A Chapter of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY)

President's Message - April 2018

by Lisa Denig, Esq.

I saw the first, purple crocus valiantly pushing itself heavenward in my front yard yesterday and I could not help but feel a glimmer of hope that this gray and difficult winter might just be behind us at last.  Funny, how these smallest and most fragile of spring flowers are the first to muster up the energy and strength to burst from the hardened soil and bring with them the exuberant message of spring. 

      This thought quickly reminded me of the recent book read and discussed by the WWBA Book Club – “Sisters In Law:  How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World.”  Justice Ginsburg, who turned 85 years old on March 15, 2018, could not be any tinier and often appears frail and fragile, but, oh, the power and exuberance she brought to her work as an attorney advancing women’s rights and, now, as a Supreme Court Justice, ensuring that those rights are not trampled. 

      It was inspiring to read about her prodigious body of work at the ACLU and her unflagging determination to constantly “push the envelope” in her quest for equality. While most of the nation is now quite aware of what a powerhouse she is, I wonder if, early in her career, her small stature lulled opposition attorneys into a sense of false complacency!  She is my first inspiring “crocus” of this spring.   

      In last month’s column, I briefly mentioned the group of young gymnasts who stood to face their abuser at the sentencing proceeding after he was convicted of sexually assaulting them. Nearly 200 young women, most of whom barely stood five-feet tall, conjured up the bravery and courage to tell their stories and urge the judge to hold the defendant responsible for the damage he had done. 

      Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to accuse Larry Nassar of sexually abusing her, implored the Court:  “How much is a little girl worth?” Aly Raisman, the Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast, stopped several times during her speech to glare defiantly at Nassar, refusing to cower in the presence of the man who had repeatedly hurt her.  These petite heroines are also like the tiny crocuses in my yard, bravely throwing off the dark and heavy soil of shame and confusion and, perhaps unknowingly, brightly leading us into a future where their courage will most certainly forge a better path.

      And who could be tinier than our own Judge Sondra Miller!  Judge Miller’s small and wispy frame belies a strength and perseverance that dwarfs men twice her size.  Judge Miller was in the first class at Harvard to admit women and she was also the first woman to be appointed as an Associate Justice in the Appellate Division, Second Department. 

      She is one of the “Founding Mothers” of the WWBA and still works tirelessly to advance the status of women through our organization and at the state level through her committee work in WBASNY.  Every time I see Judge Miller struggle to reach for a microphone placed too high for her petite size, I wonder how many judges and opposing attorneys misjudged this amazing woman.  She is my favorite “crocus” of the WWBA.  

            Too often women – especially those of us who hover around five feet tall – are immediately judged to be meek and frail and must work doubly hard to be taken seriously, whether it be in the courtroom or in other phases of our very complicated, very demanding lives.  I hope that the analogy of the crocus has given you a bit of inspiration to set out to disprove this misconception.  Burst forth, ladies, and show your strength, your bravery and your vibrant colors of hope!

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