Armonica Marie Gilford, the first African American woman to work for the Oregon Department of Justice, died Oct. 4, 2005, of complications following surgery for an injury she received in an automobile accident. She was 54.
Gilford was born and grew up in Alaska. She graduated from Pepperdine University and earned her law degree at the University of Denver College of Law in 1981. After law school Gilford worked for Mobil Oil Corp. and Mobil Coal Resources, Inc. in Denver before returning to Alaska to work for Alaska Legal Services. She went on to work for that state’s consumer protection section in Juneau as an investigator until 1989, when she moved to Oregon.
She began her Oregon legal career in 1989 as an assistant attorney general. Gilford served on the board of Oregon Women Lawyers and the Oregon Women Lawyers Foundation. During the mid-1990s, she was president of the Oregon Association of Black Lawyers, now the Oregon chapter of the National Bar Association, and is credited with reviving the association’s Ivory and Ebony Scholarship Benefit for minority law students.
Gilford received the Oregon Women Lawyers Judge Mercedes Deiz Award in 1997 and a Meritorious Award from the attorney general’s office in 1994. She was known for serving as a mentor to numerous law students and lawyers, and often housed law students from out of town in order to make their career transitions a bit easier.
She was a member of the Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Pennsylvania bars, and authored several articles and chapters for Oregon State Bar publications. In addition, she served on the state licensing board for architects.
Gilford also was a highly respected jazz singer, performing regularly at Steen’s Coffee House, and a competitive racer with Oregon’s only all-woman ski club, Skiente.
She is survived by her husband, Allen Litwiller; her father, Martin C. Gilford; a sister, three brothers and her siblings’ three children.
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Mercedes Frances Deiz, the state’s first African American woman lawyer and the first African American judge to be appointed in the Northwest, died Oct. 5, 2005, in her Portland home. She was 87.
Deiz was born Dec. 13, 1917, in New York City. She earned her undergraduate degree at Hunter College. Deiz, who moved to Oregon in 1948, graduated fourth in her class from Lewis & Clark College’s Northwestern School of Law in 1959.
She worked as a trial lawyer in general practice for eight years and as an administrative law judge for the Workmen’s Compensation Board for two years before Gov. Tom McCall appointed her a district court judge in 1970. In 1972, Deiz beat seven male opponents to win the first of four consecutive six-year terms as a Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge.
Deiz served as director of the National Center for State Courts and the National Association of Women Judges. After retiring in 1992, Deiz served on several nonprofit boards and Oregon State Bar committees. She received many awards, including the bar’s highest honor, the Award of Merit. Well respected for her mentorship of women and minorities in the legal profession, Deiz taught family law classes as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School. She also enjoyed traveling.
Deiz is survived by her husband, Carl, three children two brothers, two sisters and seven grandchildren.
For a fuller account of Judge Deiz’s life, see the Legal Heritage column in this issue of the Bulletin.