Not every Pittsburgher gets to attend a dinner hosted by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. But due to her national reputation in transforming the way children and families are treated in her court, that’s exactly what happened to Allegheny Common Pleas Administrative Judge Kim Berkeley Clark last month, when she received the 2017 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence.
“Judge Clark is a leader who is committed to helping families. Her work has dramatically improved the lives not only of those who have entered her courtroom, but of thousands of other families,” said National Center for State Courts President Mary C. McQueen.
“Judge Clark is more than deserving, and the entire Pittsburgh legal community is thrilled to see her receive this honor. Her reputation is impeccable, not only because of her work on the bench, but also because of her efforts helping children and pursuing fairness for all individuals who enter the judicial system.”The National Center presents the award annually to recognize one state court judge who demonstrates “integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, intellectual courage and sound judgment.” Clark’s colleagues say she epitomizes those qualities.
HAL D. COFFEY
President, Allegheny County Bar Association
“Judge Clark is more than deserving, and the entire Pittsburgh legal community is thrilled to see her receive this honor,” said Allegheny County Bar Association President Hal D. Coffey in a press statement. “Her reputation is impeccable, not only because of her work on the bench, but also because of her efforts helping children and pursuing fairness for all individuals who enter the judicial system.”
Judge Clark, in an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, said she was very surprised to hear she’d been chosen for the Rehnquist Award. “I am very honored because I know some of the people who’ve received this before like New York Chief Appellate Judge Judith Kay, and it’s an honor to be in their company,” she said.
“I was actually shocked when I learned about it, and it was all very surreal until it actually happened. I feel very honored.”
Judge Clark said the dinner and receiving the award from Justice Roberts in the grand hall of the Supreme Court was amazing, but her favorite part of the trip was meeting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
“Someone had written her on my behalf and I got to meet her in her chambers earlier in the day,” said Judge Clark. “That was very special.”
Judge Clark was the first African American female to serve as president of the ACBA and has been hailed as an innovator for developing a “trauma-informed” courthouse program that provides supportive services and resources to children and families facing custody issues, and which has been replicated across the country.
Common Pleas Assistant Administrator Sharon Biasca called Clark a “spirited trailblazer.”
“Working in her trauma-informed courthouse has been the highlight of my career,” she said.
First appointed to the bench by Gov. Tom Ridge in March 1999, Judge Clark won a full 10-year term the following November. Prior to her appointment, she served for 16 years as an assistant and deputy district attorney, prosecuting more than 150 jury trials, including cases involving homicide, sexual assault and child abuse.
She serves as chair of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission and is a past president of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges. A Wilkinsburg native, she graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in French. Judge Clark earned her legal degree from Duquesne University School of Law.
Judge Clark is also a past recipient of the Homer S. Brown Award from the NAACP Pittsburgh Branch, the William H. Moore Award for Excellence from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Drum Major for Justice Award from the Homer S. Brown Law Association, and in 2008 was named one of the Pittsburgh Courier’s 50 Women of Influence.
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