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Mentoring Program Aims to Increase Diversity of Judge Applicants

For the 15th straight year, California’s judicial bench has grown more diverse. But even with this encouraging trend, nearly two-thirds of the state’s justices and judges are men and 65% are white.

But a new mentorship program in Los Angeles County seeks to accelerate the diversity of the bench by connecting judges with local attorneys to increase the county’s applicant pool for new judges.

Los Angeles County Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor

More than 200 local attorneys have already signed up since the Los Angeles County Superior Court launched its program in October. The response was immediate and overwhelming. “Nearly every judge in the county wants to be a mentor,” Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor said.

How the Mentorship Program Works The role of mentor judges is not to select or recommend judicial candidates. Rather, the court pairs attorneys with a mentor judge to help demystify the judicial appointment process. The court helps train mentors how to discuss career objectives and answer questions on the judicial application and vetting process.

Experienced judges also give valuable feedback to potential judicial candidates, assessing their suitability for the bench and suggesting new skills and experience to improve their chances of being selected.

Getting Mentor Program off the Ground Los Angeles County Judge Helen Zukin said her idea for the program sprang from a comment of former judicial appointments secretary and now California Supreme Court Justice Martin Jenkins, who said he was disappointed in the lack of diversity the applicant pool.

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Los Angeles County Judge Helen Zukin

“They can’t do it alone,” said Los Angeles County Judge Helen Zukin, referring to the challenge of appointing qualified and diverse judges from a limited applicant pool. “The judiciary and the Bar must partner to increase the number and backgrounds of attorneys thinking about becoming a judge.”

The Los Angeles court developed its mentor program in collaboration with the Governor and his Judicial Appointments Secretary Luis Cespedes. Cespedes said the program “will go a long way in producing a bench that reflects the breadth and diversity of California.”

Spreading the Word--Reaching out to Local Bar Groups The court’s mentorship program will reach out to all sectors of the legal community, including bar associations, public interest organizations, government attorneys, private law firms, and solo practitioners. The program is not intended to supplant existing bar programs but to complement their efforts by providing bar associations with current insight into the Governor’s judicial qualifications and priorities.

Taking the Mentorship Program Statewide The Governor and judicial leaders want to replicate the Los Angeles mentorship program in as many counties as possible. One key tool in this expansion effort will be the Judicial Diversity Toolkit, developed by the Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Providing Access and Fairness.

Los Angeles County Judge Kevin C. Brazile

Los Angeles County Judge Kevin C. Brazile, who co-chairs that committee, said his court used the toolkit as a resource when developing its program. “The online toolkit was designed as a resource for judicial officers and local courts to strengthen and encourage greater diversity outreach efforts and partnerships with bar associations, law schools, and even undergraduate universities, community colleges and in K-12 education.”

The toolkit encourages courts to reach out to underrepresented groups, which includes individuals with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, and sexual orientations.

For more information on the Los Angeles court’s mentorship program, contact the court’s Community Relations Office at judicialmentors@lacourt.org.

To view the mentorship toolkit, visit the California Courts website https://www.courts.ca.gov/partners/judicial-diversity-toolkit.htm.

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