Emory Medalists 2012
By Michelle Valigursky
Emory Medal recipients Miles Alexander 52C and the Honorable Elliott Levitas 52C 56L were saluted by faculty, staff, alumni, family, and friends at this year’s awards ceremony at Cox Hall on October 4, 2012.
Recognized as a sort of an elder statesman in the legal community, Alexander has consistently been ranked as one of the world’s leading trademark lawyers. Protecting famous brands while opposing abuse of intellectual property rights, he has served a myriad of Fortune 500 companies, as well as clients as wide-ranging as the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association, the estate of Martin Luther King Jr., and the musical groups the Monkees and R.E.M. Alexander takes particular pride in his pro bono representation, including serving as adviser to Levitas and Maynard Jackson throughout their public service, counseling Hands On Atlanta, challenging bigotry, obtaining justice for torture victims, and serving for many years as chair of the Atlanta Ethics and License Review Boards.
A member of Phi Beta Kappa and ODK, Alexander was a campus leader at Emory in a variety of organizations, and as a freshman he and Levitas advocated for the integration of Emory’s graduate schools. An honors graduate from Harvard Law School, Alexander subsequently served as a judge advocate in the US Air Force. After a year of teaching at Harvard, he rejoined the law firm, now Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton, where he first began his career in 1954.
A Renaissance lawyer in an age of specialization, Alexander is consistently recognized among the nation’s top lawyers; listed in Best Lawyers of America in the areas of IP, corporate, antitrust, and alternative dispute resolution; and rated by Atlanta Magazine as one of the top ten lawyers in Georgia. He has received numerous other awards from international, national, state, and Atlanta bar groups, and from civil rights organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. He continues to be a dynamic force in the legal, Jewish, and Emory communities.
“Anybody that’s involved in community activities, whether it be the ACLU, tutoring students at a school that needs outside assisting, or representing people that need representation and can’t afford it, you get so much more out of it than you put into it,” Alexander said in a video interview. “It’s the same with a university. The more you put into it, the more you take from it, and the rewards far exceed what you’re able to do as an individual.”
Alexander and his wife, Elaine, an outstanding community leader whom he first met at the Emory train station in 1949, have four children and eleven grandchildren, including a granddaughter in the Class of 2016.
Levitas, a Rhodes Scholar and one of Emory’s 175 Makers of History, has been a lawyer, government official, and public figure for more than fifty years. A native Atlantan, Levitas attended Boys High School and graduated from Henry W. Grady High School.
While at Emory, Levitas served as editor of the Phoenix magazine and debated with the Barkley Forum. He demonstrated leadership as chancellor of Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity and was a member of the Senior Honor Society. Levitas has remained an active participant in events on the Emory campus as well as serving as president of the School of Law Alumni Board and on the school’s Dean’s Advisory Board. After receiving his law degree from Emory, he served in the US Air Force.
Levitas was elected to five terms in the Georgia legislature from 1965 to 1974 and five terms in the US House of Representatives from 1975 to 1985, and he is the recipient of the Thomas B. Murphy Lifetime Achievement Award from the Democratic Party of Georgia. As a legislator, he was instrumental in creating the Chattahoochee River National Park and MARTA.
One of his greatest accomplishments was serving on the plaintiffs’ litigation team in the historic 1996 class action suit Cobell v. Norton, which sued the federal government on behalf of more than 500,000 Native Americans and their heirs for breach of trust regarding lands and monies held by the US since the 1880s. After more than seventeen years of trials and appeals, the courts favored the plaintiffs, leading to a $3.4 billion settlement that was ratified by legislation, passed by Congress, and signed by President Obama—the largest class action award against the government in US history.
“Emory gave us the opportunity to be part of service, to work with other people in other groups. That type of experience carried over into future life,” Levitas says. “Miles and I both studied law, and while the legal profession today is quite different than when we first went into it, we desired to be of service and make a contribution through the skills you learned in law school, whether it was doing pro bono criminal defense or helping some organization put together a structure so they could operate in the community. There is no question that the experiences we had at Emory made lasting impressions on us.”
Recognized for six years in Best Lawyers in America for government relations law in addition to being named one of Georgia’s “Legal Elite” for governmental affairs in Georgia Trend magazine, Levitas is presently senior counsel for Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton in Atlanta. He is married to Barbara Hillman Levitas, who has been a leading advocate for children’s issues. They have three children and six grandchildren.