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Achieving Diversity in the Legal Profession

Connect with COAF on LinkedInThe Council on Access and Fairness provides leadership and guidance for the State Bar of California to ensure the legal profession reflects the rich diversity of the people of California in a way that is equally accessible and free of bias.

Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors.  They have not been adopted or endorsed by the State Bar Board of Trustees and do not necessarily constitute the official position of the State Bar of California. All activities are funded entirely by voluntary contributions.  No mandatory attorney dues are used for these activities.

September 2016 - Annual Meeting Issue

Notes from the Chair

Marguerite DowningHon. Marguerite Downing
Chair, Council on Access & Fairness

As my last Chair’s column is written, it’s surprising swiftly the year has passed. It has been a busy year for the Council on Access & Fairness. In addition to the pipeline work with students, the Judicial Appointment seminars, the MCLE and EOB programs and annual training for the JNE commissioners, the Board of Trustees has additionally tasked COAF with following up on the recommendations from the Mentoring and Bar Passage Taskforces.

However, I would like to devote this last column to Karen Nobumoto, a past president of the State Bar of California and an early force and advocate for Diversity. No, this column is not in her memory but rather in her spirit. Karen no longer practices law having relocated to be nearer family for health reasons. However I wanted to acknowledge her efforts as a mentor and a bar leader. For those of you who don’t know, Karen was the first woman President of the State Bar of color. Karen did not know the meaning of the word “no” and flatly refused to acknowledge it when she was told “no”.

As State Bar President, she was lauded for her efforts to prosecute those practicing law without a license. On a grander scale, Karen should be applauded for her efforts as a mentor, getting diverse lawyers to apply for State Bar committees and commissions and generally pushing folks to get out there and make a difference in the legal profession. In spite of my work with the Mentoring Taskforce, it is only now that I have thought of Karen as a mentor. However, it was Karen that talked me into leaving a wedding reception on a Saturday afternoon to have an interview with the Public Defender’s Office back in 1989 at a John M. Langston Bar Association Job Fair she organized. That interview led to my 18 year career as a deputy public defender which only ended with my appointment as a judge nine years ago. If not for Karen’s suggestion about that interview, my career path might have been very different. I loved that job and so have always remained grateful to Karen for her prodding.

It would be 6 years later that Karen would call me while I was in bed recovering from surgery to tell me that I needed to apply for the Ethnic Minority Relations Committee and would not take “no” for an answer, because the deadline was in two days. If I missed the deadline, I might need to wait for the following year to apply. With help from a friend, Lei-Chala Wilson, I made the deadline and the rest as they say “is history”. Having served in a number of capacities with the State Bar while a lawyer and now as a judicial officer, I can look back and see what Karen started. She saw something in me that needed to be alternatively pushed, uncovered, shaken and encouraged. I am incredibly grateful now but I can tell you that there were days when I just thought she was a terror!

So please reach out to the next generation of lawyers or even to those of your same generation. Often at COAF’s Judicial Appointment seminars, it is clear that we don’t always see the next step for ourselves.  Sometimes, it takes someone else to see the potential in us and to help to move us forward. So many lawyers I meet don’t see themselves as judges until someone inquires as to why they have not applied or suggests that they do so. Mentors come in all colors, genders, shapes and sizes. So be a mentor – you could be making a huge impact in the life of someone else. And you might be pleasantly surprised by the value that mentoring will add to your own career and life.

To COAF’s staff support, Brandi Holmes and Patricia Lee, I cannot in this column begin to express my gratitude to you both for all the big tasks and the small ones that you have done and continue to do on a daily basis for the Council, for the Bar and for me to make this year a success. Thank you to all the current and past members of the Council who have worked so hard to make certain that COAF reached its strategic goals.  A special thank you to Cecil H. Brim, an organization development consultant who has graciously donated his extensive expertise to facilitate the annual JNE training for the last two years.

I am confident that the Council is in great hands under the leadership of Robin Pearson who assumes the Chair spot. She has been a trooper, a confidante and a more than able Vice Chair during this last year.  And I know that she will be ably assisted by Judge Diana Becton who is the incoming vice chair and one of my own mentors. Thank you to both of you for your service and support in this past bar year. Lastly, please don’t forget to join us at the State Bar Annual Meeting for our MCLE programs, the Judicial Diversity Summit in conjunction with California Judges Association and Judicial Council, and the Diversity Awards Reception and Program. See you then and thank you for a great year!


James Fox Elected Next State Bar President

James FoxJames P. Fox, the former district attorney of San Mateo County, will be sworn in Oct. 1 during the State Bar’s annual meeting in San Diego. he will be the 92nd president of an agency that regulates the state’s quarter million-plus licensed lawyers. MORE

COAF Happenings

Mentoring and Bar Passage Pilot Programs

As a continuation of projects from last year, the Board of Trustees has assigned to COAF the task of developing possible pilot programs focusing on mentoring for new lawyers and increasing bar passage among students from diverse backgrounds.  Working groups consisting of COAF members and other experts will also seek to partner with the California Bar Foundation and California LAW Inc. to develop and implement these projects.

State Bar Happenings

State Bar Appointments
Deadline: January 27, 2017

The State Bar seeks members of the bench, bar and public interested in volunteering to serve on various State Bar entities, including the Council on Access & Fairness. The application deadline is January 27, 2017. The application form and information on the commission are available from the State Bar’s website or from the State Bar's Appointments Office, 415-538-2370, appointments@calbar.ca.gov.

Public Comments on Draft Revisions to Rules of Professional Conduct –Rule 8.4.1 re: discrimination, harassment and retaliation
Deadline: September 27, 2016

Public comments are sought on the Comprehensive proposed amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California. In particular review edits to Current Rule 2-400 now offered in two draft versions of Rule 8.4.1 re: Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation. See the online information and comment form or submit comments to Audrey Hollins, phone 415-538-2167.

State Bar Welcomes Summer Interns

Summer interns 
Stephanie Gonzalez, Deisy Garcia, Gerone Alcantara, Cali Luke and Esmeralda Echavarria

The State Bar participated in a high school intern program this summer sponsored by the Center for Youth Development Through Law (www.youthlawworks.org). In keeping with the State Bar goal of increasing diversity in the legal profession through the education pipeline, the five interns  were welcomed by various departments including IT, General Services, Member Records, Admissions, General Council, Access & Fairness Center, Legal Services, IOLTA Program, Research & Institutional Accountability and the Executive Offices. The successful  program provided the opportunity for students to gain valuable employment experience and to learn about the legal system and careers in the law. 

Congratulations to District Attorney Nancy O’Malley

Nancy O'MalleyNancy O’Malley, Alameda County District Attorney, was honored as a recipient of the 2016 ABA Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, presented during the recent ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA. 

Save the Date for the Sixth Annual Law & Democracy Lecture

Steve PhillipsSeptember 15th: 1-3 pm, Sixth Annual Law & Democracy Lecture, at Chabot College Performing Arts Center, featuring Steve Phillips, author of “Brown is the New White:  How the demographic revolution has created a new majority”

Monthly Civil Rights Commemorations

Phyllis ChengBy Phyllis Cheng, Chair, COAF College/Law School Committee

August:  Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Act into law during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act resulted in the mass enfranchisement of racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South.

September:  National Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.  The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. The month was enacted into law on August 17, 1988.

October:  National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The purpose of the Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities.  Held annually, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is led by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, but its true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. Employers of all sizes and in all industries are encouraged to participate.

November:  Native American Heritage Day

President George W. Bush signed into law legislation introduced by Congressman Joe Baca to designate the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day as a day to pay tribute to Native Americans for their many contributions to the United States,  Americans of all backgrounds are encouraged to observe November 28 as Native American Heritage Day, through appropriate ceremonies and activities.  It also encourages public elementary and secondary schools to enhance student understanding of Native Americans by providing classroom instructions focusing on their history, achievements, and contributions

Annual Meeting Highlights

2016 Judicial Diversity Summit:  Saturday, October 1st , 1 to 5pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-SakauyePresented by the State Bar of California, Council on Access & Fairness, California Judges Association and the California Judicial Council.

The program looks at the status of diversity in the judiciary. Speakers include Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Associate Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu; Justices James Lambden (Ret.),  William Murray, and Therese Stewart; Judges Diana Becton, LaDoris Cordell (Ret.), Marguerite Downing (Chair, COAF), Brenda Harbin-Forte, and Eric Taylor (President CJA); and David Pasternak (State Bar President)

WindTunneling Project

Share your views re Judicial Diversity

Participate in an online anonymous “Wind Tunneling” process to share your views re judicial diversity. See short introductory video at support.windtunneling.com/judicial-diversity-2016/   Please participate by September 15th so feedback can be included in the discussion during the Judicial Diversity Summit. Judicial Summit participation not required to join the WindTunneling project. For more information to join the windtunneling process contact Brandi Holmes at brandi.holmes@calbar.ca.gov or 415-538-2587.

MCLE Programs

(Annual Meeting Registration required to attend)

Friday, September 30, 2016:
“22 Lewd Chinese Women: Immigration and the Underlying Issues of Discrimination”

Marguerite DowningHolly FujieNarrated by Judge Marguerite Downing and Judge Holly Fujie plus
a cast of characters and MCLE panel.

A reenactment and discussion of Chy Lung v. Freeman, a case about Chinese women being detained at the Port of San Francisco as "lewd women" because they were traveling without their husbands. Through this U.S. Supreme Court case we will examine the issues of immigration and federalism, as well as the polarizing issues of sexism, racial profiling and human trafficking.

Friday, September 30, 2016:      
An “Intelligence Squared” Debate: Considering Race in Higher Education Admissions

Eva PatersonWard ConnerlyJeff BleichFeaturing Eva Paterson and Ward Connerly, moderated by Jeff Bleich (former Ambassador to Australia).

A moderated debate about the use of race as a factor in higher education admissions post- Fisher v. University of Texas.

15th Anniversary Diversity Awards, Program and Reception, Saturday, October 1, 2016  

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-SakauyeBrenda Harbin-ForteFeaturing Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakuye and COAF Founding Chair, Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte.

(All invited to attend. No Annual Meeting registration required.)
Prior recipients for the past 15 years will be acknowledged and 2016 Awards will be presented to Thuy Thi Nguyen, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley Bar Association and the Los Angeles  Superior Court Teen Court Program. Judicial Summit attendees will join us following the Judicial Diversity Summit described above.

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For further information about COAF initiatives, programs or events contact Brandi Holmes at 415-538-2587 or brandi.holmes@calbar.ca.gov.