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Judges and Judiciary,
California Supreme Court

Mar. 12, 2019

California Supreme Court Historical Society grant honors Selma Moidel Smith

The funds may be used to defray the travel expenses of law students and graduate students needing to access archival materials in the field of California legal history.

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Kathryn Mickle Werdegar

Associate Justice (Ret.), California Supreme Court

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Selma Moidel Smith

A Research Travel Grant has been established by the California Supreme Court Historical Society in honor of Selma Moidel Smith. The funds may be used to defray the travel expenses of law students and graduate students needing to access archival materials in the field of California legal history. Applications are available here.

The grant has been established to honor this extraordinary attorney's contributions to the Society and historical scholarship. To all who know her, she is just Selma. Or perhaps "our Selma" or "the famous Selma." And multitudes know her. Why? Because Selma is one of the most ubiquitous, treasured, talented, tireless and accomplished lawyers any of us could ever know. Admitted to the Bar January 5, 1943, she has been that way for a very long time, I'll venture longer than most any other attorney in the state, possibly the country.

We have infinite reasons to celebrate Selma. I do so now on the occasion of her 100th birthday, which occurs on April 3. Yes, 100 years -- one splendid century.

Where might you find Selma these days? Certainly not reclining on the divan in her pleasant home. Maybe attending the Plácido Domingo concert at the Hollywood Bowl, accompanied on that occasion by her son, a Los Angeles architect. Perhaps attending the meeting of the National Association of Women Lawyers in La Jolla a few weeks ago where she introduced our Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Justice Carol Corrigan and myself for a panel on the women of the California Supreme Court. Perhaps at Stanford University for the luncheon recognizing the women in the ABA Women Trailblazers in the Law Oral History Project. Or maybe accepting an award from the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation that was created just for her. The Fellows had to specially create the award for Selma because none of their existing awards did her justice.

But if you seriously want to find Selma, you would do well to look for her at a board meeting of the California Supreme Court Historical Society. Since being invited to join the board some 18 years ago, Selma has helped transform a low-key organization devoted to the legal history of California into a premier powerhouse of state legal history, recognized nationally for its superb Journal, California Legal History, and lively informative Newsletter, both publications elevated and for many years edited by -- yes, Selma. Giving someone else a chance with the Newsletter (our Molly Selvin now edits that publication), Selma more recently has devoted herself exclusively to the annual Journal, a substantive publication exploring and preserving the legal history of California, including procuring the oral histories of the justices of our Supreme Court. Most recently, the Journal has published oral histories of Justice Joe Grodin and myself. In the near future we hope to see those of others, including that of former Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas. In between Journal duties, Selma initiated and continues to oversee the Historical Society's annual writing competition for law students to explore subjects relating to the history of California law. It is of course the Selma Moidel Smith Writing Competition, renamed for Selma at her 95th birthday celebration. But the Society doesn't have an exclusive on that. The National Association of Women Lawyers has created its own Selma Moidel Smith Law Student Writing Competition, devoted specifically to women and the law.

Law, it must be noted, is not Selma's only talent and devotion. A gifted composer and musician and an erstwhile flamenco dancer fluent in Spanish, she is a woman of multiple talents. Indeed, her music will soon be performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and not for the first time. When Selma was introduced at the NAWL meeting last month, we heard a brief recording of Selma playing some of her piano music, waltzes and Latin tangos, preludes and nocturnes. As the attendees applauded, to the delight and, might I say, surprise of all present, Selma rose from her chair on the dais and proceeded to dance gracefully across the stage in rhythm to her music. Selma's music will be performed by the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic at Disney Hall on Saturday evening, June 29.

Feliz cumpleaños, Selma, and congratulations on this splendid birthday. Heartfelt thanks from all of us who have had the privilege to know you, to work with you and to experience your energy and vision, your enthusiasm and leadership, all to the immeasurable benefit of our Historical Society and every organization you have ever been a part of. We celebrate you.


Ben Armistead

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