When the Americans with Disabilities Act was still a very young law, the Department of Justice filed its first lawsuit, against the Becker CPA Exam review course. Some people who wanted to take the review course for the CPA exam, and who were also deaf, had requested that Becker provide sign language interpreters for the course, and Becker refused. DOJ tried to negotiate with the respected review course, but Becker did not budge. So, late in 1992, DOJ filed its first ADA lawsuit.
A year and a half later, the parties reached a settlement, with Becker agreeing at long last to provide interpreters to students who needed them, and paying monetary awards to the named complainants. The complainants were finally able to fully participate in the review course, and when they then took the CPA exam, they passed at a rate even higher than others.
I had the honor of working on that case as a trial attorney at DOJ. When the first of those complainants passed the CPA exam, he wrote a very nice “thank you” note to the head of the Department, Janet Reno. Janet Reno then sent me a personal note, thanking me for my work on the case. I have that note, framed, on my bookshelf still today.
Janet Reno was the first female attorney general in the United States. In 1991, she came to a Department of Justice that many believed had become too political, a Department that many worried had lost its professional reputation. Janet Reno was a consummate professional and was extremely hard working — the legend was that she kept a sleeping bag in her office for the many all-nighters she had to pull. Her work ethic went far to reinvigorating a dispirited Department.
But like a truly great leader, she did not claim the victories to be hers alone She gave credit all the way down the line.
I am saddened by the news of her passing over the weekend, but warmed by the memory of her strong and compassionate leadership. Her model of leadership will live on.