I met with retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell in her San Jose, California, office just days before she retired again—this time from a five-year term as the independent police auditor for the City of San Jose. Judge Cordell was the first female African American judge in Northern California. Because of her commitment to justice in all forms, whether in the context of family law, criminal law, or police conduct, she ran problem-solving courts years before the term was coined. Her pursuit of justice has extended from work with poor children in Mississippi through an illustrious legal career to her latest endeavor to bring African American classical composers to the attention of the public. She fits the Waymaker definition of “a courageous pioneer for justice” hands down.
Judge Cordell, the themes of community and service seem to run through your life history. You were born in Pennsylvania. I’m curious about the nature of the community that you were raised in.
It’s an interesting community, actually. I was raised in an African American community within Ardmore, Pennsylvania, which is smack in the middle of the Main Line, where the old money of this country originated. We’re talking about the DuPont family, the Heinz family, and others.
I grew up on a street called Aubrey Avenue. All of the folks who lived there were the service providers for the wealthy people on the Main Line. My mother’s mother was a domestic. My grandfather was the cook, and eventually head chef, at the Haverford School, which is a private school for boys. My father’s mother was a domestic on the Main Line as well. I had a great uncle who ran a limousine service; he was a chauffeur. So it was the wealthy people of the Main Line that provided all these jobs for all these black folks who lived in Ardmore.