The Confessions of a Women’s Conference Escort — Part 2

A former Bank of America that opened in 1906, L’Opera, the 101 Pine Ave. Long Beach restaurant where Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has dinner the night before First Lady Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference, is swamped by conference attendees.

Nevertheless, the hostess accommodates both O’Connor and her team of marshals.

Dinner conversation is varied.

We’re joined by M.C. Sungaila, a Los Angeles appellate lawyer, who recounts what she’s learned from the “OpEd Project,” whose intent is to increase the number of thought pieces written by women.

The statistics on the project’s website are telling. Bylines at the New York Times: 77 percent male; 23 percent female.

One of Sungaila’s successes was drawing attention to a human rights case she was litigating involving Mexico, which she won last December.

Tried at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica, the case charged Mexican authorities with failing to adequately investigate the disappearance of hundreds of women from Ciudad Juarez, a city rife with drug warfare.

The court ordered the Mexican government to pay restitution to the families of the dead women and fully investigate their murders.

Sungaila’s opinion piece about the case was circulated by Associated Press, generating a fair chunk of coverage.

O’Connor has soup followed by a seafood pasta. Catherine opts for an alliterative caprese followed by carpaccio. Politically incorrect veal with a strawberry-flecked mixed green salad for the escort.

Not surprisingly at a table with two lawyers and a veteran jurist, there’s a fair amount of conversation about the law.

Catherine discusses the process of running for judge in South Carolina, which requires a brief geography lesson about her home state. South Carolina is divided roughly in thirds. The “up country” is the Blue Ridge mountains, which in South Carolina don’t get higher than 3,560 feet. GOP candidates routinely make pilgrimages, courting the area’s politically conservative residents, Catherine says. Below the up country are the “midlands” and, below them, is the “low country” along the Atlantic coast.

Catherine also talks about how she writes her motion for summary judgment early in her case preparation so if the opposition raises an unexpected argument she just plug that into the document.

She worries that if she goes on the bench her frustration with slow-moving lawyers might cause her to lose both her impassiveness and veneer of objectivity.

O’Connor offers some advice on how a case’s pace can be sped up without seeming to pick on any of the lawyers.

Catherine and O’Connor also talk about the status – and success – of icivics.org, the group’s executive director, Abby Taylor, for her herculean effort.

There’s also a brief discussion of my father, Malcolm Lucas, who O’Connor knows from his days as California’s chief justice during the 1990s.

The organizers of the Minerva awards picked who they wanted me to escort. They weren’t aware of who my father is. It’s one of those delicious coincidences that crop up in life from time to time.

O’Connor and I concur that Dad was a gifted jurist. Who, I say, benefited from looking like be came straight from Central Casting.

“Just like Warren Burger,” O’Connor says, stirring memories of that historic footage of Burger walking her down the steps of the Supreme Court.

A fan of her stance on states rights, I tell O’Connor how much I enjoy her dissent in Gonzalez v. Raich, a 2005 ruling in which the majority tortuously uses the Interstate Commerce Clause to give the federal government power to prohibit local cultivation of marijuana, even for medical use.

“There is simply no evidence that homegrown medicinal marijuana users constitute, in the aggregate, a sizable enough class to have a discernable, let alone substantial, impact on the national illicit drug market,” she writes, argument used by the majority.

Her conclusion:

“Relying on Congress’ abstract assertions, the Court has endorsed making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one’s own home for one’s own medicinal use. This overreaching stifles an express choice by some states, concerned for the lives and liberties of their people, to regulate medical marijuana differently.

“If I were a California citizen, I would not have voted for the medical marijuana ballot initiative; if I were a California legislator I would not have supported the Compassionate Use Act. But whatever the wisdom of California’s experiment with medical marijuana, the federalism principles that have driven our Commerce Clause cases require that room for experiment be protected in this case.”

She acknowledges the compliment, unlikely the first time she’s heard it.

O’Connor encourages me to go over to the other part of the restaurant and spend a few minutes with my wife, Donna, who is hosting her annual night-before-the-conference dinner for 55 or so women.

I excuse myself and do as I’m told.

The 7:00 pm dinner was originally set early so O’Connor can attend an 8:00 pm dessert reception for the conference speakers. She elects to call it a night after dinner.

We agree to meet at 8:15 at the VIP entrance to the conference and I hang out with Donna, her mom, our daughter Katie and another 50-odd women.


Filed under: News


  1. odd women? Can be taken both ways. She was probably more interesting than we were

    Comment by barbara o\\\'connor — 11.04.2010 @ 6:40 pm

  2. I am greatly encouraged by the accountability by both the press and the country of Costa Rica. Having traveled there recently, I found the people of Costa Rica truly a fair minded people.

    Comment by Mike Mitchell — 3.18.2011 @ 10:53 am

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