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Alumnus who paved the way for African Americans in law honored

September 16, 2019 2:30 PM
 | 
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

Wayne Lee (L'74, center left) is a distinguished litigator with more than 40 years in law, who also was the first African American president of the Louisiana State Bar Association. He and Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown (L'88, center right) were among the alumni who played leadership roles in helping to organize Tulane Law School’s inaugural Black Law Alumni Weekend in February. (Photo: Tracie Morris Schaefer)

 

For his lifetime commitment to diversity in the law profession and to his peers, Tulane Law will honor alumnus Wayne Lee (L’74) with a commissioned portrait to hang in the John Giffen Weinmann Hall this coming spring.

The effort is part of the Tulane Trailblazers initiative launched earlier this year by President Mike Fitts to honor the lasting impact that individuals from diverse backgrounds have made at Tulane.

In addition to the portrait unveilling, the law school is naming a scholarship in honor of Lee, who followed closely in the footsteps of the first black alumnus and alumna of the law school : Michael Starks (L'68) and Janice Foster (L'70).  Lee went on to become the first African-American president of the Louisiana State Bar Association.

“We are enormously proud of Wayne Lee’s pioneering accomplishments as a lawyer and civic leader and grateful for his ongoing dedication to Tulane Law School and our students,” Dean David Meyer said.  “He has dedicated his prodigious talents to making a lasting difference for his clients, community, the profession, and for his alma mater.  Through honoring Wayne, we are celebrating the very best of Tulane.”

Lee, who joined Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, L.L.C., after graduating from Tulane Law School, has become one of the most respected trial attorneys in the South. He is a longtime member of the Law School’s Dean's Advisory Board and an emeritus member of the Tulane Board of Administrators.

A distinguished litigator, Lee has received significant honors recently.  In September, he was one of several Tulanians honored during the 2019 Greater New Orleans Louis A. Martinet Legal Society Annual Scholarship and Jazz Brunch for their service to the legal profession. He received the  Martinet Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his life's mission to diversify the legal profession and his mentorship of young lawyers along the way.

Started as a professional organization for African American lawyers during the Jim Crow era, the Martinet Society’s goal is the exchange of ideas, legal scholarship, and the advancement of a diverse legal profession in Louisiana. Alumni honored at the same event included Judge Terri F. Love (L’86), who received the Louis A. Martinet Award for advancing the Foundation’s programs, and Chief Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown (L’88), who received the Ernest Morial Award for her role as a pacesetter in the judicial ranks. Two students, Andrea Ewalefo and Dominique Williams, both from the class of 2021, each received scholarships.

Lee is a three-time recipient of the Louisiana State Bar Association President’s Award, a member of the inaugural class of the Tulane Law School Hall of Fame and the recipient of the New Orleans Bar Association’s John R. “Jack” Martzell Professionalism Award.

Watch video of Lee's career here.

He has practiced law for more than 40 years at Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, with substantial cases under his belt. He successfully defended Kevin Costner in a federal jury trial involving $18 million in claims of securities law violations and fraud brought by investors, including actor Stephen Baldwin, and twice successfully defended State Farm Insurance in lawsuits stemming from Hurricane Katrina claims.

Judge Love received the Louis A. Martinet Award for her significant contributions to the organization’s programs. Since 1995, Love has served as a judge in the New Orleans community, making her one of the longest-serving African-Americans on the bench. She was elected in 1995 to the Orleans Parish Civil District Court and in 2014 to the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. She is a frequent mentor to young lawyers navigating the profession.

The Ernest Morial Award recognizes trailblazers on the bench, and Brown is just that. New Orleans’ first African American City Attorney, she became the first African American woman to be nominated to serve on Louisiana’s federal bench in 2012 and then was named Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 2018. She is the current president of the New Orleans Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

Prior to her appointment to the United States District Court, Brown was deputy mayor and city attorney for the City of New Orleans, where she was the city’s chief legal officer. She worked as a partner with the firm of Chaffe McCall, LLP where she practiced commercial and environmental litigation, as well as real estate law and other transactional matters.

In addition to practicing law, Brown has been an educator and mentor, teaching through Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic and the Southern University Law Center, and the Loyola College of Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice.

All three alumni honored by Martinet played leadership roles in helping to organize Tulane Law School’s inaugural Black Law Alumni Weekend, with brought more than 300 alumni and friends back to Tulane Law School in February 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first black graduate, Michael Starks.