NORMAN — The night was full of much more than legal jargon and debate Wednesday night as University of Oklahoma College of Law students, professors and alumni celebrated four Oklahoma lawyers at an Order of the Owl Hall of Fame inductee ceremony.
The Order of the Owl Hall of Fame pays tribute to OU law graduates who have demonstrated leadership and service through outstanding accomplishments in their legal careers. This year, four Oklahoma lawyers were honored by the Order, including the Honorable Michael Burrage, Kathy Taylor, the Honorable Ralph Thompson and the Honorable Lee West.
Burrage has served as a U.S. federal judge in all three U.S. District Courts (western, northern and eastern) in Oklahoma. He was nominated by President Bill Clinton in May 1994 and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June 1994. Burrage graduated from the OU College of Law in 1974.
Reggie Whitten, Burrage’s friend, said he had never seen a lawyer more universally respected and never seen a lawyer who knew strategy or felt more empathy and compassion for the injured who could not speak for themselves.
Burrage’s son, Oklahoma Sen. Sean Burrage, said, “When I think about it, I should be a lot better lawyer than I am just because I’m his son.”
Additionally, Burrage is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and was named Outstanding Young Lawyer in Oklahoma in 1977. Today, Burrage is senior managing partner at the Whitten Burrage Law Firm in Oklahoma City.
Taylor was the second Order inductee of the evening. She graduated from the OU College of Law in 1981. Throughout her career, Taylor has worked with Oklahoma-based corporations like Sonic and Thrifty Car Rental. She also served as the 38th mayor of Tulsa from 2006 to 2009.
Taylor’s past student, Steve Davis, said she was a gifted, Energizer bunny type who encouraged him to develop skills and had the kind of charisma that made one want to be around her.
Most recently in 2012, Taylor served as a resident Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, where she taught pathways to public service.
“I am so humbled to be receiving this honor. The University of Oklahoma holds a very special place in my heart. It provided me more than an education. It literally provided me home,” Taylor said.
Thompson served as a federal judge, a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and a U.S. Air Force officer.
Thompson received his J.D. from the OU College of Law in 1961. He was nominated by President Gerald Ford in Sept. 1975 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in October 1975.
After joking about the length of his speech, Thompson said, “Let me take you back to my first day of my first year at the OU College of Law. As I entered the front door, the first thing I saw was the statue of Dean Julien C. Monnet, and I swear I heard him say, ‘Young man, you have no business being here.’ “From my anxious first moments to this moment, I am so humbled and proud to be inducted into my law school’s hall of fame.”
West served as a senior federal judge and a U.S. Marine Corps officer during his career. He graduated from OU College of Law in 1956 and eventually returned to serve as a faculty member at the OU Law School.
West was appointed as district judge of the 22nd Judicial District in 1965. Later in 1979, West was appointed to the Federal Court by President Carter. In 1962, he was awarded a Ford Foundation Fellowship in Law Teaching at Harvard Law School.
Before receiving his award, West was described as a man of great progressive thought.
“Like Will Rogers, I have never met a man I didn’t like. But unlike Will, I can get over it pretty quick. However, I have never met a man or woman from this university that I didn’t like, and I’m not likely to ever get over that,” West said.