More than 500 people streamed into a downtown Houston hotel ballroom to help the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) honor attorney David Berg with ADL’s Karen H. Susman Jurisprudence Award.
The Karen H. Susman Jurisprudence Award is given annually to an outstanding member of the legal community who exhibits an exceptional commitment to equality, justice, fairness, and community service, and David Berg truly is deserving of the award. Berg, of Berg & Androphy, has tried criminal cases and civil cases, and spent much of his career doing pro-bono work on civil rights cases.
Very early in his career, he won a case before the Supreme Court that protected the rights of anti-war protestors. He helped Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center stop the Ku Klux Klan from harassing Vietnamese fishermen and shut down their paramilitary training bases in Texas. (ADL also filed an amicus brief in the case and argued before the federal judge for an injunction against the group’s paramilitary camps.) He has devoted recent years to environmental cases, especially those affecting lower-income neighborhoods.
His son Geoff, spoke about his father’s commitment to civil rights in a personal tribute he began by saying that he, his father, and another attorney, George Gibson, had been called to the home of an African American man who had done nothing wrong but had been shot by police:
Together…. we… met with his family, looked at the scene, and as George and I were looking out under the eave, under the patio where this had happened, and talking about what to do, what to do next, my father, who had been standing there, put a hand on my shoulder and put a hand on George’s shoulder and said, ‘Guys, this is why we’ve got law licenses.’
Honorary Luncheon Chair Harry Reasoner of Vinson & Elkins spoke of Berg’s abilities as a lawyer:
“I know of very few lawyers of whom it can be said that they are great civil trial lawyers, and that they are great criminal trial lawyers. David has mastered both,” Reasoner said. “The degree of skill and courage that he has exhibited in protecting constitutional rights has been truly remarkable,” Reasoner added.
But upon accepting the award, Berg credited others, saying there was no such thing as a “self-made man,” and speaking about his profession with awe and admiration. Even before he became a lawyer, he demonstrated the chutzpah that has served him well through the years. He called Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas’ office, and got Judge Fortas to swear him into the bar. “There I was, the next morning, with my right hand raised, becoming the thing that we don’t let ourselves believe we’re going to be, while we’re in law school,” Berg said.
I was being sworn into the bar as a lawyer by a member of the Supreme Court of the United States, and afterwards, chatting with this great man and I thought, you know, here I am, totally unconnected, no connections, less money, and I’m talking with this man, and we speak the same secret language of the law, and at that moment I felt proud, and grateful, and humble, and that’s how I feel today.
And I want to thank all of you, each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for being here, for supporting the ADL for supporting this wonderful award that they’ve given me, and especially I say thanks to all the lawyers in the room. I remember when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, he said, ‘I roar like a lion with pride in my profession,’ and that’s how I feel. I hope it’s how you feel about this noble profession of ours.
This year’s Karen H. Susman Jurisprudence Award has raised over $300,000, which will fund ADL programs and services.