The odds are that most people would guess Los Angeles or Fresno when asked about the location of a great many Armenian-American judges, influential law firm partners, law students, and of a very significant presence for the Armenian Bar Association. Certainly, in those two cities there is a rich and vibrant experience of community schools, church complexes, cultural centers, and yes, a density of Armenian judges, lawyers, and law students.
The correct answer to the question above could just as easily be San Diego, no longer a longshot when it comes to offering a hearth for the Armenian heritage to flourish and for professionalism to grow and prosper. It is in that delightful coastal city that, last month, the Armenian Bar Association organized a truly refined and remarkable reception at the urban architectural masterpiece of the new United States District Courthouse. The building’s architectural massing combines a slender sixteen-story tower that rises above a transparent and translucent building base, clad in wafer-like layers of terracotta and glass.
Within the ergonomic comfort of that unique setting, Armenian Bar Chairperson Saro Kerkonian opened the evening’s smooth and purposeful program, showcasing the Armenian Bar’s diverse platform of engagement and commitment, and throwing a spotlight on the Mentorship Program, many of whose student participants were in attendance.
The unassuming and compelling centerpiece of the reception was Federal Judge Larry A. Burns who warmly welcomed the many who had gathered, leading the way first to his conference facilities (whose tables were adorned with heavy helpings of delicious Armenian mezze), then to his drop-dead gorgeous courtroom, and finally to his expansive chambers overlooking the San Diego Bay, Coronado Island, the beacons of light pulsing out from Point Loma.
Gathered in the spacious well of the stately courtroom and filling every seat in the jury box, the attendees gave their rapt attention to inspiring presentations by Judge Burns, by past Armenian Bar Chairman and current Board Member Armen K. Hovannisian, and by longtime Armenian Bar member and benefactor Dick Semerdjian. For years, Mr. Semerdjian and his firm, Schwartz Semerdjian, have been at the forefront of Armenian Bar activities and camaraderie in the San Diego area. So, too, have been San Diego Superior Court Judges Louis Hanoian and Sharon Kalemkiarian who were also on hand.
After a beautiful introduction by Mr. Semerdjian in which he extolled the great achievements of a modest man, Judge Burns made the students and young lawyers believe. He made them believe in themselves, their limitless potential, and the possibility that one day they, too, could don the black robes of a federal district court judge.
Holding in his hand a copy of the award-winning book, Sandcastle Girls, and harkening back to his own Armenian heritage, Judge Burns emphasized that where we go as a people and as a profession has much to do about from where and from whom we came. And then, turning to the group of Armenian Bar mentors, Judge Burns stated: “All of you made it a special time for our young mentees. Thank you for offering and instilling confidence in the young Armenian students and lawyers who will pick up where we leave off. For a small group of people, we have all accomplished a lot. Like all of you, I’m very proud of that.”
Former Armenian Bar Chairperson Armen K. Hovannisian capped off the evening with words of encouragement and gratitude to all of the participants: “Tonight we have yet again drawn back the curtain and unwrapped the gift of the Armenian Bar’s prolific promise which does not exist in a vacuum. It exists here and in many other places, ingrained in the hearts and hard work of those who have opened the way to those who will one day assume the mantle themselves.”