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State Bar & Bar Associations,
Community News

Apr. 26, 2024

Sacramento bar association marks historic milestone

Women now occupy the roles of chief judge of the federal court in Sacramento, presiding judge of the superior court and presiding judge of the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

Sacramento County Bar Association President Connor W. Olson began the organization’s 2024 Bench Bar Reception by noting that for the first time, the leaders of all three local courts were women. When she stepped up to the podium later in the evening, U.S. Eastern District of California Chief Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said that moment was decades in the making.

“That there are three women chiefs, chiefs or PJS, is not a result of good people staying silent,” Mueller told the audience.

She added, “It has been wonderful to see that growth in the numbers. My lonely perch is not so lonely anymore. Women have taken a seat at the table, on the bench, helping to ensure that our courts reflect the communities that we serve.”

Each of those three represents a first. Mueller became the first female district judge in the Eastern District when President Barack Obama named her to the bench in 2010, seven years after she became the second woman to become a magistrate judge on the court. In 2020 she became the first woman chief judge of the court.

3rd District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Laurie M. Earl became that court’s first openly-LGBT justice when she was confirmed at the beginning of 2022. She now leads a court where, for the first time, half of the justices are women.

Bunmi O. Awoniyi became the first Black presiding judge of the Sacramento County Superior Court when she took the reins in January.

Reached on Friday, Mueller said she believes the Sacramento legal community has played an outsized role in diversifying the bench across California. During her speech, she pointed to two leading figures in the movement, one far better known than the other.

One was in the room that night. Luis Céspedes is now Gov. Gavin Newsom’s judicial appointments secretary. In 1987, he co-founded the Unity Bar Association of Sacramento. This group brought together groups including the Asian/Pacific Bar Association of Sacramento, the Wiley W. Manuel Bar Association and the Cruz Reynoso Bar Association — and later several other groups — to work towards a more representative bench and bar.

“I’m quite certain that other unity bars have sprung up because the word got out about Sacramento,” Mueller told The Daily Journal. “If you search for unity bars, you’ll find new ones even in the last year or two.”

Reynoso got a round of applause when she pointed him out. But later Mueller asked, “How many of you sat in Joan Stone’s living room?”

Few hands went up. Mueller told the audience that beginning over 20 years ago — at a time when the Central Valley was not as “hospitable to women seeking to advance in the legal profession” — Stone hosted a series of meetings of female attorneys in her living room. These eventually grew into a network of female attorneys who worked to identify women who were good judicial candidates.

Stone is now retired and a past president of the Women Lawyers of Sacramento. Several other Sacramento women have been active in the California Women Lawyers, including Patricia Sturdevant, who became that organization’s president.

“I really do think that kind of seed-planting ultimately contributes to what those of us in the room last night see as progress,” Mueller said on Friday. “I had a number of women come up to me. One said, ‘Who would have ever thought in the 80s that we’d see three of you up there?’ It’s worth reflecting on.”


Malcolm Maclachlan

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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