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Passion for Advocacy

May 08, 2016

9:30 am

About the conversation

Celebrate Mother’s Day with mother and daughter, Rita and Elisabeth Semel—in conversation about being on the frontlines of social justice for two generations.




About the guests

After retiring as Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Rita Semel has served on a number of non-profit boards in San Francisco. Currently, she is Vice President of the Human Services Commission. She also serves on the Boards of the San Francisco Interfaith Council (of which she was a founder), Grace Cathedral, Congregation Emanu-El, In Home Health Services Public Authority, Clinic By the Bay, Interfaith Center at the Presidio and the Faiths Program at the San Francisco Foundation. She is also active in United Religions Initiative and served as the first Chair of its Global Council. She has served in the past on the Boards of Catholic Charities, United Way, Family Service Agency and the Homeless Board of San Francisco.

After graduating from UC Davis School of Law in 1975, Elisabeth Semel practiced as a public defender in Solano and San Diego Counties. In 1980, she entered private practice in San Diego where she later formed the firm of Semel & Feldman. Professor Semel defended criminal cases, including homicides and capital cases, in the state and federal courts with an emphasis on trial-level representation. In 1997, Professor Semel left private practice to serve as the director of the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project in Washington, D.C. Professor Semel joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2001, as the first director of the Death Penalty Clinic. In that capacity, Semel represents capitally charged or sentenced clients, primarily in the South where the resources for capital defense lawyers are chronically, pervasively inadequate. The clinic currently represents clients in Alabama, Arizona, California and Georgia. The clinic also tackles systemic issues relating to the death penalty through its Lethal Injection Project and friend-of-the-court briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor Semel has testified before committees of the United States Congress and the California legislature and has lectured at legal education seminars throughout the country on a variety of subjects related to the defense of criminal cases, including capital representation.

About the host

The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young is the ninth dean of Grace Cathedral. Malcolm is an Episcopal priest, an author who has published books on spirituality and the environment and writes about religion for Huffington Post, and founder of the Ventana School in Los Altos, CA.

About The Forum

The Forum is a series of stimulating conversations about faith and ethics in relation to the issues of our day. Hosted by the clergy of Grace Cathedral, we invite leading public figures, musicians, theologians, artists and writers to bring the most innovative and interesting thinking to our public space, engaging our minds and hearts to think in new ways about the world.


Gresham Hall


Free and open to all


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