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Trailblazing alumna Judge Karen Wells Roby (L’87) honored for lifetime of service in law

September 19, 2023 8:45 AM
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

Alumna Judge Karen Wells Roby (L’87) received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater New Orleans Louis A. Martinet Legal Society.


For a life dedicated to making the profession better, Judge Karen Wells Roby (L’87), a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana and a stalwart supporter of Tulane Law, has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater New Orleans Louis A. Martinet Legal Society.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is given to a member who has given time and service to the legal profession as part of a lifelong commitment. It is the most prestigious of the Martinet awards, presented annually during the Society’s Scholarship & Jazz Brunch, which this year was held on Sept. 16.

"Judge Roby is a true trailblazer and leader for Black lawyers and judges. I cannot imagine a more fitting honor for her,” said Interim Dean Sally Richardson. “She has worked tirelessly throughout her career to be a true public servant, a leader in the profession, and a role model and mentor for young lawyers. We are so proud of all Judge Roby has and will continue to accomplish.”

The Society also honored Tulane Law Dean of Experiential Learning and Public Interest Programs Tonya Jupiter (L’94), who was honored with the Dr. Norman C. Francis Award for her work in legal education.

Honorees Professor Tonya Jupiter and law student Natalia
Walcott, in blue and pink, respectively, with Tulane Law
alumni, faculty and staff at the Martinet Jazz Brunch.

Second-year law student Natalia Walcott, who serves as secretary of Tulane’s Black Law Student Association and is studying sports law, received a scholarship from the Martinet Society at the same event. She is a Junior Managing Editor of the The Sports Lawyer and is a Junior Member of the Tulane Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property.

Roby has been a Magistrate Judge for 25 years, serving the court in resolving disputes as a mediator and rendering reasoned legal decisions on complex matters. She was the Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge from 2017 to 2021 and has served as the President of the Federal Magistrate Judges Association (“FMJA”), a national organization of more than 600 U.S. Magistrate Judges across the country. As President of the Association in 2012, she worked to secure pay raises for all active and recently retired federal magistrate judges. Earlier this spring, she received a Masters’ Degree in Judicial Studies from the Duke University Law Masters of Judicial Studies Program.  

Roby has been active in the American Bar Association serving in various leadership roles and was responsible for the Professional Success Summit "PSS,” a conference of diverse leaders who trained future leaders in the areas of marketing, branding and networking.  

She is a dedicated Tulanian, serving as advisor to the Dean of Tulane Law School as a member of the Dean's Advisory Board, and as an Adjunct Professor for 12 years at the law school, most recently teaching a course on E-Discovery and Digital Evidence.   Her work extends to the continued efforts at Tulane Law to diversify its ranks and those of the profession as well.  She is the inaugural chair of highly successful Tulane Law School Black Alumni Reunion, which celebrated 50 years of graduating Black law students in February.

Judge Roby with family and other members of the bar.

A second reunion in March brought almost 400 Black law alumni back to Tulane with expanded programming, new awards honoring trailblazers, and greater investment in scholarships. As chair of the reunion committee, Roby also was the visionary force behind Tulane’s Black Law Alumni Newsletter, which connects with alumni each quarter. For her tireless work at Tulane and on behalf of the profession, she was awarded the Wayne Lee Award for Outstanding Service to the Profession as its inaugural recipient. And, on the eve of receiving her award from Tulane, she also was honored by the federal judiciary and the American Bar Association with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of her service to the community, profession and judiciary. 

In a story honoring the judge and her pioneering family at Tulane Law, Judge Roby spoke about her son's choice to attend Tulane Law and the importance of that for her family and the profession.

 “This is all full-circle for us,” she said at the time. “Black lawyers are desperately needed because sometimes those Black lawyers are the only voices against those trying to suppress the influence of Black Americans today. So, with Trey (Roby III) and other students of color, they are very much needed. But our generation  must pass this to them: Always, pay it forward.”

Her dedication extends to the larger community as well.  She was integral in saving her high school from closing by joining several alums in their effort to purchase the historically black female Catholic high school in New Orleans.  She has and continues to serve as the coordinating judge over the Suit Up for the Future Program in New Orleans, a  diversity pipeline program for high school students. The program is in its 13th year of operation and has been recognized by the American Bar Association for its contributions to diversity in the profession.