The Honorable Vanessa Ruiz, 2013 Woman Lawyer of the Year
The Honorable Vanessa Ruiz, Judge, DC Court Of Appeals is the 2013 WBA Woman Lawyer of the Year. the award will be presented at the 2013 Annual Dinner. The Woman Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes a leader who has championed change in the profession by leading by example, advocating for justice, and promoting the advancement of women in the profession.
The theme for the 2013 Annual Dinner is “Change Leadership.” The theme exemplifies the WBA’s history of promoting positive change and empowering its members to adapt and be resilient in the face of challenges and opportunities.
Judge Ruiz has distinguished herself as an accomplished jurist, a mentor and role model for younger lawyers, and a force for good in our community.
Judge Ruiz was appointed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest court of the District of Columbia, in 1994, by President Clinton after confirmation by the U.S. Senate. She was the first ,and to date, only, Hispanic judge to serve on DC’s high court and was the longest-serving woman on the court. In her many years of public service on the bench, Judge Ruiz has authored hundreds of opinions on a myriad of issues important to DC citizens.
Upon graduation from Wellesley College and Georgetown University Law Center, Judge Ruiz practiced law at Fried Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in Washington, DC, where she worked on international commercial and intellectual property transactions and arbitration. Five years out of law school, she successfully briefed and argued an important civil rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court. She broadened her private practice, and became in-house Senior Counsel at Sears World Trade, Inc., an international trading company, that involved her in many aspects of international business organizations and transactions. Judge Ruiz was a founding member of Sloan, Lehner & Ruiz, a firm specializing in litigation and international matters, which later merged into the firm of Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, where she became partner. After deciding to devote her career to public service, in 1991, Judge Ruiz joined the Office of Corporation Counsel for the District of Columbia (now Office of the DC Attorney General) as Deputy in charge of the Legal Counsel Division, rising to Principal Deputy in 1993, and Corporation Counsel in 1994. From there, she was appointed to the court.
Judge Ruiz has worked tirelessly to improve the legal profession, participating in a number of local, national, and international legal organizations. She is a member and leader of the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ). In 2006, during Judge Ruiz’s tenure as president, she worked to support judicial independence and increased diversity within the judiciary. She also led the organization’s efforts to support and encourage the appointment of women and judges of color to federal, state, military, and administrative court vacancies across the U.S.
Judge Ruiz has chaired the DC Courts’ Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct and is a member of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, where she has promoted efforts to ensure justice for unrepresented litigants. She serves on the Board of Managerial Trustees of the International Association of Women Judges. Judge Ruiz served on the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants of the American Bar Association and chaired the ABA project that developed national standards, which have been accepted as ABA policy, for language access in the courts. She has been an active member of the DC Bar’s Pro Bono Program Committee, the Council for Court Excellence and the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia. Judge Ruiz is a member of the American Law Institute and is on the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Judge Ruiz has demonstrated throughout her career her commitment to equal justice and expanded access to legal services for all who need them. One of Judge Ruiz’s earliest successes was her pro bono representation of a group of African-American citizens and nonprofit housing organizations who challenged discriminatory housing practices and violations of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Judge Ruiz handled this case from the trial court through affirmance of the Fourth Circuit’s opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Ruiz has shown a continuing commitment to mentorship and training of the lawyers who follow her. As shown by her leadership in U.S. and international bar groups, Judge Ruiz has served the legal profession in a number of capacities. She has been particularly active with Hispanic-related bar associations, appearing regularly at events for Hispanic law students. Judge Ruiz recognizes talent abounds and that success should not be limited to those who are fortunate enough to attend the most highly regarded law schools. She actively recruits law clerks from many law schools, demonstrating her commitment to inclusiveness and providing opportunities for all.
Judge Ruiz has received numerous awards. In 2001, she was named “Judge of the Year” by the Hispanic National Bar Association; in 2006, she received the Latina Leader in Law Award from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. She was awarded the first Vaino Spencer Leadership Award by the National Association of Women Judges in 2008. Judge Ruiz has received a Lifetime Achievement Award and recognized as a “Latina Leader” by the Hispanic Bar Association of DC. In 2009, Judge Ruiz was honored with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. In 2012, she received MACDEF’s Lifetime Achievement Awards for Excellence in Legal Service.