Kerrie Orozco, Police Officer

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Some firsts by women cannot be celebrated. Last Wednesday Kerrie Orozco was the first female police officer in Omaha, Nebraska to die in the line of duty. She was shot when she and another officer attempted to arrest a felon.

Kerrie Orozco was a friend to many children. She coached baseball at an Omaha Boys and Girls Club. Whenever she saw a child playing ball in the street, she would stop and talk to the child. “Why don’t you come play ball at the Boys and Girls Club?” she would ask. Participation in sports with other children was her way of keeping young people off the street and involved in their community. Kerrie Orozco was also a Special Olympics volunteer.

She had two-step children (Natalia, 8, and Santiago, 6) but she and her husband, Hector Orozco Lopez, had given birth to their first child together only last February. Unfortunately, the girl was premature and had been in the hospital ever since. Orozco had arranged a maternity leave beginning the day her daughter came home. That leave was to start the day after she was shot and died.

We all mourn the sacrifice of this brave woman. We also acknowledge the unwitting and unknown sacrifice of her daughter who will grow up without her. Being a First Woman can be difficult, but few women must give their lives to be first.

May blessings fall on Kerrie Orozco’s family, on all her friends, and on all the children who were graced with her attention and caring, as they try to make sense of senselessness.

Virginia Nordby – Rotarian, Attorney

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.44.08 AMWhile studying for my Ph.D. in higher education management at the University of Michigan I took a law course taught by Virginia Nordby. The first day I walked into her class, I thought she was another student. She sat at the round table in the classroom quietly smiling and looking like someone’s grandmother. She was a charming, graceful woman whose passions slipped through the cracks of her teaching but rarely distorted her presentations.

We studied legal cases in a style similar to, although gentler than, most law schools. After a couple of classes, when Professor Nordby asked a question everyone would freeze, because we knew that it wouldn’t really matter what answer we gave; she would take the opposite viewpoint, and persuasively so, whatever we said.

We learned how the case was made for segregation through a carefully constructed series of court cases. We dissected opinions that affected education and then, when we had exhausted the topic, our professor would tell us the how the personal lives of the judges had affected their decisions. Without ever raising her voice, she enlightened us about injustices in the system, but applauded its logic. She showed us how universities really ran, and how they were molded by the law. In my future career as dean and Vice Chancellor, it was the most useful class from my doctoral studies.

In a classroom, it is not unusual to learn about the life of a professor, but Virginia Nordby did not reveal much. We knew she was in the same law school at Stanford as Sandra Day O’Connor and that women were not called on in class. Little else was revealed. We gleaned her passions from the cases she presented to us and our knowledge about her work for affirmative action at the University of Michigan but, unlike other professors, she volunteered little else

I was delighted—and not at all surprised—to find, while working on this First Woman To. . .Project that Virginia Nordby was a first woman. I learned that she was the first woman delegate to Rotary International’s Council on Legislation. The Council met in New Delhi, India that year, fitting since India was the first country to petition the Council to admit women to Rotary. In July of 1995 she was one of the first eight women to become district governors of Rotary in the United States.

As I continued my research, I learned that she was the principal drafter of the Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Act, labeling rape as a violent crime and protecting the victim. The language she crafted became a standard, used for countless other bills. She also served on the Women’s Commission, which analyzed Michigan laws to study how they differed in application and language between men and women.

It is fitting that she received the Susan B. Anthony Award from the University of Michigan and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She is a model for all those women who quietly worked, and continue to work, for women’s rights. She is probably not atypical of women who do excellent work without bragging about their accomplishments.


Diane Humeweta – U.S. Attorney, U.S. District Court Judge

Diane Humeweta is touted as an example of bipartisanship, having been nominated by a Republican and a Democratic President to serve as the First Native American Woman in legal positions. However, the facts (see below) show that politics rules

DIANE HUMETEWADiane Humeweta received her law degree from the school named for the First Woman To. . .become a Justice of the Supreme Court: the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at the University of Arizona. A member of the Hopi Tribe, she served as Tribal Liaison and Senior Litigation Counsel in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Later she headed that office when she became The First Native American Woman To. . .become a U.S. Attorney. She served in the District of Arizona from 2007 to 2009. Once again crossing paths with the Supreme Court Justice, her investiture was in the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix.

Support from Senator John McCain did not prove beneficial as she was removed from her position after Barack Obama defeated McCain for president. Earlier this year, however, President Obama named her The First Native American Woman To. . .be a United States District Judge. The vote to approve her in the U.S. Senate was 96-0 (a rare moment of unanimity in the governing body).

The twenty-one tribal reservations in Arizona are pleased to have a judge in the federal court who is a reflection of themselves. The workload is heavy as all felonies committed on reservations go to federal court. A national expert on Native American legal issues, Humetewa has instructed prosecutors and other law enforcement officials on the intricacies of this portion of the law.

It is interesting to note that, although Diane Humetewa is the first Native American in this position, she did succeed another woman, Mary Marguia. Marguia had been elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Arlene Violet – State Attorney General

ARLENE VIOLETArlene Violet was always a fighter so it was probably not surprising when she became The First Woman To. . .be elected Attorney General of Rhode Island. In fact, she was The First Woman To. . .be Attorney General in any of the United States. During her time in office she was honored by the U.S. Justice Department as the Law Enforcement Professional of the Year. Every Rhode Island police officer received a copy of a manual she wrote that then became a model for other states’ attorneys general.

Arlene Violet’s detractors called her “Attila the Nun” because of her earlier membership in a religious order. Even while a nun she protested the Vietnam War and led grape and lettuce boycotts, the hot issues of the day. For her work she was soundly criticized, much as the nuns of today in the United States who are being investigated by the Catholic Church for caring for homosexuals and pregnant women without forcing church doctrine on them. (See Time magazine for an editorial on this current event.)

When she was president of a daycare center, the local Catholic bishop locked the organization out of their building. Committed to the poor and oppressed, she risked excommunication to sue the bishop. After 23 years as a nun, she decided she could do more benefit to society as a lawyer. She practiced consumer, environmental, and developmental disability law.

Her legal endeavors earned her a place, along with Hilary Clinton, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in the book The 50 Most Influential Women in American Law. She has written her own books: Convictions: My Journey and The Mob and Me with John Partington.

A true Renaissance woman, she had a talk radio show that placed her in the top 100 talk show hosts, wrote a musical, appeared on national television (including Sixty Minutes, Larry King Live, and Crossfire), and has a newspaper column that routinely points out the misdeeds of those in office. She teaches environmental law at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. She has judged the Miss American Pageant and, coming full circle, appeared in the off-Broadway musical Nunsense.

The Worthy Endeavor of Kym Worthy

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 6.11.04 PMKym Worthy is responsible for turning national attention to the lack of concern on the parts of police and our communities for crimes of rape. Her efforts have received attention in national publications and her successes are promoting discussion.

She is the first woman and first African American to be appointed prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan, which includes Detroit, the most violent city in the United States. Her office prosecutes 52% of all felonies in the state of Michigan. It has the tenth largest caseload in the country and yet its staff, due to serious cutbacks caused by the financial setbacks in Detroit, is one-quarter that of Los Angeles.

In spite of the limitations of her situation Kym Worthy has accomplished enough to earn numerous awards. Her tenacity and determination led her to successfully prosecute former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is currently in prison. She has many other achievements to her credit in this position. Among them:

–In 2007, after her persistence, the Wayne County Commission, for the first time, set aside funds for the protection of witnesses.

–She created the first Elder Abuse Unit in the county.

–She developed a “Change the Culture” program to support community policing in Detroit. The first public form to discuss the program drew 3,000 citizens and leaders from the city.

She has achieved national recognition, however, for response to a happenstance. In 2009 one of Kym Worthy’s assistants discovered more than 11,000 rape kits sitting in a warehouse, unprocessed. Herself a victim of rape, one she never reported, Worthy immediately sought funding to have the kits tested. She received a $1 million federal grant to test 153 kits. Although the process is costly, and slow, the results so far have been spectacular.

–Of the first 153 kits processed, there were DNA matches for 38 suspects, and 20 of those were identified as serial rapists

–Of the first 1,600 kits tested, two-thirds match a crime some place in the United States, “often a rape.”

–To date 3,230 rape kits have been tested. Of these 17% were found in the FBI data bank and 15% of those were serial rapists. Over 100 serial rapists have been identified as of last month.

There may be as many as 400,000 untested rape kits in this country. Congress is currently pressuring colleges and universities to improve their support systems for rape victims. While this effort is commendable, it focuses solely on those privileged young women who can pursue higher education. What might happen if they provided funding and training to test all the rape kits that have been ignored?

Yes, in some cases, the statue of limitations has expired, but as Kym Worthy has shown, many of the perpetrators have gone on to commit other, often sexual, crimes. Testing these kits would not only lead to punishment for the crimes against women. It would remove predators to women and promote their safety, not only in colleges and universities but also in inner city neighborhoods such as those in Detroit.