By Mark Bryant | Special to The OBSERVER

Ryan Harrison, president of the Wiley Manuel Bar Association
Ryan Harrison, president of the Wiley Manuel Bar Association, greets guests at the organization’s “Legal Fusion” fundraising event held at the Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento. Photo courtesy KJ2 Productions

Legal Fusion made a comeback Oct. 27.

The Wiley Manuel Bar Association raised funds for law student scholarships for the first time in two years in Old Sacramento at the Firehouse Restaurant. 

Legal Fusion last was held in person in 2019. In 2020 it was held on Zoom; in 2021, it was canceled because of the COVID pandemic.

The association was named to honor Justice Wiley William Manuel, the first Black justice of the California Supreme Court.

“We will continue to inspire and uplift the next generation of Black attorneys,” said Ryan Harrison, association president. “We get to encourage and inspire our next generation by giving scholarships. We’re also honoring people who have been very instrumental in our community as leaders and mentors.”

Harrison said the association’s three main goals are enhancing access to justice, impacting the diversity pipeline into the legal profession and addressing the needs of the Black community in the Sacramento region.

He added that the association conducts four major activities in networking, financial support in the form of scholarships, seminars and volunteering at expungement clinics.

“The demographics of lawyers in California need to reflect the demographics of California,” Harrison said. “This is fairness and public safety at stake.

“It actually goes a lot deeper than fairness. It’s to ensure that within the rich diversity of our state, we have a union of everyone. It’s about inspiring and sending the message to youth that the arbiters of justice reflect the demographics of our state.”

Legal Fusion 2022 was a celebration of service for notable and important leaders in the Sacramento legal community, including Justice William Murray, former Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, Justice Stacy Boulware-Eurie, State Bar Executive Director Leah Wilson, and D.T. Martin.

Murray and Hahn, recently retired, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I thank the trailblazers who blazed a trail before me,” Murray said. “Without the mentors and family influence, I would have never got to where I am. They are why I did what I did.

“I could have never gotten a judicial education on my own. I felt like I had to do more. I have dedicated my whole life to public service. It’s in my DNA.”

Murray retired as a judge from California’s 3rd District Court on Jan. 27.

Hahn, who also retired this year, credited his adoptive mother, who raised him in Sacramento’s tough Oak Park neighborhood.

“She’s the greatest parent I’ve ever known. She saved my life and many others. She showed me how to serve others. I will be doing that for the rest of my life,” Hahn said.

“We have to come together, we have to work together. There is too much division right now. It has been proven throughout history that division doesn’t work. Only by being together will we create a better tomorrow for all people,” Hahn added.

Boulware-Eurie received the Judge of the Year award. Boulware-Eurie has served as presiding judge of the Superior Court of Sacramento County’s juvenile court since 2010. She served in the California Office of the Attorney General before her appointment to the bench. “I strive to serve and thrive in places where folks like me, folks like us, are too often not found,” Boulware-Eurie said.

Wilson received the Attorney of the Year award. “I am committed to increasing access to justice and enhancing diversity in the profession,” Wilson said.

Martin, a former McClatchy High School director of law and public policy, received the Public Service Award. Martin started his career in law enforcement in 1984 with the Stockton Police Department. In April he became coordinator of Folsom Cordova Unified School District’s Safe Schools program.

“This is where it really happens,” Martin said. “I encourage these young people to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Congressman Ami Bera also attended and gave a statement, urging Californians to fight for equal representation despite challenging times.

“Our legacy is not what we do, it’s about the lives we touch. We have an obligation to make sure that those who come after us, benefit from our work,” Bera said.

Harrison wrapped up the event by noting that Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg inspired him to pursue his career.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have decided that this was something for me. He helped me get my first job. He introduced the thought in my mind – to become a lawyer,” Harrison said. “I urge all judges and lawyers to give our young people direction, give them guidance, give them mentorship, give them life lessons. Give back to our communities.”