Phoenix attorney David Bodney is humbled to receive the Anti-Defamation League’s 2013 Torch of Liberty award. “It’s an extraordinary honor to be recognized by an organization whose work I respect so much and whose prior honorees have meant so much to our community,” he says. Bodney will receive the award at the ADL Torch of Liberty Award Dinner on Oct. 24.

Drawn to ADL after 9/11, Bodney asked to serve because he thought ADL was uniquely situated to strike a balance between security and civil rights. “It’s not an easy balance, he says. “And both interests are as important as they could possibly be.” 

Currently, Bodney serves on ADL’s National Legal Affairs and Civil Rights Committees and National Commission. He is a past chairman of the Arizona Regional ADL Board and co-authored ADL’s amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court challenge to Arizona immigration law SB 1070.  

Bodney, a partner in the Phoenix office of Steptoe & Johnson whose practice areas include media and constitutional law and commercial and intellectual property, says he’s fortunate to practice in an environment where he can take on pro bono work with impact, including the ADL. 

“They do so much to educate and protect the community, particularly when it comes to hateful speech, cyber-bullying, discrimination and fundamental constitutional protections to ensure the fair treatment of all people.” 

Over the past 10-15 years, the United States has experienced many events – an attack on our soil like nothing since Pearl Harbor, and a Great Recession like nothing since the 1930s and threats domestic and international – that could lead to excessive measures, including scape-goating from fear, Bodney says. “We did see it here, and it was directed toward the Latino community and the Sikh community. 

“The ADL has taught me when and how to stand up when I see bigotry or hate rear its ugly head, to help recognize bias in myself and to try to stand up and do the right thing at the right time. We have learned through history that when a community stands up and says no, the most scorching fires of hate never get lit.”

Bodney went to law school at University of Virginia initially to learn his rights and perhaps one day teach or engage in some form of public service, he says. After graduating, he followed some good advice from a friend’s father: Spend at least as much time practicing law as he had spent in law school in the best firm he could possibly find. Then, if he didn’t like being an attorney, he could do something else. “I discovered much to my surprise that I loved practicing law and the aspect of law that I enjoy most is service and helping clients achieve their objectives,” he says. 

In addition to practicing law, Bodney serves as adjunct faculty at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where he teaches media law to combined classes of law students and graduate journalism students from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He enjoys learning fresh insights from the younger generation of lawyers and journalists. “Teaching requires me to be as current as possible in the subject matter,” he says. 

Bodney has more than a passing interest in journalism. Starting in sixth grade, he worked on school newspapers – some official and some underground, he says. He also helped start a magazine in college and was an editor and general counsel at the Phoenix New Times from 1990 to 1992. “It was an impossible task to serve in both roles. I was not prepared to leave the law behind so I came back to practice. At the time, it gave me an opportunity to write and edit and work in a newsroom,” he says. “It was a great experience, but not my calling.”

As if his legal work, teaching and work with ADL were not enough, Bodney is also the incoming chair of the Cronkite School Endowment Board and the chair-elect of the forum on communications law for the American Bar Association. 

“I have learned that whenever I offer to serve, I invariably get more than I give and I learn lessons I never expected to learn,” he says. “My work with ADL is no exception.”

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