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JAMS ADR Insights

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Neutral Spotlights & Profiles

“My Story” Featuring Hon. Annette M. Rizzo (Ret.)

A video snapshot of JAMS mediator, arbitrator and referee/special master Judge Annette Rizzo

Judge Annette Rizzo felt a profound connection to the law from a young age.

"I really wanted to be part of that system. I wanted to be a mouthpiece for people who could not speak for themselves," she recalls, revealing her deep-seated passion for justice and advocacy.

Judge Rizzo began her career in government service and eventually moved on to working at Rawle & Henderson, the oldest law firm in the U.S. There, she worked in a number of areas, including civil rights, medical malpractice and products liability. She then began working at Cigna, which brought her back to government affairs involving insurance and generic public policy. Each step in her journey added layers to her legal expertise, which ultimately led her to serving on the bench.

Commitment to Public Service

Elevating her career to public service, Judge Rizzo served on the bench for 16 years. Her dedication extended beyond the courtroom, as she engaged deeply in community work. She sits on multiple boards, including Philadelphia Legal Assistance, and imparts legal knowledge as an adjunct professor at Temple University School of Law. Her work in these roles is not just professional duty, but also a mission to mentor and empower.

"My partnership with various boards ... gives me an opportunity to really deal head-on with DEI issues," she states, underscoring her commitment to fostering inclusive legal practices.

Innovating in Crisis: The Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program

During the mortgage finance crisis of 2008–2010, Judge Rizzo was the architect of what became known as Philadelphia’s Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program.

“It was a program that really put face to face conversations between distressed homeowners and the mortgage finance lenders and attorneys,” she explains.

This groundbreaking initiative aimed to mitigate the crisis of homelessness. She also points out that the dialogue was "one that was mediated as opposed to litigated," highlighting the program’s unique approach. Her innovative efforts received national and international acclaim, including an invitation to the White House. The program is now used as a template for eviction prevention programs nationwide.

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What You Give Is What You Get

Reflecting on her life's work, Judge Rizzo speaks with humility and gratitude. "What you give is also what you get," she remarks, encapsulating her philosophy of life. Her journey is marked not just by professional achievements, but also by her passion for cultural exploration and her unwavering commitment to community service.

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