In Memoriam: Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell

In 2013, Professor Amy Levin and I launched a judicial clerkship committee at Pepperdine Law. We wanted to help maximize clerkship opportunities students. That same year, Pepperdine saw its first alumna appointed to the federal judiciary: Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell. Our dean, herself a former federal judge, Deanell Reece Tacha, encouraged us to connect with Judge O'Connell to think about how we could best advance the cause of our students.

She passed away this week, after an abrupt health issue, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts about her.

I quickly found myself intimidated by the presence of Judge O'Connell when I first met her in her chambers--even if she couldn't have been taller than five feet. She was ready to get to business and talk about how we could help our law students and how she, as our first federal judge, could give back to the Pepperdine community. This was Judge O'Connell (I could never bring myself to call her "Bev" as so many of her friends did): intense, focused, driven, passionate, selfless, tireless. I valued every conversation and meal I shared with her in our handful of interactions over the years. These was mostly in the context of clerkships, but I had the pleasure of interacting with her when our Board of Visitors met, or at the annual dinner, events for which she always made time to attend. She was, as I said, tireless.

She did not suffer fools. She had high standards. But that business exterior could never belie the deep care and concern she had for the Pepperdine community in particular and the legal community as a whole. There is no doubt she was the single best advocate for Pepperdine I have encountered in over six years at the school. She was the kind of alumna schools dream about having. And, of course, as business-like as she could be, she had a delightful sense of humor and a disarming smile (when you had the pleasure of seeing it).

Her care extended to her externs and her judicial clerks. Yes, she was demanding, as I quickly learned from my students who spent time in her chambers. But she was also a tireless and vocal advocate for them in their legal careers. In her short time on the bench and on this earth, she influenced many around her who were affected deeply by her presence. Many of my students owe her a great deal, and for that her legacy will live on.

I don't have many words to say except these seemingly generic platitudes. I knew her a little, but hardly as well as so many of her classmates, fellow judges, and alumni in the Pepperdine community. Still, I'll miss her, because of her enthusiasm that made me want to be a better mentor to my students and citizen of the Pepperdine community. My prayers are with her family in this time. You will be deeply missed.