2017 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

2017-2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

The University of Pittsburgh Law Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 1973 to recognize graduates of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who, through the accomplishments in their careers and contributions to their profession and/or their communities, have exhibited outstanding leadership qualities and enhanced the reputation of the Law School.

We are pleased to announce this year's Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients.

Mary Jo Ransford White is a retired State Senator whose exceptional career has spanned decades. She served in the Pennsylvania Senate representing the 21st Senatorial District from 1996 to 2012. From 1976 to 1995, Sen. White was the majority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee for 14 years, spearheading the new mine safety regulations. Growing greener legislation, oil and gas production rules and the first water resources inventory in Pennsylvania. As vice chair of Judiciary, she served on committees with the courts on medical malpractice reform and the Interbranch Commission on gender and racial equity in the judicial system. White was an attorney and Vice President of Environmental and Governmental Affairs for the Quaker State Corporation for almost 20 years. Prior to that, she was Public Defender for Venango County.  

Sen. White has made higher education a focus in her life, having been appointed to the University’s Board of Trustees in 2004 and was a member on the Board’s Affirmative Action and Health Sciences Committees as well as the Board of Visitors of the Graduate school of Public Health, a position she still holds as Community Member. In addition, she has served as a trustee for Westminster College and Slippery Rock University where she is past president and a current board member. She is presently a founding member and chairman of the board of the new Rural Regional College of Northern Pennsylvania which will serve nine counties that have no community college. It was created by the legislature in 2014.

Sen. White was previously honored with the University’s Distinguished Alumni Fellow Award and the University of Pittsburgh 225th Anniversary Medallion. With her husband, Sen. White made the extraordinary commitment to create The Honorable Mary Jo White and The Honorable H. William White Fund for the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. This fund supports the mission of the law school and student endeavors and will continue to do so for years to come. 

Her spouse is the Honorable H. William “Bill” White (’67) whom she met while attending Pitt Law. They have been married for 51 years. 

The Honorable H. William White graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania, and in 1967, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Law School. Judge White served as editor of the Pitt Law Review.

After law school, Judge White served as a captain in the United States Army Judge Advocate Generals Corp - one year in Vietnam and three years in Germany. In Vietnam, he was both a prosecutor and defense attorney in court martial proceedings, including five first-degree murder cases.  After the army, he, his wife, former Pennsylvania Senator, Mary Jo, and their three children returned to Venango County where he became a partner with the law firm Dale, Woodard, Montgomery & White. He practiced law with the Dale Woodard firm from 1972 until 1988, specializing in litigation.

During his practice of law, he served as president of the Venango County Bar Association in 1985, was solicitor for the Northwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission, and presented numerous cases before the state and federal appellate courts, including one matter in front of the United States Supreme Court. He also became one of the very few attorneys in the Commonwealth of PA to be certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy as a civil trial advocate.

In 1987, he garnered both the Republican and Democratic Nominations in the primary and was elected President Judge of Venango County for a ten-year term. In 1997, he was retained by Venango County voters to a second ten-year term. He took senior judge status in 2008, having served as President Judge for twenty years.

He has been an active lecturer, teaching many courses at Practicing Law Institute, Judges' Conferences and the New Judges' School.  He presented a legal clinic to prisoners at Mercer Regional State Prison every three months for 19 years.

On June 8, 2004, Judge White was appointed by Governor Rendell to the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission. He was reappointed in June 2007 and reappointed again in 2010.  Judge White had a keen interest in reforming the juvenile justice system here in Venango County and was responsible for implementing numerous innovative programs and models for which he was known throughout the Commonwealth and the Juvenile Court Judges Commission. In November of 2013, he received the Outstanding Service Award presented by the Juvenile Court Judges Commission.

Judge Christine A. Ward was elected to a ten-year term on the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in November of 2003 following an appointment to a vacancy by Governor Ed Rendell.  She served in the Family Division of the Court for four years until June of 2007.  Currently, Judge Ward is one of two judges sitting in the Court’s Center for Commerce and Complex Litigation.  She is a member and President-Elect of the American College of Business Court Judges.  She was selected to be a Business Court Representative to the ABA Business Law Section.  She served as a member of the Business Law Section’s M & A Litigation Joint Task Force as well as the Business and Corporation Litigation Committee and the Judges’ Initiative Committee.  She currently serves as Vice-chair for the Diversity Clerkship Committee.

Judge Ward serves as Treasurer of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Court Judges.  She is the past Chair of the Civil Judges’ Section and served two terms on the Judicial Ethics Committee. She currently serves on the Legislative Committee of the Conference.

Judge Ward serves on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Procedural Rules Committee.  She is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where she teaches Pennsylvania Practice.  She serves on the Board of the Law School Alumni Association and is a member of the Dean’s Strategic Initiatives Committee.

Judge Ward was elected as an ASTAR Science and Technology Fellow in 2009 and was awarded the W. Edward Sell ’45 Legal Achievement Award from Washington and Jefferson College in 2011.

Prior to being elected to the bench, she practiced law for 20 years primarily with the law firms of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote and Schnader, Harrison, Segal and Lewis, LLP.  She concentrated her practice in the area of complex civil litigation and labor and employment law.  She was an instructor for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association.

Judge Ward graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude, from Washington and Jefferson College and with honors from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.  She worked her way through school as a waitress and as a laborer at the Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation.   

Judge Ward serves or has served as a member of the Board of Directors of WQED Multimedia, the Salvation Army of Greater Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Law Alumni Association, the Rankin Christian Center, the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Persad Center and the Pittsburgh Chapter of the ACLU.