Justice Judith McConnell – 2019 Brent Awards

Justice Judith McConnell – 2019 Brent Awards

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Judy and I met in 1971 back in the 70s
there weren’t too many nice places to have lunch downtown the one nice place
was the Grant Grill. There was a big sign out front that’s something to the
effect men only noon to 3:00 and Judy and I decided we were going to try to
change that and we went in and we got booed
Judy and I were determined that we weren’t gonna let that deter us and we
kept going back until finally one day the sign came down that’s sort of, ah,
indicative of Judy’s determination and her willing to stand up to ridicule to
do what’s right there are many justices and judges who
love and honor the legal profession but I haven’t come across anybody who
respects it more than Judy she won’t use her position which she has earned the
hard way not even to get a table in a restaurant we get the worst tables I’m
never gonna let her make a reservation again
I’ve known Judy darn near 20 years I’ve been in private practice and then when I
was appointed to the bench Judy and another woman judge met with me for
lunch and just said how can we help you be successful how can we help you
transition but I came to find out she did this for every woman judge it wasn’t
just me she was the third woman judge to the San Diego Superior Court there just
weren’t women judges at that period of time if you look back at her career her
whole career she has blazed a trail but she’s made sure that it’s been open to
other women I know Justice McConnell from 2012 when
I was first interested and exploring the possibility of becoming a judge she’s
been instrumental in helping me achieve my dream of becoming a judge I actually
can’t think of anyone who more deserving of the award based on her
professional achievements but also I would say equally as importantly the
influence that she’s had on women in pursuing their legal careers and
assisting them through that process having served as you may know already 23
years on the trial courts and being one of their first female presiding judges
Justice McConnell I think is your consummate jurist she really knows
what’s happening boots on the ground and she is respected not only on the bench
but for her outreach in the trial courts and in the legal community to equalise
and mentor women she came up through the law at a time when there weren’t a lot
of women in the law so she has lived the experience of being the first and the
only in the room and she’s been dissatisfied with being the first and
the only in the room through all of the work she still finds time to volunteer
if you look at what she’s done she’s the founder of so many organizations that
advance social justice, women’s issues, equity equality and one thing that all
of her involvement has in common is that it is to create more voices at the table
she is about giving people opportunity because she believes I think the world
is a safer fairer more just place along with it. Thank you so much for this high
honor. Thank you Lawyers Club of San Diego you made Southwest Airlines very rich
thank you the National Association of Women Judges for your support and
California Women Lawyers. I hate to follow Kelly Dermody can you I just
couldn’t believe what a beautiful speech she gave and it is such a pleasure to be
here with all of these outstanding lawyers and judges I’m particularly
pleased my family especially my husband professor Randall Collins can be here my
children and the heart of hearts my grandchildren Patrick and Mica who are
the joy of my life. When I graduated from Berkeley Law School 50 years ago I was
unaware of the challenges facing women in joining the legal profession of
course I had experienced the razzing that women law students taught in
those days like why are you taking up a man’s space but it just didn’t sink in I
knew that there were few women law students and thus few women lawyers but
the depth of hostility toward women was a rude awakening and many of you in this
room experienced this I’m sure in addition to the challenges faced by
those of you who are women of color with the support of friends and colleagues we
fought to change our world and bit by bit we have done so 42 years ago I
became one of the few women judges in the state a small group of us from all
over the country under the inspired leadership of Justices John Dempsey
Klein and Thano Spencer and also I might add Cissy Daughtry Gladys Kessler
and Christine Durham who are here and I’m so pleased that they’re here we
formed the National Association of Women Judges in order to promote diversity on
the bench, to eliminate bias in the courts we put together the first
educational program in the country to teach judges how to eliminate gender
bias from judicial decision-making and from courtroom interactions we saw the
first and the second the third and the fourth women join the Supreme Court our
world has changed today the number of women graduating from law schools has
gone from a handful to about 50% and the number of women on the bench has risen
to about 30% we see women as district attorneys city attorneys attorneys
general and of course senators members of Congress like my friend Lynn Schenk
who’s here – I can’t see her but she’s here- and governors we have women as chief
justices throughout the country and I still wonder though why after all these
years the percentage of women on the bench remains about 30 percent
there’s been no natural progression in all elements of our profession since
large firm practice is still primarily held by led by men women are hired as
new associates but leave because the life that they find there at a law firm
is not what they want for themselves and the challenges facing those of us who
choose to have families are significant so much remains to be done recently
we’ve seen the rise of the #MeToo movement some are surprised that complaints of
abuse that occurred many years ago had not previously been aired there are very
few women in the profession who can say they were never sexually harassed or
worse assaulted yet we remained silent and I say we meaning that quite
literally we remained silent since to complain would have ended our careers
I’ve told some people about the time a judge put his hand around my throat. I
ended up with bruises around my throat because he didn’t like the assignment
I’d given him but I did nothing which still shocks me to this day some
have said that the backlash to me too will burden women professional for years
we cannot allow that to happen in the last decade I do think it’s up to
everyone in this room to make sure that does not happen that we handle this
professionally ethically and appropriately so that it does not happen
in the last decade we’ve also seen increased attacks on the judiciary often
because of unpopular decisions under the leadership of Chief Justice Tani
Cantil-Sakauye we’ve been working in California to educate the public and
particularly our children about the third branch of government and the
importance of fair and impartial courts the National Association of Women Judges’
Informed Voters Project has prepared a brilliant video by the way Kelly worked
on that with us and we featured Sandra Day O’Connor and the video is about the
importance of fair and free courts we’re working nationwide to educate the public
that courts must remain impartial in order to render the justice we expect
from them and by the way the civic education is
not limited to the courts we want to educate all about the three branches
people are surprisingly ignorant that there are three branches of government all of us in this room need to do what
we can to preserve our constitutional system we need to ensure that all
members of our community including our children appreciate and support the
democracy we love thank you once again for being here

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