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Report highlights lack of LGBT California judges

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 23, 2015

A new report is highlighting a fact often overlooked about the state's judiciary – LGBT judges are largely missing from the state and federal bench in California.

There is only one gay judge out of 62 federal district court judges in California and just three openly LGBT federal magistrate judges among the 65 in the state.

Of the state's 58 counties, 45 have no self-identified LGBT judges on the local state superior court.

"In other words, the LGBT community is not represented in the judiciary in 78 percent of the counties in California," states the "first in the nation survey" released July 14 by the California LGBT Bar Coalition.

Representatives of LGBT bar associations in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, and Sacramento compiled the report, written in the style of a law journal article, in an effort to draw far more public scrutiny to the need to appoint or elect LGBT judges in the Golden State.

"I think a lot of people do not know, or they have a false impression there is LGBT diversity on the bench. There is not," said attorney Denise Bergin, who co-chairs the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom's judiciary committee.

Bergin, who did not write the report, added, "I think there has been a lack of energy around this from the LGBT community, and that is something that needs to change."

Titled "The New Frontier of LGBT Equality: The California State and Federal Judiciary," the 15-page document concludes that "LGBTs are just treading water" when it comes to being appointed or elected to serve on state and federal courts in the state.

The report highlights the fact there has never been an out justice on the California Supreme Court and that the number of LGBT state judges remained the same at 41 between 2013 and 2014, the most recent year for which there is data on the demographic makeup of the state bench.

As the report notes, "even with recent appointments and election victories, the percentage of openly LGBT sitting California judges and justices still remains at a disappointing 2.4 percent."

"The report describes a real problem with non-representation on the bench of LGBT people, particularly the B and T part of that. Bisexual and transgender people are not represented," said Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski, the sole transgender judge in the state who won election to the bench in 2010.

Chris Burdick, an out lesbian who is the Santa Clara County Bar Association's executive director and general counsel, said she welcomes the LGBT legal groups' effort to highlight the issue. But she questioned some of the report's conclusions.

"I think it is good to get this information out so that people understand what progress has been made and what progress still needs to be made," Burdick said. "I think it may be just a tad misleading. The numbers are accurate but the overall conclusion falls just a little short. It is true, historically, the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender attorneys on the bench has been woeful. But there has been, in the last five years, significant effort to increase those numbers."

Read the whole story at Bay Area Reporter 

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