Women in Criminal Justice

Task Force Launches

Carla Laroche and Tina Luongo

From #MeToo to the Harvey Weinstein indictments, Mama Day Bail Outs and the #SayHerName campaigns, women-focused conversations are occurring. Specifically, women working in criminal legal system are talking, thinking, and feeling.

How many of us watched the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and felt pulled in opposite directions by what we watched? We have cross-examined complainants like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at trial. Yet, we watched in, perhaps, angry disbelief as many questioned her credibility.

More telling is, how many of us “old enough to remember” felt the same way when Dr. Anita Hill testified?

What are we advising law students and young lawyers interested in the field of criminal justice about the gendered nature of our work?

Talking about our conflicted feelings and frustration is key to addressing the realities. Recognizing them is critical to understanding recruitment, retention, career satisfaction, and burnout.

Acknowledging that the Criminal Justice Section must take the lead in addressing these issues, Lucian Dervan, current chair of the Criminal Justice Section, launched the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force at the 2018 Fall Meeting in November. The purpose of the Task Force is to publish findings and make policy and practice recommendations that outline the challenges women of diverse backgrounds face in a hard, institutionalized practice such as criminal law and offer cutting-edge solutions that our profession can use to spearhead reform—no small task.

The work of the Task Force will be conducted over three years with the goal to have sustainable and inclusive Section policies, recruitment, and retention plans. The commitment of the Section, the members of the Task Force, and our Advisory Board had to be genuine and invested to give weight to the magnitude of the problems and importance of the solution.

Task Force Membership

The Women in Criminal Justice Task Force sought to ensure that the members reflect the richness of diversity in our criminal justice community. Inclusion has been and will continue to be a key component of the Task Force.

Carla Laroche, my fellow co-chair, and I are honored to introduce the members of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force. As one can see below, our members are respected leaders in our profession and in their communities and jurisdictions. From Tennessee to Michigan, Maine to Kansas, New York City, California, and the District of Columbia, members are diverse racially, in gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, and abilities. Members have worked or served in urban and coastal areas, rural and tribal jurisdictions, the defense bar—both white collar and public defense, the prosecution, the judiciary— both state and federal court, the armed services, and academia.

Lara Bazelon, associate professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law; director of the Criminal & Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinics (CA)

Gloria Ochoa Bruck, City of Spokane, director of Local Government and Multi-Cultural Affairs (WA);

Barbara Creel, professor of law and director of the Southwest Indian Law Clinic, University of New Mexico School of Law (NM;)

The Honorable Bernice Donald, US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (TN);

Daniela Donoso, law student at the Florida State University College of Law (FL);

Maria Carmen Hinayon, founder and principal attorney at the Law Office of Maria Carmen Hinayon (CA);

The Honorable Denise Langford-Morris, Oakland County Circuit Court (MI);

Carla Laroche, visiting clinical professor and director of the Gender and Family Justice Clinic at the Florida State University College of Law Public Interest Law Center (FL);

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice of The Legal Aid Society (NY);

Rachel Pickering, assistant solicitor general in the Office of the Kansas Attorney General (KS);

Sarah Redfield, professor of law at the University of New Hampshire School of Law (ME);

Mara Senn, senior investigator and senior litigation specialist in the Integrity Vice Presidency at the World Bank (DC); and

Major Susan Upward, senior defense counsel, US Marine Corps (CA).

In addition to the esteemed members of this Task Force, Kim Parker, incoming chair of the Criminal Justice Section and Prosecutor Coordinator with the Kansas County & District Attorneys Association, will lead an advisor board of members that will help guide our work.

To guide the Task Force’s approach and discussions, we are thrilled to have Professor Maryam Ahranjani join us as the Task Force reporter. Maryam is the Lee and Leon Karelitz Professor in Evidence and Procedure at the University of New Mexico School of Law and is an expert in educational access who has published on topics such as access to education for immigrants and the prisonilzation of America’s public schools.

National Listening Tour Begins

The logical first step to the Task Force is to start by listening.

For the first year of the Task Force, we are conducting listening events in several jurisdictions where women practitioners and students can discuss their concerns and challenges in the criminal justice system. We are including places where the Section has not often created the space for conversations and to connect to communities we have not engaged with previously. The agenda of each of the listening sessions will be developed by the Task Force in partnership with local bar associations and law schools in each jurisdiction to address topics critical to the women in those communities who are in our profession.

We held our first listening session during a luncheon at the 2018 Fall Meeting. It allowed us to bring a small group of women together to preview the Task Force’s goals and objectives. We had budgeted three hours while wondering how we would keep the conversation going that long.

Well . . . once the conversation began among the women who joined us, it did not stop, and, in fact, we went over the three hours! There was laughter, consensus building, and a healthy bit of debate.

While there was a great amount of frustration about the harsh realities facing women, there was also hope. Many left the luncheon excited about what we just had experienced and what the Task Force would mean for women across the nation. A shared sense of camaraderie and excitement lingered as we met in CLEs during the rest of the Fall Meeting.

That evening as I reflected on the event, I felt as though our first step was a solid one, though not earth-shattering. All of us acknowledged, however, that what we were talking about has been discussed for decades. Many reading this column may be nodding your head in agreement that we have been “here” before. This Task Force, however, brings with it a determination to highlight solutions that will change the conversations, change the way we do things, not only in the Criminal Justice Section, but throughout the profession.

We want to hear from all of you too! We invite you to send us your thoughts and ideas to crimjustice@americanbar.org, with “Women in Criminal Justice” in the subject line.


Carla Laroche

Carla Laroche directs the Gender and Family Justice Clinic as a visiting clinical professor at Florida State University and is co-chair of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force.

Tina Luongo

Tina Luongo is the attorney in charge of the criminal defense practice of The Legal Aid Society and co-chair of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force.