Poetic justices: Two Black women appointed to California Superior Court judgeships

Superior Court Judges Terrie E. Roberts (left) and Tricia J. Taylor

by Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Two African-American women, both Democrats, are among Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 11 new appointees to California Superior Court judgeships in seven counties. Newsom announced the appointments last Friday, his first batch of Superior Court nominations since becoming governor in January.

Eight of the 11 appointees are women. All of them are filling vacancies left open by retired justices.

Black women only make up around 5 percent of California’s more than 1,500 trial court judges. And only 19 out of the state’s 58 counties have ever had Black women Superior Court justices.

“Thus in 39 counties, no African-American woman’s experiences have brought life to the law,” writes Alameda County Judge Brenda F. Harbin-Forte in the Daily Journal. Harbin-Forte, who is Black, researches and writes about the history of African Americans in the state’s judiciary.

“Gov. Gavin Newsom follows the hard act of Gov. Jerry Brown,” she added. Former Gov. Brown, Harbin-Forte says, “made many historic appointments and created the most diverse court system in the history of our great state.”

One of the two new African-American judges, Terrie E. Roberts, 54, lives in Chula Vista. She will now serve as a San Diego County Superior Court Judge.

The other, Tricia J. Taylor, 39, who lives in the city of Los Angeles, is joining two others the governor appointed to serve as Los Angeles County Superior Court judges.

“Roberts and Taylor’s appointments are significant, said Dezie Woods-Jones, state president of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA). “These appointments speak volumes. I am extremely pleased and excited that there are two new highly professional and qualified African-American women judges appointed to the California Superior Court.”

Roberts, a former prosecutor and public defender, and Taylor, a former deputy district attorney, both bring broad experience in private law – as well as public law – to their new roles as justices.

Since 2008, Roberts served as a commissioner at the San Diego County Superior Court. Before that, she was deputy district attorney at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Roberts has also worked in private practice and served as a deputy public defender in San Diego County.

Before becoming deputy D.A. in Los Angeles County, Taylor also worked in private practice and at the Children’s Law Center, a public interest law firm and advocacy group.

In California, all of the state’s 58 counties have now voted to have a single Superior Court in each of their jurisdictions. That county Superior Court serves as the main trial court for each county. In June 1998, California voters approved Proposition 220, a constitutional amendment that allowed the counties to fold their municipal and Superior Courts into one unified county Superior Court.

Annually, county Superior Court justices earn $213,833 and they serve nearly 34 million people across the state, according to the Judicial Council of California.

Journalist Tanu Henry writes for California Black Media and has previously written for BET, AOL, Dayton Daily News, the Toledo Blade and other media. He can be reached at tanu@cablackmedia.org.