Recalling Our Roots in the Revelry and Excellence of the London Inns of Court

The Bencher  |  November/December 2023

By Judge Lauri Damrell

The Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court in Sacramento, California, was established with the same spirit of community, excellence, and revelry that has served at the heart of the traditional Inns of Court in London, England, for centuries. Like our counterparts across the pond, we share meals, educate our members, and promote ethics, civility, professionalism, and excellence in the law. And our programs are as fun as they are informative—a culture that also finds its origins in the London Inns and enhances the learning experience.

In 1988, U.S. District Court Judge Milton Schwartz collaborated with then-Ninth Circuit Judge Anthony Kennedy; Gordon Schaber, a retired Superior Court judge and dean of McGeorge School of Law; Professor Skip Scully; and Ann Taylor Schwing, Esquire, to launch an organization deeply committed to fostering professional and personal growth among lawyers in the Sacramento legal community. Their infectious enthusiasm got others involved, including California Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Robert Puglia, who was an effective recruiter of judges and who demonstrated to law firms the value of having their lawyers join the Inn.

Since day one, our diverse membership of judges, lawyers, and law students have worked together on pupillage teams to bring ethical conundrums and other legal challenges to life through thought-provoking and entertaining theatrical skits.

At the start of each program evening, we come together in the Student Center of McGeorge School of Law to socialize and dine. We then make our way to the Lecture Hall, where the team of the month presents its skits and then moderates insightful audience discussion of the issues presented. Dignity often is sacrificed to parody in our skits, with members, including judges, acting well out of character to make a point and get a laugh. Skits also showcase the talents of team members as scriptwriters, actors, singers, musicians, and moderators of robust audience discussion.

In one particularly memorable skit, Judge Connie Callahan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit played a fictional judge in a courtroom scene with attorneys trying to skirt an issue. She asked them, “How are you going to dance around this?” then got up on the bench, took off her robe and, in a red sequined dress and tap shoes, tap danced on top of the bench. These types of programs, balancing education and entertainment, have kept the Kennedy Inn thriving year after year.  

Our educational model traces its roots back to the beginnings of the London Inns of Court. As described on the website of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, the practice of “Reading” was the centerpiece of the Society’s curriculum in the 1400s. The “Reader,” one of the Inn’s members, would explore a particular area of the law and dispute and discuss hypotheticals, which was accompanied by a “grand feasting.” They also set up mock courts during which legal issues were argued and students would sit with more senior members of the bar to learn through the process. The Middle Temple also has a notable theatrical history, with reports that the first known performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” took place in the Middle Temple’s Hall. The dining, social engagement, revelry, and core educational functions of the Middle Temple continue in the Hall today.  

Like the English Inns of Court, we cherish our rich, albeit shorter, history. Starting with 64 members in 1988, the Kennedy Inn now has over 190 active and Emeritus members, including 52 judicial officers of state and federal trial and appellate courts and 18 law students at McGeorge School of Law.

The opportunity for attorneys and law students to interact with federal and state judges in our social and learning environment has provided immeasurable value to the Sacramento legal community over the past three decades. Our history has been enhanced and preserved by one of our extraordinary Inn members, Karen Jacobsen, Esquire, who, with great skill and dedication, has served as treasurer, secretary, and Inn historian.

We further evolved 23 years ago with the creation of the Kennedy Inn’s Hammy Awards.  Akin to the Academy Awards, our Hammy Awards (a play on the slang word “ham”) are presented for best-in-category performances, including best emphasis on ethics, civility, and professionalism; best acting; best contributions to audience discussions; and other top contributions.

Our Hammy Award for “Most Provocative Discussion” is named in honor of U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton and California Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Bob Puglia, who often disagreed—passionately yet respectfully—during our discussions and served as role models of civility, particularly for our more junior members.

On Hammy Awards night, Judge Callahan, radiant in a ballroom gown, and retired Presiding Justice Art Scotland, in white tie and tails, present small, personalized plastic trophies to award winners. Through these awards, we embrace our roots in revelry and excellence and recognize members who have gone above and beyond to ensure the success of our programs. The Hammies have become coveted awards prominently and proudly displayed in recipients’ offices.

Over the past several years, the Kennedy Inn has broadened its reach by promoting the mission of the American Inns of Court and deepening our relationship with the London Inns of Court. We have helped to create new Inns in California, including the Milton L. Schwartz-David F. Levi Inn, Judge Consuelo M. Callahan Inn, and Wray Ladine Inn. We are proud that four of our members have served on the American Inns of Court Board of Trustees.

And, since 2015, we have hosted British Barrister Pegasus Scholars in Sacramento. While they visit with us, we introduce them to leaders in the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government who talk with them about similarities and differences between the British and American systems of laws. We arrange for the scholars to observe court proceedings and meet with judicial officers presiding over them. We schedule meetings with attorneys who specialize in areas of law of interest to the scholars. We invite them to the Hammy Awards and encourage them to share their experiences in the British legal system with our members. And, we round out their trip by taking them to some of California’s iconic sites such as Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley, and San Francisco.

The Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court is grateful to the London and American Inns of Court for inspiring the formation of our Inn to enrich the Sacramento legal community and successfully promote the Inn’s goals for 35 years and many more to come.

Judge Lauri Damrell, of the Superior Court of Sacramento County in California, is president of the Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court.

© 2023 Judge Lauri Damrell. This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.