University of Detroit Mercy School of Law hosted a portrait unveiling of alumna and Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise K. Langford Morris, March 8, on International Women’s Day. Painted by Detroit artist Henry Heading, the portrait is a gift from four Detroit Mercy Law student organizations—Law Review, Black Law Students Association (BLSA), Women’s Law Caucus and the Student Bar Association.
A committee of Detroit Mercy Law student leaders, including Law Review Editor-in-Chief Jewel Haji, BLSA President Keshava Kirkland, Women’s Law Caucus President Kelsey Sill, Women’s Law Caucus Secretary Bridget Underhill, Law Review Outside Editor Michelle Shember, and BLSA Treasurer Milaka Spann, led the initiative, with the support of Detroit Mercy Law Professor Pamela Wilkins, to fundraise and commission the portrait. The official portrait, which is the School’s first of a woman and an African-American, will be permanently displayed in the halls of Detroit Mercy Law.
The reception was held from in the atrium of the School’s Riverfront Campus.
“On behalf of myself and the student leaders who played a role in this project, we are thrilled that we have the honor of gifting Detroit Mercy Law with the first portrait of a woman at the School,” said Haji. “Judge Denise Langford Morris was an easy choice for us because she demonstrates the characteristics that we all strive to have as aspiring lawyers. She has served as a mentor to students, a role model to young lawyers and above all, a friend in the community. Her success in the legal community comes not only from her hard work, but also from her passion in wanting to make a difference.”
For 26 years, Morris has served on the Oakland County Circuit Court, the first African-American jurist on the bench. Previously, she was an assistant U.S. attorney, civil division, an assistant Oakland County prosecutor, and a trial attorney in private practice specializing in insurance defense. She worked for the Michigan Department of Social Services as a protective services worker while attending law school. She graduated from Detroit Mercy Law in 1982 and is a member of the University’s Board of Trustees.
In 2018, she received the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM) Mary S. Coleman Award, a prestigious honor bestowed annually to a Michigan judge who inspires and mentors women in the profession. In 2017, Detroit Mercy Law honored her with the Time and Talent Award, which is presented annually to an alumnus who has dedicated his or her time and talent to supporting the success of students, the School, and fellow graduates. She is also a founding member of the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, an organization of diverse attorneys which has helped promote legal practice opportunities for people of color for nearly 30 years.
“Judge Langford Morris has made a tremendous impact on our community through her commitment to public service and dedication to mentoring students and graduates. We are proud to present her with this well-deserved honor, and we commend our students’ leadership in making this portrait a reality,” said Detroit Mercy Law Dean Phyllis L. Crocker. “Judge Langford Morris’ portrait will serve as an inspiration for our students for years to come and exemplify our School’s longstanding commitment to service and diversity.”
The portrait unveiling followed the Detroit Mercy Law Review’s 2019 Symposium: Women and the Law, which was open to the public and features panel discussions on prominent issues related to women and the law. Topics include education, employment, gender discrimination and the #MeToo movement. To learn more, click here.