Ms. J.D. Attends “Hidden Figures: Honoring Trailblazers in Tampa Bay,” by the FBA-Tampa

Photo by Keith Lindquist

After engaging in a bit of observational data analysis, also known as “creeping” on the Federal Bar Association –Tampa Chapter’s event last year, entitled “Staying in the Game: Getting to the Top,” and documenting my experience, I jumped at the opportunity to attend another fantastic, well-thought-out event with the FBA.

Appropriately entitled “Hidden Figures,” this event honored Tampa Bay’s legal trailblazers. The individuals recognized have impacted, not just the Florida legal community, but the Nation as a whole. Merely being in the presence of such legal greatness provided palpable energy and a buzz within the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Floridan.

Picture it: the Floridan Palace Hotel, designed and built by Tampa architects G.A. Miller and Francis J. Kennard in 1926, with its elegant archways, deep-drop crystal chandeliers, and neoclassical style furnishings.

I stand in the grand foyer taking in the restored beauty, as I realize that of the 30 trailblazers honored at "Hidden Figures," many of them would have been forced to enter in the back of the hotel or denied entry altogether when the establishment opened its doors in 1926.

All 30 would have suffered from some form of discrimination, whether it was from Jim Crow, misogyny, general prejudice, or all of the above. Indeed many of these trailblazers faced those obstacles throughout their careers well after 1926.

During the presentation, a captivated audience got to listen as six trailblazers told their stories. These narratives consisted of instances of triumph, resilience, and perseverance. I listened in awe to Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich discuss being the only woman in her law school class and how she battled the constant backlash from having the audacity to want to be a lawyer.

I felt a chill as I listened to E.J. Salcines, the first Hispanic State Prosecuting Attorney in Florida, talk about how he faced down criticism and “warnings” for appointing the 13th Circuit's first African American Assistant State Attorney in George Edgecomb (who later also became the first African American Assistant County Solicitor and the first African American County Judge).

“I appointed him anyway, and some years later, that same judge said, you know, that was a good appointment,” Salcines recalled, with a chuckle.

The panel consisted of the following:

Judge Henry Lee Adams – First Afr. Am. U.S. District Judge appointed to the Middle District of FL.
Judge E.J. Salcines – First Hispanic State Prosecuting Attorney in FL
Judge Charles R. Wilson – First Afr. Am. appointed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (1999)
Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich – First woman jurist in Tampa Bay
Retired Florida Senator Arthenia Joyner – First Afr. Am. female lawyer in Hillsborough County (1969)
Attorney Delano Stewart – First Afr. Am. Assistant Public Defender

My overall grade of “Hidden Figures” is an A. During this event, I was reminded that I, along with many others, stand on the shoulders of giants. We have been given an opportunity, and with it, an obligation, to make the legal profession better than it was when we entered it.

My only criticism of the program is that it should have been an evening event –maybe even a formal gathering, rather than a luncheon. Considering the accomplishments and contributions of the honorees, and the importance of the message behind the event, it could have been scaled up. In my opinion, it could have been one of the top events of the year.

The purpose of reviewing local bar association events is to encourage others to get involved with their communities and spread the word about what the local organizations are doing. Bravo to the Federal Bar Association –Tampa Chapter for another fantastic program! I think I may have to join!

Below is the full list of “Hidden Figures:”

Emmy Acton – First female Hillsborough County Attorney (1990)
Prof. Dorothea Beane – First tenured Afr. Am. the law professor at Stetson University College of Law
Pam Bondi – First female Attorney General in Florida (2011)
Donna Bucella – First Presidentially appointed, and Senate confirmed woman U.S. Attorney in Florida (1999-2001)
Judge Susan Bucklew – First female appointed as County Judge in Hillsborough County (1982)
Judge Lisa Campbell – First female Afr. Am. judge in Hillsborough County (elected without having first been appointed)
Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington – First Hispanic appointed as United States District Court Judge in the Middle District of Florida (2004)
Judge Marva Crenshaw – First Afr. Am. female Circuit Court Judge in Hillsborough County
Warren Dawson – First Afr. Am. Assistant City Attorney in Tampa Bay (1967)
Julianne Holt – First female elected Public Defender in Hillsborough County (1993)
Judge Miriam Irizarry – First Hispanic female County Court Judge in Pinellas County (2015)
Maria Chapa Lopez – First Hispanic female U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Florida (2018)
Judge Mac McCoy – First openly gay person to be sworn in as Federal Judge in the Middle District of Florida (2015)
Judge Catherine McEwen – First female appointed U.S. Bankruptcy Judge in the Middle District of Florida –Tampa Division
Prof. Luz Nagle – First tenured Hispanic law professor at Stetson University College of Law (2004)
Eugene Pettis – First Afr. Am. President of the Florida Bar (2013)
Justice Peggy Quince – First Afr. Am. woman appointed to the Florida Supreme Court (1998)
Ruthann Robson – One of the first female judicial law clerks in the Tampa federal courthouse
Marsha Rydberg – First female President of the HCBA (1991-1992)
Lanse Scriven – First Afr. Am. President of the HCBA (2005-2006)
Judge Mary Scriven – First Afr. Am. female Federal Judge in Florida (1997)
Carolyn House Stewart – First Afr. Am. female Assistant State Attorney in the 13th Judicial Circuit (1980)
Susan Johnson – Velez – First Afr. Am. female President of HCBA (2013)
Gwynne Young – First female Assistant State Attorney in Hillsborough County (1974)

**Please note that many of the trailblazers accomplished multiple firsts, but I only listed one in the interest of space. 

This post has been brought to you by the Ms. JD Journalists. If you have suggestions for any topics that you think should be covered on Ms. JD, feel free to email your suggestions to contentdirector@ms-jd.org, and the Ms. JD Journalists will get right on it.  

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