CELA keeps the memory of Joe Posner alive through the annual presentation of the Joe Posner Award. This year we honor Toni Jaramilla, whose commitment to diversity has immeasurably enriched CELA as an organization. We honor Toni not just because she knew Joe and owes a bit of her magic to Joe. We honor her for her driving dedication to use the law to improve the lot of others and to make sure that others have the same opportunities. It is no coincidence that Toni's role model is Thurgood Marshall.
Joe Posner was a staunch believer in our ability to bring about positive change in the lives of the less fortunate through advocacy and the law, a belief Toni adopted when she was still in school at UCLA. Like Justice Marshall, Joe was not complacent about the perceived progress of the law during his life. Neither is Toni who believes that the fight for social justice is an ongoing one. Justice Marshall's comments on the occasion of the Bicentennial of the Constitution echo Toni's understanding of how much work remains to be done in the area of racial equality:
"What is striking is the role legal principles have played throughout America's history in determining the condition of Negroes. They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law. Along the way, new constitutional principles have emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society. The progress has been dramatic, and it will continue."
Toni comes from an immigrant working class background. Toni's father, who served in the Navy, was a farm worker. Her mother was a teacher. Toni was exposed to discrimination early in life and remembers that "you were always having to prove yourself." Toni was the first member of her family to go to an American college. She decided that the law was the best way to make an impact and enrolled at Whittier College School of Law. There, she resurrected the dormant Asian Pacific Islander Law Students Association and used it to start programs to reduce attrition rates among all minority law students at the law school.
Toni met Joe when she took on the appeal of Carillo v. U.C. Regents. She took the case on a pro bono basis because Ms. Carillo needed help and the issues were important. She was introduced to Joe Posner who wrote an amicus brief on behalf of CELA. Toni remembers that Joe always took her calls and addressed all her questions. The day of the oral argument was also Toni's due date to deliver her baby ("I was humongous and in high heels.") She was a young lawyer and nervous going against a large nationally recognized corporate defense firm. But she recalls that "I felt like win, lose or draw, I had an army of lawyers behind me that had my back and that gave me confidence." Of course, she (and we) won the appeal.
Toni then attended her first CLE conference. She raised her hand and "out of the blue" asked what we were doing about diversity. What a question! (And there wasn't really a very satisfactory answer.) Joe Posner felt that diversity was very important and should be a priority for CELA. He made sure that Toni was invited to serve on the board and the rest is history. Toni singlehandedly started the Diversity Outreach Committee, which has spawned a number of successful diversity initiatives. These include scholarships to the annual conference, obtaining grants, starting the Fellowship Program, joint training programs with various minority bar associations and many other recruiting activities. Through her service to CELA, Toni has given all of us the marvelous gift of appreciation of the value of the collective wisdom that can only come through a diverse membership. She has indeed changed the face of CELA.
Toni was committed to continuing the fight for equality by supporting the next generation of advocates. She points out that "where you are today, somebody paved the road for you and you need to do that for those behind you." She is the type of advocate to whom Justice Marshall referred when he said: 'We the People' no longer enslave, but the credit does not belong to the Framers. It belongs to those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of 'liberty,' 'justice,' and 'equality,' and who strived to better them."
- Jim Stoneman