If you could pick an era’s Dream Team of successful and powerful women lawyers from Gonzaga, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything quite like what was happening on the banks of the Spokane River in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
That’s a Who’s Who for the western part of our country’s courtrooms.
We’ll start with Las Vegas’ Renee Reuther. She’s about as Zag as a person can get.
She received her undergraduate degree from Gonzaga in 1987 and her law degree in 1990. Reuther was such a part of campus life at that time that she literally was a student-housing resident director at various GU resident halls at the exact same time future Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh held the same sort of deputy-of-the-dorms gig.
After graduating from Gonzaga Law, Reuther came home to Las Vegas, where she worked as a lawyer in private practice. Now, she is founding partner of Rice, Reuther, Sullivan and Carroll – a firm about to celebrate its 15th year.
Her hometown might be known for legalized gambling and more hotel rooms on a single road than most civilized nations have in total, but real estate is where the real power lies in this neon-saturated desert. And Reuther is who you want helping you when it comes to dealing with land legality in Las Vegas.
She has a perfect 5-for-5 peer rating and has been included in the list of the best real estate lawyers in America every year since 2008.
Reuther is now a member of GU’s Board of Trustees. Anyway you slice it, she’s impressive. Any law school would be proud to call her one of their own.
But it’s when you layer on a few of her other classmates from that era that you can’t help but wonder what in the heck was in the water in Spokane back then.
Some are now big-time lawyers like Reuther. One is U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. Three are Washington Supreme Court Judges – Mary Fairhurst, Debra Stephens and Barbara Madsen. One is a U.S. bankruptcy judge in Arizona, Madeleine (Loni) Wanslee. Another is Utah’s Assistant Attorney General, Perri Babalis. And three are Spokane County Superior Court judges – Shelley Szambelan, Julie McKay and Annette Plese.
It’s like the courtroom version of American Ninja. Or if Wonder Woman and Perry Mason decided to start some cool new version of the Justice League, only with the emphasis actually on justice.
But to hear Reuther tell it, it becomes clear that this wasn’t a Girl Power moment. Something much bigger was at play… and it had absolutely nothing to do with chromosomal makeup.
“The law school really fostered that family feeling of being supportive, and we all reacted by helping each other whether it was on a research project or studying or even just life in general,” she said. “In some law schools, there can be an undercurrent that seems to foster a competitive spirit among classmates, but there was none of that with us.
“It was such a collegial atmosphere built around helping each other and supporting each other. Obviously, it made many of us lifelong friends who still keep in touch to this day.”
Like at the West Coast Conference Tournament, which has become an unofficial “family reunion” for many of the members of that group.
It’s a moment that Reuther not only looks forward to each year, but cherishes. Friends from all over the country come to Las Vegas to unite around Gonzaga basketball. Some come every year. Some hit it every other year.
“Seeing all of us – some from law school and some just friends from across the university – is something that never gets old. And it’s not just former students you see here who bring back such great memories,” she said. “I just saw Sue Weitz, who I think was the dean of students when I was there, and eventually became a vice president at Gonzaga, and it just reminds you how much Gonzaga gave us.”
And in this particular case, it also helped produce some of the nation’s best lawyers.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on March 13, 2019 to correct the spelling of Annette Plese.
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