Saturday, December 14, 2013

Distinguished Alumni: Magistrate Elisabeth Griffith

Distinguished Alumni
of the 
Appalachian School of Law: 

Magistrate Elisabeth (Lis) Griffith

Lis Griffith is remembered by her ASL family for her brains, exuberant spirit, bawdy wit, kindness, big heart, and service to the school and fellow students.

Law School Career

Griffith graduated in 2012 in the top 15 percent of her class, having earned Book Awards for receiving the highest grade in two courses: Disability Law and Secured Transactions.  (Yes, Secured Transactions!)   She made the Dean’s list during two of four graded semesters.   

While on campus, she served in many capacities:
Her law school professors showed great confidence in her intellectual abilities and work ethic by offering positions as:
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant Team research assistant (2011-2012) (Professor P. Harris); and
  • Professor Alan Oxford’s research assistant (2011).
If that was not enough, Griffith also:
  • Served as the WestLaw Student Representative (2010-2012).
  • Worked as an ASL Library desk clerk (2011-2012).
  • Performed stand-up comedy shows in local venues from Serendipity to L’Venia’s in Richlands, VA (2011-2012). 

She also won one of ASL’s most prestigious awards.  ASL recognizes one 3L student every year at its Award Banquet as the recipient of the L. Anthony Sutin Soul of ASL Award.  The award recognizes a person who has gone out of his or her way to help others, chosen the kind word over what he or she may really have felt, or handled adversity with grace. Sutin's wish was to distribute awards to members of ASL’s community who, through no provocation or desire for recognition, perform random acts of kindness towards others.  Over time, the award has become more exclusive, and now only a distinguished 3L student can win it. 

She is the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, and accordingly, from a graduate school.

Of her ASL experience, Griffith said this:
I loved my time at ASL, and I found out very quickly that getting involved has a snowball effect! I had so many mentors and peers that truly believed that the privilege of being a law student or an attorney comes with a very important duty to give back and give thanks for everything we are given in life. I understand that I would not be where I am today if not for my loving family, amazing friends, and wonderful mentors supporting me.
(Emphasis in original.)

She is pictured here with one of her best friends, Penny Mullins, another kind-hearted and dedicated ASL alumnus.

College Background

Griffith graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans in 2009.  During that time, she served as:
  • Vice President of Tulane Speech and Debate Society.
  • Interned at Department of Homeland Security while studying at American University (Summer 2008).
  • Worked two jobs while in college to support herself
In describing that experience, Griffith said:  "My time in New Orleans sparked a love for volunteerism that complimented and enhanced my law school career."

Legal Career

Shortly after graduation, she began working as a Magistrate in Norfolk, Virginia. After the two-month certification school process, she began holding bond hearings and issuing arrest warrants, search warrants, temporary detention orders for mental health crises, and emergency protective orders.

The Magistrate Manual describes the position this way:
The office of magistrate is probably more important today than it has been at any other time since the creation of the magistrate system. The enhanced standards for search and arrest warrants, as well as the changing philosophies about bail, have made the work increasingly more difficult, requiring responsible deliberation on the part of each magistrate. Moreover, the frequent contacts with the general public, make it necessary that every magistrate be fully informed of the mechanics of his or her job so there will be no doubt by others that they are being treated by fair-minded and competent officials. 
* * *
[M]agistrates [must] realize that they are members of the State judiciary and his or her actions are a direct reflection on the quality of justice in Virginia, especially to tourists and non-residents who may never pass through Virginia again. Accordingly, magistrates are expected to conduct themselves at all times in a manner consistent with the responsibility and honor of the office. A professional appearance, a suitable place for conducting business, and a business-like, but courteous manner, are essential. Further, as judicial officers, magistrates occupy a position of public trust. Therefore, he or she is expected to meet an ethical standard considerably higher than that imposed on the average person.
About this experience, Griffith said:
Working in the Magistrate’s office has been a wonderful continuation of the lessons I learned while attending ASL. As attorneys, I think it is of the utmost importance to remember that “crime” is not a black and white, win or lose issue. An accused person is not inherently bad -- but is a human being, with rights and privileges that deserve recognition. 
Parties involved often experience many conflicting emotions. I must find a balance between performing the duties of my job and ensuring that individuals don’t get lost in the mix of an all-to-often relentless and impersonal criminal justice system.
While in law school, Griffith interned in the Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Office for three summers. She used her third year practice license in the summer of 2011 and 2012, prosecuting many cases in General District and Circuit Court.

Home Life

Griffith lives with her long-time boyfriend, Adam Culpepper of Portsmouth, Virginia.  They rescued two cats: Purl and Murphee.

She grew up in Texas, but has grown to love Virginia.  She is now delighted that her Mom is living in Richmond, just up the road from Griffith's beach community.  Here she is pictured with her Mom and Aunt in Dallas for a Cowboys' game (Christmas 2012). 

In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, crochet, and photography.  Pictured are some of her crochet animals. 

Several other ASL graduates serve as Magistrates, and I hope to profile them in future postings. 

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