who is finishing her first year of law school.

"I always knew she'd make a great attorney. She is disagreeable, smart and articulate. She was out of college for two years before she figured out that the law is where she belongs," he laughed.

Judge Wesley administered the oath of office to the new GRAWA President Audrey Peartree and the 2004-2005 board of directors. The new board members are listed above.

In Peartree's first comments as the new GRAWA president, she thanked past president Elizabeth Wolford, describing her as "determined and dedicated."

Taking a moment to introduce her own family members in attendance that evening, Peartree briefly put the spotlight on her oldest son, Kevin, who was just appointed to the U.S. Navel Academy.

"My challenge in the coming year pales in comparison to Kevin's," she said. "Indeed it is a privilege to be able to lead this organization."

Reminding the audience of the mission of GRAWA to "promote, assist and support women attorneys in the furtherance and development of their careers," Peartree touched on the fact that numerous Rochester females have become judges, won local, state and national awards, and served as mentors to numerous law school graduates.

"In addition, the Monroe County Bar Association and GRAWA have enjoyed a collaborative relationship in recent years that makes both organizations stronger," she concluded.

GRAWA currently has nearly 300 members - the highest number in the 22 years since its inception. In the past year, three new committees were formed, focusing on domestic violence cases, non-practicing attorneys and diversity.

Connor O'Brien and Heidi Schult Gregory came forward to present this year's Family Friendly Employer Award to the law firm of Faraci & Lange. Matthew Belanger was on hand to accept the award for the firm. Past recipients of the award include Boylan, Brown, Code, Vigdor & Wilson LLP and Public Interest Law Office of Rochester.

The Nominating Committee Chair Debra Martin explained the purpose and name of a new award - the Crennel-Branch Award - before surprising Eileen Buholtz as the inaugural recipient. Buholtz was recognized for her exemplary dedication to GRAWA and her tireless promotion of the organization's ideals.

Kate K. Crennel was the first woman attorney in Rochester, admitted to practice in 1897 and Carolyn Branch was the first local female judge. The Crennel-Branch Award will not necessarily be awarded annually.

Martin also introduced this year's Hanna S. Cohn Mentoring Award winner: New York State Supreme Court Judge Evelyn Frazee. Although Judge Frazee has won numerous awards for her legal accomplishments and community service, it was evident she was truly touched by this special GRAWA award.

Wolford talked briefly about the Director's Award before bringing forward Executive Director Rosemary Mitchell to accept this year's award on behalf of the Women's Foundation of Genesee Valley. Founded in 1994, this organization's slogan is "improving lives by funding change."

Introducing other board members present at the dinner, Mitchell explained that the founders started out with $34,000, which has grown to more than $2 million through an expanding donor base. Over $330,000 in grants have been awarded to programs that focus on creating social change through economic self-sufficiency.

Andrea Phoenix, president-elect of the Women's Bar Association for the State of New York was also on hand for the dinner.

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