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Diversifying the Bench

By Megan Kinneyn | Sep. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Sep. 2, 2007

Diversifying the Bench

Sharon Majors-Lewis seeks to make the California bench more diverse. By Michelle Caldwell

By Michelle Caldwell
      Sharon Majors-Lewis knows all about obstacles. Appointed in February, the 59-year-old is California's first African American judicial-appointments secretary?and the first woman to hold that post. But more challenges may lie ahead: Many people are counting on her, as advisor to the governor, to help diversify a bench that's 70 percent white and 73 percent male. Majors-Lewis says she's ready.
      Born in Houston, Majors-Lewis moved to California when she was seven?the same year that doctors diagnosed her with a rare form of meningitis and said she wouldn't live to Christmas. But an aggressive physician and her religious conviction pulled her through. Married and pregnant soon after high school, Majors-Lewis found herself in an abusive relationship?but got out after two years. While working as a secretary for the Department of Defense, she trudged through college one class a month, later taking night classes to get her JD at National University's now-defunct law school.
      She joined the San Diego County District Attorney's office in 1987, working on a variety of assignments, including supervising a domestic-violence unit. "Victims thought there was no way out," she says. "And I understood that cycle of abuse." Eventually, she became chief deputy of branch operations.
      Majors-Lewis's breadth of experience makes her a good fit for the new position, says San Diego County DA Bonnie M. Dumanis, a former judge and prosecutor who has worked with Majors-Lewis for 20 years. "She's grounded," Dumanis says. "As a trial lawyer, she knows what's needed on the bench."
      With 27 judicial spots left to fill this year, and many more expected next year, Majors-Lewis is being watched closely. Already in June, there was a hue and cry over the "continued failure to bring more diversity to the bench" when Governor Schwarzenegger appointed 26 new judges?including only four appointees of color and eight women. "Our primary goal is to provide assistance to the courts by selecting qualified and diverse individuals who display the proper judicial intellect, temperament, and integrity," Majors-Lewis says in reply to critics. "The pool of applicants is increasing. This will help us achieve our goal of selecting judges that reflect the richness of California's population."

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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