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Lawyers of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome.

 

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The Nation’s Best Legal Commentator: What I Learned Through Muppet Theory

Posted By Guest Blogger Haylee Saathoff, Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Have you ever thought about what kind of Muppet you are? I can admit, before learning that this year’s Annual Dinner speaker was Dahlia Lithwick, I had not. Dahlia Lithwick is an accomplished, experienced journalist, and, for lack of a better term, a downright cool woman. She has made her career as a journalist, covering law and politics. She was front and center in covering Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and was even the subject of one of her own columns when she bravely shared her own #metoo story. In 2018, Lithwick was awarded the 2018 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism and referred to as, “the nation’s best legal commentator for two decades.”

Ironically, though, one of her more viral articles was not actually one of her strictly legal or political pieces. Lithwick has remarked that the piece most repeated to her, brought up in conversation, and remembered by readers has nothing to do with the decisions of the Supreme Court or the political happenings of the last twenty years. It has to do with the Muppets. Yes, the Muppets.

In 2012, Lithwick wrote an article for Slate, the outlet where she is currently senior editor, called “Chaos Theory: A Unified Theory of Muppet Types.” The heart of the piece is this: there are only Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets, and we are all one of the two. Once you know which type of Muppet you are, you will have it all figured out –whom you should marry, what your job should be, all of it.

While I cannot say I have it all figured out, I can say that when I read Lithwick’s piece on Chaos Theory, I did not even have to reach the end before I had already self-identified as an Order Muppet. You are either order (like Kermit the Frog, Bert) or chaos (like Miss Piggy, Ernie, Animal), and to me, the choice was glaringly obvious. Maybe to others less so, or maybe it is easier to identify the people around you, your spouses, friends, family, and colleagues, than it is to identify yourself.

One of my favorite lines from Lithwick’s piece on Muppet Theory is, “It is hard to be ruthlessly honest when evaluating one’s own Muppet Classification. As is the case when going shopping for white pants, your best bet is probably just to trust a friend.” Her writing style is one reason why I think Lithwick is a downright cool woman. She sets an example that you can be funny, creative, smart, and serious all at once. That you can write about Supreme Court decisions that change the foundation of our country one day, and the Muppets the next. And you know what? You can go back to the Supreme Court the day after that.

As a woman at the beginning of my career, I sometimes worry that the only way to be taken seriously is to be, well, serious. Dahlia Lithwick’s career and work is a testament to the fact that the personality you show in your work may just be what others remember about you. It is entirely possible to be both creative and by-the-book, both funny and serious; these are not “either/or” options. Really, the only “either/or” option is your Muppet Type—you are either Order or Chaos, and you are definitely one of the two.

Lawyers Club of San Diego is delighted to feature Lithwick as this year’s Annual Dinner speaker on May 9, 2019. Tickets are on sale now, click here to register.

 

Haylee Saathoff is a labor and employment attorney at Fisher Phillips and a member of San Diego Lawyers Club’s Annual Dinner Committee.

 

 

 

Tags:  Annual Dinner  chaos  Dahlia Lithwick  guest blogger  legal profession  MeToo  muppets  order  women 

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Guest Blog - Taking Ownership of Weakness: Leading Despite Uncertainty

Posted By Frantz Farreau, Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Guest Blog - Taking Ownership of Weakness: Leading Despite Uncertainty

 

I remember when I first started leading a counseling group at RJ Donovan State Prison. I was incredibly unsure of myself. Who am I, I thought, to lead this group, filled with people who are all so much older than I am? I felt thoroughly unqualified, and I believed that the group members would inevitably question my right to lead them. At the time, I did not realize that feeling unsure was a normal part of leading. I thought that leading a group meant that I came in with all the answers. I thought that I had to know exactly what was going to happen, exactly what I was going to say, exactly how people were going to respond. It was an unrealistic expectation, because everybody has uncertainty. All people, including people leading, are unsure of themselves at some point.

 

Ultimately, I opted to address the question head on. I told the group members that I was feeling unsure, and I wanted them to know that I would try my best, but to let me know what I could improve to help them as much as possible. By talking to the group members about my uncertainty, I was taking ownership of the fact that I was not perfect, but I was still in the lead. By addressing my uncertainty, I allowed both myself and the members of the group to see that I was able to lead even though I did not have all the answers.

 

When I decided to present my uncertainty to the group, I was quite surprised by the response: I found that the group members not only had no qualms about my being a leader, but were also thankful that I had demonstrated that it was okay to be unsure. When they saw me talk about my concerns, they saw me model what they needed to do to address their concerns about their own lives. In showing my vulnerability and uncertainty, I was still leading them because I was showing them what they needed to do to achieve their goals: ask for help. And they respected that. It is easy to sit from a facilitator chair and talk to the participants about the importance of being vulnerable. That is not true leadership. True leadership is being able to demonstrate so others can learn.

 

Going through that experience helped me understand that a leader continues to be inspiring, even in moments of vulnerability and weakness. Leaders are not inspirational because they have no uncertainty, they are inspirational because they show us that having foibles is okay. They are willing to be open about facing challenges and in so doing demonstrate strength. When leaders take ownership of their weaknesses, it makes us realize that we are strong enough to lead and inspire ourselves.

 

Frantz C. Farreau wrote this for Lawyers Club’s Leadership Development Committee, and is an attorney, real estate agent, and the volunteer coordinator for the Restorative Justice Reentry Prep Program at RJMP in San Diego. 

Tags:  confidence  Donovan  guest blogger  insecurity  LCB  leadership  leadership development  prison  reentry 

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Guest Blog: LGBTQ Rights Up For Interpretation?

Posted By Kimberly Ahrens, Wednesday, March 14, 2018
 

LGBTQ Rights Up For Interpretation?

 

This past June, I fell in love with Tennessee after visiting a friend who moved there a couple years back. We spent an entire day floating down the Harpeth River—enjoying the slow pace and dense lush forest that hugs the riverbank. After our canoeing adventure, we gathered around a fire pit in her backyard, watched a blanket of fireflies illuminate the earth around us, and discussed how different life is in Tennessee compared to Southern California.

 

The conversation turned to the question of whether my wife and I would ever consider moving to Tennessee. As a lesbian couple, it is impossible for us to not consider the level of LGBTQ acceptance when we consider moving to, or even visiting, another state or country. And, Tennessee is a prime example of a state that does not have any explicit law prohibiting discrimination against me based on my sexual orientation.  

 

Without explicit federal protection from workplace discrimination, LGBTQ families like mine are left at the mercy of state non-discrimination laws and shifting interpretations of federal law. A simple decision to move to a state void of any statewide anti-discrimination laws, coupled with recent federal government position reversals, could easily result in an inability to find a job merely because of the gender of my spouse.

 

Over the years, LGBTQ people have been forced to rely on a hodgepodge of regulations, state laws, federal guidance opinions, and local ordinances to create a patchwork of protection against discrimination. Unfortunately, this path can be unpredictable and unreliable because many states do not have any anti-discrimination laws and federal agencies have complete discretion to rescind, revise, or rollback their guidance opinions.

 

I look forward to learning more about recent changes to the interpretation of LGBTQ protections under federal civil rights laws and pending legislation at an upcoming MCLE panel discussion coordinated by Lawyers Club's LGBTQ Committee and Tom Homann LGBT Law Association (Friday, March 16, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. – register here to join us).  

 

The panel will include esteemed speakers, Amanda Goad, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and Alexander Chen, Equal Justice Works Fellow, National Center for Lesbian Rights. They will provide an in-depth review of recent federal government position reversals on sexual discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, religion as a license to discriminate, transgender military service, and more.

 

After the panel discussion, guests are welcome to attend a reception where we can mingle and continue talking about these important topics.

 

Kimberly Ahrens is the founder of The Ahrens Law Office and is the current chair of Lawyers Club’s LGBTQ Committee.

 

Tags:  discrimination  equality  guest blogger  LCB  LGBTQ 

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Guest Blog: 45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade – Part 4

Posted By Christina Prejean, Tuesday, January 30, 2018
45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade – Part 4

 

As part of a Lawyers Club blog series in celebration of the 45th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, I interviewed Chrissy Cmorik, the Education Outreach Manager of the San Diego location of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (PPPSW). Below, Ms. Cmorik details her role in the reproductive justice movement, and discusses both the changes made since Roe v. Wade and what still needs to be done to ensure that everyone has access to the reproductive services they need.

 

What is your role in the reproductive justice movement?

 

CC: My role at PPPSW is Education Manager. I ensure that our agency is providing medically accurate, inclusive, and comprehensive sexuality education in our communities. I ensure that all youth, regardless of their zip code or legal status, are receiving the same high quality sexuality education. I also train teachers, medical professionals, and other professionals on reproductive health as well as other topics around trauma informed care, sexual health disparities, values and sexuality. I have been a member of San Diego County’s SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) for 14 years. In this role, I respond to sexual assault cases to provide immediate counseling as well as advocacy to the survivor.

 

What does "reproductive justice" mean to you?

 

CC: Reproductive Justice is when all people have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about their bodies, sexuality and reproduction for themselves, their families and their communities in all areas of their lives.

 

How do you think reproductive rights, services or access have changed since the Roe v. Wade decision?

 

CC: There have been many changes since Roe v. Wade that has improved access for some members of our communities, in regards to access to abortion, birth control and reproductive health in general. But many of our marginalized communities (rural population, people of color, youth, and LGBTQ people) have been left out of the conversation around health care needs and access. In the past 13 years since I have been working with PPPSW, I have seen how people are starting to become more aware of the intersectionality between health and many other social justice issues and the organizations starting to work together to address health disparities and access.

 

What would you say is the number one need or reproductive service for those who have limited or no access to reproductive services in San Diego?

 

CC: Transportation. In San Diego, we do not have a strong public transportation system like other big cities. It is difficult for those who do not drive or have access to a car to access services at our health centers.

 

Where do you think the reproductive justice movement is heading, locally, statewide and/or nationally?

 

CC: I think we are headed into creating easier ways to access services; mobile health centers, minute clinics, etc. I also think we are starting to work out of our normal silos and with other organizations to help address the whole person and all of their needs.

 

What are the best ways for attorneys and law students to help?

 

CC: Advocating against and working to eliminate T.R.A.P. (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that infringe on a person’s access to reproductive health.

 

 

Christina Prejean is a civil litigation attorney at Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman, LLP, who also handles pro-bono cases through Casa Cornelia and Protect Our Defenders, and wrote this for the Reproductive Justice Committee.

Tags:  guest blogger  LCB  reproductive justice  reproductive justice committee  reproductive rights 

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Guest Post: 45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade - Part 3

Posted By Katie Aul, Thursday, January 25, 2018
45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade – Part 3

 

As part of a Lawyers Club blog series in celebration of the 45th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, I interviewed Amanda Le. Le serves on the Board of Directors for the San Diego Coalition for Reproductive Justice and she’s employed by the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties as a policy associate. At ACLU, her responsibilities include advancing reproductive justice such as implementation of comprehensive sexual education through the California Healthy Youth Act which became law in January 2016.

 

Below is a summary of my interview with Ms. Le:

 

What does "reproductive justice" mean to you? 

 

AL: To me, reproductive justice addresses one’s complete well-being and the ability to exercise complete autonomy over one’s own body. The Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice points out the importance of fighting for (1) the right to have a child; (2) the right not to have a child; and (3) the right to parent the children we have, as well as to control our birthing options. This description resonates with me.

 

It’s important to emphasize that the human rights framework of today’s reproductive justice movement was founded by women of color for women of color. I give credit to key figures in the movement including Loretta Ross of Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.

 

How do you think access to reproductive services and the ability to exercise reproductive rights has changed since Roe v. Wade

 

AL: Certainly, there’s greater access to reproductive services in California, in terms of availability and legal rights. However, access options can vary depending on affordability, distance to travel, and stigma. For example, denial of critical care at religiously affiliated hospitals is not uncommon. One in six hospital beds in the U.S. is in a facility that complies with Catholic directives prohibiting a range of reproductive health care services.

 

What would you say is the most needed reproductive service for those who have limited or no access to reproductive services in San Diego? 

 

AL: Oh, that’s hard. I’d say the greatest need is comprehensive sexual health education. It’s essential for people to have medically accurate and unbiased information so as to make healthy decisions. Additionally, it’s important that people know their rights related to their sexual health and accessing reproductive services.   

 

Where do you think the reproductive justice movement is heading – locally, statewide or nationally? 

 

AL: This has been a tough year for the reproductive justice movement. We’ve seen constant attacks on people’s reproductive rights and more. Nevertheless, it’s been heartening to see strong resistance and demonstrations of support from individuals and communities intent on protecting their more vulnerable neighbors.

 

I’m very inspired to see young people take ownership of reproductive justice issues in innovative and visionary ways. I’ve met students who were politically engaged, passionate, active in their communities, self-aware and confident. I truly believe that allowing more of this work to be informed and led by young people can only benefit the reproductive justice movement.  

  

What are the best ways for attorneys and law students to help the reproductive justice movement? 

 

AL: Law students can educate themselves on California Senate Bill 320, written to expand access to medication abortion at public universities. Currently, no publicly-funded university in California provides their students with medication abortion service. Students seeking early pregnancy termination are unable to access this care on campus, and often must find their way to unknown providers without reliable transportation. 

 

For attorneys: Donate your legal expertise through pro-bono work on cases related to reproductive justice, or volunteer time to a particular campaign. For attorneys with more disposable income than time, the reproductive justice movement welcomes financial support. For example, the National Network of Abortion Funds provides financial support to folks seeking an abortion throughout the country.

 

Lastly, attorneys and law students can help by sharing their own abortion story or sharing about a time they helped a loved one obtain an abortion. I believe in the power of storytelling to reframe narratives and lessen the stigma of abortion. 

 

 

Katie R. Aul wrote this for Lawyers Club’s Reproductive Justice Committee and is an associate at Ryan & Associates. 

Tags:  guest blogger  LCB  reproductive justice  reproductive justice committee 

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Guest Blog: 45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade – Part 2

Posted By Tracy Rogers, Thursday, January 18, 2018
 

45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade – Part 2

 

As part of a Lawyers Club blog series in celebration of the 45th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, I interviewed Marsela Rojas-Salas, Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator with El Programa Hispano Católico. Ms. Rojas-Salas will be receiving the first ever Audre Lorde Emerging Leader Award at the 45th Anniversary of Roe V. Wade Breakfast Celebration Breakfast hosted by the San Diego Coalition for Reproductive Justice on Friday, January 26, 2018. Below is a summary of my interview.

 

Marsela Rojas-Salas moved to San Diego in 2015 for graduate school and in the spring of 2016, furthered her activism with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ). With CLRJ, Rojas-Salas’s confidence in organizing began to grow. “The power of holding space for our traumas collectively, while organizing with and educating our community on reproductive justice issues was affirmed,” said Rojas-Salas.

 

Expanding the reproductive justice network has been critical to her role in the movement. This led to bringing No Más Bebes to San Diego State University, engaging students to become more critical of the history of sterilization against Latina immigrant women in Los Angeles. Rojas-Salas also co-facilitated a workshop on the differences between reproductive rights, health, and justice through the Women’s Resource Center.

 

In August of 2017, CLRJ staff hosted their first California Latinas Presente! in which members from the San Diego chapter recruited community members to join a Day of Action. CLRJ provided hands-on training on California's policy making process and effective policy advocacy strategies, followed by visits with federal and state legislators and their staff to discuss priority reproductive justice policy issues like the Gender Recognition Act, which passed in California!

 

Rojas-Salas wants readers to know that reproductive oppression and the resulting movement involves many overlapping societal factors. Reproductive oppression is represented through the forced sterilization of black, indigenous people of color in the 1960s and 1970s in Puerto Rico and Los Angeles; coerced sterilization of women in prisons that only recently ended in 2014; and the ways in which people with disabilities have been deemed unfit for parenthood.

 

Reproductive oppression is also illustrated by the ways in which the mainstream media portrays poor black women as “Welfare Queens,” and the children of undocumented women of color as “anchor babies” who seek to suck the system dry of its so-called benefits. Such stereotypes blame women of color for overpopulation and insufficient government funds, and thus, shape U.S. policy that is anti-immigrant, anti-black, and forces parents of color and their respective communities to struggle under capitalism.

 

Reproductive justice must also be about the right to have children and the right to raise youth in a world free of police brutality, environmental racism, sexual and gendered violence, homophobia and transphobia, violent detention centers and deportations, gentrification and displacement of communities of color, and so much more! This requires radical friendships, says Rojas-Salas. “For many of us, our politics and our activism are intimately tied to cultivating radical friendships with women, femmes, queer, and trans folks of color,” and many more.

 

When asked, “What are the best ways for attorneys and law students to help?” Marsela replied, “Utilize a reproductive justice lens in your work. There is an organization called “If/When/How” that supports law students in creating reproductive justice chapters on campus and even provides online toolkits on various issues such as reproductive justice in the prison system, women of color and the struggle for reproductive justice, reproductive justice for LGBTQ folks, as well as a chapter leader guide.”

 

Tracy Rogers is an appellate lawyer specializing in criminal appeals and wrote this as the Lawyers Club liaison to the San Diego Reproductive Justice Coalition.

Tags:  activism  guest blogger  LCB  politics  reproductive justice  reproductive justice committee  reproductive rights 

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Guest Blog - Leading Lawyers: Choosing Vulnerability

Posted By Guest Blogger, Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Leading Lawyers: Choosing Vulnerability 

This summer, someone I knew took his life – the brother-in-law of one of my best friends. I did not know him well. I know his wife better, and have watched his teenage kids grow up over the years. I became peripherally involved at the last minute: Asked to assist with legal insight and advice navigating work-related litigation; talking and texting with his concerned and anxious wife; determining if I could possibly help relieve his fears and anxiety.

I never ended up actually communicating with him directly. Instead of making our scheduled call, he chose to opt out of life. His family had been worried. They knew he could be at risk. They tried to get him to seek help – not simply legal, but psychiatric. As I understand it, he refused, not seeing an avenue out other than the one he chose. 

When something this sad happens, it leaves everyone with questions. A main one for me: Why is there such a continued stigma in our society about seeking support for depression, mental illness, or for a really bad, it-just-keeps-getting-worse time in life?

Particularly in the legal culture, heaven help those who show vulnerability. We are a culture of advocates, warriors, and, quite frankly, bullies. The old “take no prisoners” mentality gets equally applied to those within our firms and sometimes families. It happens all the time; I know from decades of personal experience and observation.

For our own health and the well-being of our profession, that antiquated mentality needs to change. Yes, we are tough—tough enough to make it acceptable to ask for help and support when we need it, without the accompanying stigma and shame. We lose too many brilliant lawyers every year. Even more suffer silently from depression and substance abuse issues. We all know the statistics.

Vulnerability is strength.

How as a leader in your life and law firm do you embrace and model vulnerability? How do you acknowledge that it is acceptable to be human and still be a strong, brilliant advocate? How do you show up for others by demonstrating with your mere honest presence that they do not have to do life alone?

Somehow, in the legal culture, we need to accept and acknowledge that it is okay to be vulnerable. That in our vulnerability, contrary to popular opinion, we actually demonstrate strength – a strength of perseverance and surrender that opens the door to true meaningful connection with others, a connection that might just help us heal, that might just help us find a path forward out of the dark, both as individuals and in the collective.

The fact is, we all need help at one time or another. Unless you live in a Teflon bubble, life gets the best of everyone at some point. Sometimes our only way through is by accepting that we cannot do it alone. It is too big. Too messy. Too unknown. Just plain too much. And, that has to be acceptable.

A paradigm shift starts with individual leaders. Begin to be brave and dare to challenge the idea that vulnerability means weakness and failure. We are all human and imperfect, accept that fact and life gets easier. It just does. 

My heart goes out to my friend, her family, the kids, and loved ones. Take time to care for you and yours. Remember, success is a team sport – you don’t have to do it alone.

Michele Powers, Esq., wrote this for the Leadership Development Committee and is the owner of Elite Lawyer Coaching (www.elitelawyercoach.com).

Tags:  authentic  career  guest blogger  LCB  leadership  legal profession  strength  vulnerability 

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Guest Blog - Surviving Domestic Violence: My Personal Journey

Posted By Dovie Yoana King, Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Guest Blog - Surviving Domestic Violence: My Personal Journey

 

Domestic violence is a serious, preventable, public health epidemic that affects millions of Americans each year. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, education, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or national origin. Domestic violence is usually accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior that is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control.

 

Survivors of abuse tend to suffer alone in silence, leading lives of isolation, shame, fear and secrecy. It takes incredible determination for survivors to step forward and seek help. I speak from personal experience, as I too was once a victim of domestic violence.

 

In my case, I married over a decade ago with every illusion of living a happy life. I was a young attorney at the peak of my career and thriving in my personal and professional life. I had a bright future ahead of me; however, the illusion of happiness quickly shattered. I endured domestic violence in the form of emotional, verbal, sexual, physical, and financial abuse for years. 

 

Unfortunately, like many other professional women, I did not think it could happen to me. After all, I am educated, bright, and talented. I have high self-esteem and am successful in my career as a lawyer, fighting for social justice on behalf of my clients. Thus, I did not feel I fit the stereotype of an abused woman. But behind closed doors, I was hiding a dark secret – I was being constantly berated, belittled, humiliated, and devalued by my abuser, and all of this was compounded by other forms of abuse.

 

But all was not lost. I decided to break the silence and get help to escape the abuse. I contacted a hotline for help and was put in touch with my local police department. From there, I was referred to the San Diego Family Justice Center, which is an organization that provides free and comprehensive services to victims of abuse and their children. I filed for divorce and successfully obtained both a domestic violence restraining order and the sole, legal, and physical custody of my young child. I began attending weekly support groups and therapy sessions for abused women. In the process, I connected with other survivors who came from all walks of life, finding mutual support and inspiration that persists to this day. In time, my child and I were able to move from San Diego to Boston, where I accepted a position at Harvard Law School. We now enjoy greater peace and safety.

 

Despite that devastating chapter in my life, I consider myself lucky because I got help through it. My goal in publically sharing my story is to shatter stereotypes about who is affected by domestic violence. Often, intelligent and successful women like me fall victim to abuse and are quickly engulfed in shame. That shame is one way an abuser exerts power and control over a woman to keep her trapped in the abusive relationship, and reaching out is a good first step in breaking free. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers confidential 24/7 help at 1-800-799-7233.

Guest blogger Dovie Yoana King is the founder and director of SOAR for Justice (www.soarforjustice.org), an organization dedicated to helping survivors of abuse rise for justice. 

Tags:  abuse  custody  domestic violence  escape  family violence  guest blogger  hotline  LCB  National Domestic Violence Hotline  police  San Diego Family Justice Center  stereotypes  survivors 

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Guest Blog: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Posted By Sandra Morris, Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Guest Blog: The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

 

I belong to a family law listserv that includes others besides members of the family law legal community. The other day, a professional preparing a vocational evaluation inquired as to whether any of the attorneys on the listserv would hire as a paralegal a woman who had a 30 year-old paralegal certificate and had not worked as a paralegal since 4 months after receiving it. This resulting question and answer brought me up short:

 

A male attorney answered, “If she’s Scarlett Johannsen [sic], yes. Or Jennifer Lawrence.”

 

A female attorney responded, “So . . . if she was good looking eye candy, her actual skills wouldn’t matter? What is this, 1950?”

 

1950 indeed. Insuring we were not in a time warp, the female responding attorney was told that the male attorney was just joking.

 

I privately thanked the woman for speaking out, but as I thought about this exchange, it seemed to me that we were in a teachable moment. We used to call it consciousness raising. I thought about black face make-up. I thought about Polish jokes. I thought about “there was a car crash with a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Minister…” I thought about blonde jokes. I thought about how many times the subject of the joke was told to suck it up, laugh it off, or be considered humorless by the joke teller and audience. I thought about all the times an audience sucked it up and laughed it off, even when they didn’t like it, rather than appear humorless or non-collegial. And so, I wrote:

 

“I have read the emails with some interest. It is easiest to say nothing, but I believe that it is more important to speak up regarding the issue that has been created, than to remain silent and lose the opportunity for some consciousness raising. 

 

Persons who are not white, male or protestant, or heterosexual, have long been subjected to jokes that are painful to them, but as to which they are told they should pass if off, have some humor, or not make a big deal of it. Not speaking out to say that the comment or joke was hurtful, creates the impression that there was nothing offensive in the remarks, or that whoever did speak out was overly sensitive. Silence is the price paid to not be subjected to further repercussions. 

 

Women have fought really hard to have a seat at the table as equals with men; to have pay as equals for the same work; to progress up the corporate or law firm ladders equally with men. They are not there yet. They need jobs just as much as men. Sometimes, given the number of households headed by a single woman, they need them more than men. When employed, they are often subjected to inappropriate comments and behavior, and risk losing their advancement or even their jobs by reporting it. It is not funny to suggest that all they need to be hired is a pretty face or body.

 

To quote the Supreme Court of Minnesota, which in 1984 quoted Plutarch in censuring a judge in Minnesota for comments made towards a woman prosecutor that were claimed by the judge to be made in good humor, “‘Tho’ boys thro’ stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest.’”

 

I received thanks from a number of people, and a couple of angry responses from male attorneys. One disputed there was a glass ceiling and accused me of grinding men under my feet based on a false narrative.  

 

The more things change . . .

 

Sandra, a "Founding Mother" of Lawyers Club, has been in practice since 1970, is a past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and is of counsel at Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek.

Tags:  founding mother  guest blogger  jokes  joking  listserv  Minnesota  Plutarch  sexism  vocational evaluation 

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Guest Blog: "The Passing of Judge Vaino Hassan Spencer; a Trailblazer for African American Women in the Judiciary"

Posted By Shanly Hopkins, Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Passing of Judge Vaino Hassan Spencer; a Trailblazer for African American Women in the Judiciary

 

Today, we remember the legacy of Judge Vaino Hassan Spencer who has passed away on October 25, 2016 at the age of 96, and recognize her as an individual who broke barriers in the legal field. Judge Spencer was the first African-American woman appointed to a judgeship in California and co-founded the Black Women Lawyers Association and the National Association of Women Judges. Her passing reminds us to recognize, honor, and thank, not only Judge Spencer, but also all African-American and minority women for their contributions to the legal community.

 

Judge Vaino Hassan Spencer has been a trailblazer since the beginning of her career. At the age of 32 she became the third African American woman to be admitted to the California State Bar.  She worked as a general practice attorney and served on various appointive boards and commissions. On her journey to make a difference in the legal profession, Judge Spencer became involved in state politics.  She was a member of the California Democratic Central Committee from 1958 to 1960. 

 

In 1961, Governor Pat Brown appointed her Municipal Court judge for the Los Angeles Judicial District. This made Judge Spencer the first African American woman to serve on the bench in California, and the third black female judge in the history of the United States.

 

Judge Spencer had a passion for legal and civil rights and devoted much of her time to endeavors supporting those rights in the 1960s. Some of her endeavors included serving on the California Attorney General’s Committee on Constitutional Rights, serving on the board of directors of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, and becoming a member of the life membership committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in order to help advance their mission.

 

In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Judge Spencer to the Los Angeles County Superior Court. At the time Judge Spencer became a Superior Court Judge, 15 states did not have a single woman judge. Furthermore, there were only 28 female judges in the federal court system. Seeing the lack of female representation in the judiciary, Judge Spencer helped established the National Association of Women Judges in 1979.  The mission of the National Association of Women Judges was to increase the number of women in state and federal judiciaries. This organization catapulted Judge Spencer into becoming a pioneer for women on the bench, and people of color on the bench.

 

Judge Spencer ended her career by serving as Presiding Judge of the Division One California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, which she began in 1980. After holding this position for over 20 years, she retired in September of 2007. Judge Spencer served the judiciary in California for a total of 46 years.

 

Judge Spencer won many honors for her work, a few of which are: the Trailblazer Award from the National Association of Business and Professional Women, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Bar Association in 1991, and a honorary Doctor of Law degree from Southwestern Law School.

 

Everything that Judge Spencer has accomplished highlights the importance of challenging ingrained stereotypes and providing support to other women. Despite dealing with the daily stresses of working in the legal field and supporting families, minority women have to also overcome many more obstacles and stereotypes than the ordinary attorney or judge. In addition to these obstacles, self-imposed barriers are often presented for women who are trying to advance their careers, which is why supporting other minority women is so essential to the individual success of our group as a whole.

 

In this time of unrest, Judge Vaino Hassan Spencer’s passion of promoting gender and racial equality should inspire us to continue down her path to better our future and the future of our children. 

 

Shanly Hopkins is a business and real estate attorney at Aguirre Allen Law, and wrote this on behalf of Lawyers Club’s Diverse Women’s Committee.

Tags:  Black Women Lawyers Association  guest blogger  Judge Spencer  LCB  National Association of Women Judges  Shanly Hopkins  Superior Court  the color of justice  Trailblazer Award 

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