Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange presides over women’s history month event at U.S. court

The recent women’s history month observance at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Oklahoma City was a celebration of historic achievements by pioneers in the legal profession, with selected recognition extended to women in other fields.

The breadth of honors afforded at the event is a powerful indication that the time for “firsts” is steadily passing as women exercise with ever greater frequency leadership in a wide range of professions in Oklahoma and the nation.

Presiding over the observance was Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, herself a trailblazer in law and politics. She was Oklahoma’s first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Attorney and as a federal district judge. She became chief judge of the federal district court for western Oklahoma in 2008.

Before becoming U.S. Attorney, Miles-LaGrange was the first black woman elected to the Oklahoma state Senate. (Her mentor was the late Hannah Atkins, the state’s first black woman elected to the state House, as well as the first black woman to serve as Oklahoma secretary of state.

Opening the event, Judge Miles-LaGrange said, “Our history is our strength and today we celebrate the contributions of women to the rule of law in Oklahoma. The election of our special honoree, Mary Fallin, as Oklahoma’s first woman governor, fueled the interest in today’s observance which evolved into a recognition of the first Oklahoma Women Judges and selected leaders. Time does not allow an examination of the contributions of all women, so we are beginning today that journey to pause and celebrate some of our SHE-ROES.

This is a serious matter. The first judge that was appointed to our district was in 1907. It would take 84 years before a woman would take the bench. Her name is Robin Cauthron. The year was 1991.

The seed was planted by the creation of the National Women’s History Project more than thirty years ago. Since 1987 the National Women’s History Month Resolution has been approved with bi-partism support in both the House and the Senate.. Its purpose was to publicize women’s historical achievements.

Concerning the women who were honored, Miles-LaGrange said, “Their contributions have transformed our state and our legal communities.”

The event was the local judiciary’s official celebration of women’s history month, and was deemed “Our History is Our Strength: Celebrate the contributions of women to the rule of law in Oklahoma.”

Afforded recognition at the event were Governor Mary Fallin, the late state Supreme Court Justice Alma Wilson, Civil Appeals Court Judge Patricia MacGuigan, Criminal Appeals Court Judge Reta Strubhar and former state Attorney General Susan Brimer Loving. In this group, each was the first woman ever to serve in that job.

Alma Wilson was the first woman to serve on the Oklahoma Supreme Court. She began her tenure there in 1982, and served until her death in 1999. Wilson practiced law for 25 years, before serving as municipal judge in Pauls Valley, then a district judge in Cleveland County. Just before her service on the state’s high court, she was a member of the Court of Tax Review.

Outside of her life in the law, Wilson was a passionate advocate of education for children unable to succeed in traditional school settings. She long advocated for an innovative alternative school in Oklahoma City, and founded one a few years before her death. After she passed away, her Seeworth Academy was renamed the Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy. Seeworth is a public charter alternative school serving at-risk children, primarily in northeast Oklahoma City.

Before beginning her service on the civil appeals court, Patricia MacGuigan worked as an assistant district attorney, and in private practice.

Reta Strubhar was an assistant attorney general and an assistant district attorney, as well as an attorney in private practice. She then was an associate district judge in Canadian County before beginning her tenure on the criminal appeals court.

Before becoming attorney general in 1991, Susan B. Loving was an assistant attorney general. She is now named partner in an Edmond law firm.

Deputy Clerk Rhonda Reynolds opened the court session, at which Judge Miles-LaGrange presided. Judge Arlene Johnson presented the awards, and Governor Fallin was the featured speaker.

The day’s honorees included members of the federal bench Stephanie Seymour, Robin Cauthron, Claire V. Eagan, Dana Rasure, Sarah Hall and Kimberly E. West. For their roles as clerks or magistrates, these women were honored: Vera Howard, Sue Ashley, Dottie Evans and Omega Lane. For other roles in the federal system, Susan M. Otto and Vanessa Thurman were afforded honors.

Also at the event, special recognition for historic achievements also went to the following Oklahomans serving in the judiciary: Bana Roberts (U.S. Magistrate Judge), Valerie Couch, (U.S. Magistrate Judge), Justice Yvonne Kauger (state Supreme Court), Noma Gurich (state Supreme Court), Carol Hansen (state Court of Civil Appeals), Jane Wiseman (state Court of Civil Appeals) Arlene Johnson (state Court of Criminal Appeals), and Clancy C. Smith (state Court of Criminal Appeals).

Also receiving special recognition were Deborah Reheard (president, state Bar Association), Patricia Presley (Oklahoma County Court Clerk), Patience Latting (former Oklahoma City Mayor) and Jari Askins (former district judge, former lieutenant governor, and current Associate Provost at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center).
Several members of the local bench delivered remarks at the observance, including Miles-LaGrange. Introducing her colleagues on the local federal bench, Miles-LaGrange quipped, “their remarks will be very brief. Colleagues please remember that the only thing separating us from the reception are your remarks.”

Speakers included Judge Lee West, Judge David L. Russell, Judge Cauthron, Judge Tim Leonard, Judge Stephen P. Friot, Judge Joe Heaton, and Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti.
Note: A certified teacher, Patrick B. McGuigan taught at Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy for two years, also serving as Curriculum Director.