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Lawyers Fill the Hall at Blackstone Ball

There were so many attorneys assembled for the 26th annual Blackstone Ball at the Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel on Saturday that the cocktail-hour catering contract specified 11,000 large shrimp to be served from carved-ice clam shells displayed on five separate buffets.

That’s a lot of shrimp, but, then, there were a lot of lawyers at “Night at the Copa.” The guest list numbered 1,700, and, with an allowance made for spouses and escorts, that amounts to some 850 members of the legal profession in attendance at the San Diego County Bar Assn. and its auxiliary’s annual black-tie jamboree.

The remarkable fact is that the figure accounted for only 14% of the attorneys currently in practice in this county.

Even more remarkable, however, was the simple enormity of the crowd; at 1,700, the guest list made for the biggest full-scale, indoor social event ever given in San Diego. Blackstone Ball co-chairwomen Mary Jane Heggeness and Mary Cordaro met the challenge of accommodating the crowd by spreading it through two ballrooms--the Champagne and the Grand, which are among San Diego’s most commodious--and hiring the Sheraton’s exhibition hall as the scene of both the cocktail reception and an after-hours cafe.

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The Blackstone Ball required 173 dinner tables, set with centerpieces that in the aggregate called for 173 birds of Paradise, 173 protea, 173 finely feathered toy parrots coyly posed on 173 branches and, just to goose the numbers, 346 waxy red anthuriums. All this was to satisfy the Brazilian-Copacabana nightclub theme, which was carried through gastronomically with a menu of hearts of palm salad and beef filets garnished with Brazil nuts. Since this was a group that could tell a tart from a tort at a glance, the menu committee arbitrated a dessert that was neither and opted for mango flan in caramel sauce.

Event planners said there was some competition for admission, with seating arranged on the basis of the order in which responses arrived. Attendance also was strictly limited to attorneys and judges (the evening’s honored guests), unlike the situation in former years that allowed clients and other acquaintances to be included.

The enormous attendance was credited in part to the fact that this was the first year the ball went beyond its traditional role as a professional reunion and instead benefited several charities. By the groups’ bylaws, these must be law-related, and the roster of beneficiaries included the San Diego Bar Foundation, the San Diego Bar Auxiliary philanthropies and the San Diego Law Center.

Auxiliary President Lynn Silva said the effort to transform the Blackstone Ball into a fund-raiser had been under way for three years, and the decision to do so means that as of this year, there are virtually no large social events in the city that lack charitable ties.

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The conventional wisdom suggested that assembling so immense an event was less a trial than a challenge, and co-chair Heggeness at first made the work sound more like a romp in the park than a day in court.

‘A Little Nervous’

“Putting this together was just like being at home,” she said. “You just put the ketchup sandwiches on the table and it’s a breeze.” Finally, however, Heggeness admitted that preparing for 1,700 guests “makes you a little nervous.” The ball was a year in the planning.

As things turned out, the ball also posed quite a challenge for the hotel; banquet captain Keryl Turner said the staff had been assembled over the course of a month. Peeling those 11,000 pesky shrimp also was something of a novelty, according to executive chef Bob Brody.

But the shrimp are part of the Blackstone Ball tradition, and they went down swimmingly during the reception in the cavernous exhibit hall. The room was darkened, perhaps to conceal its occasional use as a garage, but more likely to highlight the spotlights that shone on a Carmen Miranda look-alike. Her role, as things developed, extended beyond demonstrating some of the more boisterous steps of the samba to forming a conga line that pranced up the stairs to dinner. Some of the more daring barristers cast jurisprudence to the wind and joined in, plowing noisily through a cascade of balloons that dropped from the ceiling and exploded like a barrage of courtroom questions.

Twin Bands Played

This mesmerizing moment merely presaged further rambunctious dancing in the ballrooms. Twin ballrooms demanded twin bands, and the committee met the need by choosing the 1950s-styled Mar Dels and Lil’ Elmo and the Cosmos, who dished up a nearly endless diet of rock ‘n’ roll after dinner.

California State Bar President Colin Wied, the third San Diegan to hold the post in the organization’s 61-year history, headed the guest list with his wife, Betty. Others were current local Bar President Ned Huntington and incoming President Marc Adelman; former University of San Diego School of Law Dean Sheldon Krantz and Acting Dean Grant Morris; Pamela and Patrick Sullivan; Candace and Richard Haden; Jane and John Hargrove; Betty and Ross Tharp; and Caroline and Richard Huffman.

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The committee included Tauna Corrales, Melinda Green, Margaret Maund, Vera Campbell, Victoria McIntyre, Susan Christensen, Noreen Walton, Lindy Willett, Jan Kincannon, Jeannette Cabot, Julie Maiorano, Charlotte Harris, Shelley Clayton, Debbie Malloy and Linda Saxon.


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