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Aspiring judges need female mentors

March 29, 2021

The United States needs more female judges – and more female mentors to encourage young women to become judges.

That was the conclusion of seven female judges and former judges who gathered March 26 to discuss their careers and the obstacles that still exist to diversifying the judiciary. One by one, they told stories of overcoming biases against women in law school, in the legal profession and even on the bench.

Panelists at “Judicial Milestones in the Quest for Women’s Equality” urged female mentors to encourage young women to become judges.

Panelists at “Judicial Milestones in the Quest for Women’s Equality” urged female mentors to encourage young women to become judges.

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Bernadette D’Souza was a legal aid lawyer when a judge approached her and said he saw her representing domestic violence victims every day in court. “You know more than any of us on the bench,” he said. “Why don’t you run for the family court?” D’Souza is now chief judge of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court in New Orleans.

Patricia Ann Timmons-Goodson said it never occurred to her to become a judge until a mentor asked if she had ever considered joining the bench. She was 29 years old at the time and soon after became a county court judge. Eventually, she became the first Black female justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. She is now retired from the bench.

And when Tara Osborn joined the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps in 1988, there were no female colonels. She later became the Army’s second female chief trial judge, presiding over the capital court martial of Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas. She is retired from the military now but enjoys mentoring young lawyers as she herself was mentored.

“We can’t backslide and we can’t be satisfied with one person who broke the barrier,” Osborn said.

Paulette Brown grew up in segregated schools in Baltimore until fifth grade. She eventually became a lawyer and a municipal court judge in New Jersey, and later, the first Black female president of the American Bar Association in 2015. She said she now works with a mentoring group for women of color to “pay it forward” for those who mentored her years ago.

Quoting former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, she said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Currently, 28% of all federal judges are women, according to the Federal Judicial Center. Approximately 37% of all justices on state supreme courts are women, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. That’s exactly the same as the percentage of women in the legal profession in 2020 – 37%, according to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey.

The program, titled “Judicial Milestones in the Quest for Women’s Equality,” was hosted by the ABA Judicial Division and co-sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and the ABA Division for Public Education.

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