Cheryl Kane, left, a third-year law student
at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
has been awarded the first Schroeder Prize,
a $10,000 award named in honor of Judge
Mary Schroeder, right, who is stepping down
as chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
Mary Schroeder, who is stepping down after seven years as chief judge for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was honored March 27 as the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law awarded a $10,000 prize in her honor to a law student committed to public service.
The prize, organized and funded in large part by Schroeder's current and former law clerks, was given to Cheryl Kane, a third-year law student who will graduate in May.
"I'm deeply honored," said Kane, who will use the money to defray her law school debts. "It's great to encourage top students to go into public service."
Patricia White, Dean of the College of Law, said the award will carry on Schroeder's legacy.
"We wanted to recognize and thank this extraordinary person, woman, public servant and judicial leader," White said. "The country is in your debt.
"By making this the biggest award the College of Law gives, we are sending an important signal to students, that public service is deeply important. Mary's legacy as the public service 'queen' will last a very long time."
White said that after deciding to create the Schroeder Prize, the College contacted Michael Traynor, senior counsel at Cooley Godward Kronish in San Francisco and president of the American Law Institute, to put the plan in motion.
Traynor described Schroeder as a "one of the greatest judges in our country.
"She has battled against efforts to split the Ninth Circuit, and successfully put that to bed," Traynor said.
Schroeder said she was gratified by the prize.
"I'm surprised and pleased that people would actually contribute money for this," Schroeder said. "It's a wonderful idea, and the concept that I would be remembered for public service is great."
The award was presented at Hohokam Stadium, where Schroeder, a 1965 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and fanatic Chicago Cubs supporter, watched the Cubs battle to a 10-10 tie with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Before the game, Schroeder laughed as the scoreboard said: "Congratulations Judge Mary Schroeder. Top of the 9th (Circuit Court of Appeals) for seven years."
The College also gave Schroeder a bronze sculpture of a horse done by artist Cynthia Rigdon, a miniature version of one given to retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the naming of the College in her honor.
Schroeder, who had been a trial attorney with the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and served on the Arizona Court of Appeals, joined the 9th Circuit in 1979, appointed by President Jimmy Carter.
She was the youngest woman appellate judge in America at the time.
She became the first woman chief judge in 2000, when she took leadership of the 9th Circuit, the largest judicial circuit, which encompasses Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the islands of Guam and the Northern Marianas.
The court serves about 20 percent of the nation's population and wrestles with some of the most controversial issues, like immigration, legalization of marijuana and religion in schools.
In one famous opinion, Schroeder wrote that the Japanese internment during World War II was unconstitutional and "caused needless suffering and shame for thousands of American citizens."
Schroeder also fought many attempts to split the Court, mostly by conservatives who thought the court's opinions were too liberal.
"We fought a lot of battles and won most of them," said Schroeder, who will no longer be chief judge, but will remain on the court. "I feel my shoulders getting lighter."
Schroeder's husband, Milt, a professor at the College of Law, said it was a fitting tribute to his wife.
"It's a great thing to celebrate and a wonderful thing for the law school to recognize the importance of public service," he said.
Judge Schroeder said she was particularly pleased that the award was organized by her "family of law clerks."
"One time, when someone had to say something nice about me and couldn't think of anything else to say, they said, 'John Frank always had an eye for talent," Schroeder said. "I think I also had an eye for talent, and my legacy will be all my law clerks."
One of Schroeder's former clerks, Elizabeth Scott, now vice president for programs and business affairs for Major League Baseball, said working for Schroeder was "intense."
"We didn't take in many baseball games."
Scott said she continues her public service by being an opera conductor for small opera companies like the Bronx Opera.
Kane, the recipient of the award, already has a long history of public service.
Before law school, she taught at-risk second- to eighth-graders at a Detroit public school for one year through AmeriCorps and taught English as a foreign language to 60 high-school students for one year in a rural village in Guinea, West Africa, through the Peace Corps.
"While I was teaching in Detroit, I lived in an inner-city neighborhood, and we were organizing the residents to turn some of the blighted areas into parks," Kane said. "We needed a lawyer to deal with the permits and things, and I thought, 'I want to be that lawyer some day.' "
After graduation, Kane will clerk for Judge Daniel Barker of the Arizona Court of Appeals, then perhaps do another clerkship.
"I'm interested in criminal law," Kane said. "I'd like to work for the prosecutor's office on the appellate level, and would really like to work for the U.S. Attorney's Office one day."
While at law school, Kane did an externship at the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona; conducted research in housing law for the Community Legal Services program; was a judicial extern for Judge Michael Daly Hawkins on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; represented minors in repatriation hearings through the College's Immigration Law & Policy Clinic; worked on wrongful convictions through the Arizona Justice Project; was a law clerk for the Arizona Corporation Commission; and worked on consumer fraud complaints in the Arizona Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.
Kane graduated summa cum laude in English from Albion College in Michigan, and was associate managing editor of the Arizona Law Journal, a member of the Women's Law Student Association and a Willard H. Pedrick Scholar.
Kane's husband, Peter Wonka, is an assistant professor in computer sciences at ASU.