The Long Journey from Zero to Majority on the Court

The Bencher | March/April 2024

By Justice Arthur G. Scotland (Retired)

It took almost four decades after the creation of the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, in 1904 for a woman to be appointed to the court. Now, 120 years later, it is likely that women jurists will constitute a majority of the 11-member court. This long and remarkable journey has been made by distinguished and inspirational women who navigated obstacles that women historically have faced in the legal profession.

The First Trailblazers

Born in 1877 on a ranch in rural California, Annette Abbot Adams became a schoolteacher and a woman of many firsts—the first woman to be a school principal; the first of two women admitted to the University of California, Berkeley law school; the first woman U.S. attorney; the first woman appointed to California’s Court of Appeal; and the first to serve pro tempore on California’s Supreme Court.

Her path was not easy. After rejection for employment as a new lawyer in 1912, she hired a vocal coach with the hope that changing the pitch of her voice to sound masculine would open law firm doors for her. Not so. It was her skill and accomplishments in her own practice of law that resulted in a mentor paving the way for her appointment as a U.S. attorney. Her work there led to the California governor appointing her in 1942 as presiding justice of the then three-member Third Appellate District.

Thirty-eight years passed before Frances Newell Carr was appointed to the Third Appellate District. Born in 1923, the child of itinerate farm workers, she toiled in the fields and then, to support her formal education, had various jobs, including as a laborer building Liberty ships during World War II, a nightclub photographer, and a radio announcer.

Graduating from law school in 1949, she also found it difficult for women to be hired by a firm in the male-dominated profession. After 26 years on her own, she was the first woman appointed to the Sacramento County Superior Court, became its first woman presiding judge, and was elevated to the Third Appellate District in 1980, as the only woman on the court for the next 14 years.

An African American born in segregated Alabama in 1949, Janice Rogers Brown was a teenager when she moved to California after her parents separated. Working as a single mother, she obtained her law degree in 1977. Her diverse career included serving in the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel’s Office and as a deputy attorney general for the State of California; being appointed deputy secretary and general counsel for the California Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency; and working in a private law firm until selected by California’s governor to be his legal affairs secretary.

Rogers Brown was nominated to the Third Appellate District in 1994, then elevated to the California Supreme Court in 1996. In 2005, by presidential nomination, she joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Consuelo M. Callahan was the next to serve as the only woman on the Third Appellate District. When she graduated from law school in 1975, women lawyers still were held to higher standards and had fewer job opportunities than the vast majority of male graduates. Nevertheless, she quickly rose through her career in the law from deputy city attorney, to deputy district attorney, to the first Hispanic woman appointed judge of the San Joaquin County Superior Court (after serving as a court commissioner). She was appointed to the Third Appellate District in 1996, then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2003.

Kathlyn Butz was the last to serve as the only woman on the Third Appellate District. Fluent in Portuguese after living in Brazil for a year, she worked two jobs before earning her law degree in 1981 while balancing the responsibilities of being a single mother and the demands of law school.

Working her way up to partner in a small-town law firm, she was recruited by a local judge to join the Nevada County Superior Court bench in 1996, where she presided over civil, criminal, family law, probate, and juvenile law matters. At the urging of justices on the Court of Appeal, she applied for a vacant seat on the Third Appellate District and joined the court in 2003.

The Changing Tide

When Tani Cantil-Sakauye came to the court in 2005, over a century had passed until two women served together on the Third Appellate District. The daughter of Filipino farm laborers whose family was evicted from their home to make way for redevelopment of Sacramento’s downtown area, she was inspired to pursue a career in the law when her mother introduced her to the first Filipina lawyer in their community and said “you can do that.”

After law school, she worked as a casino cocktail waitress and blackjack dealer while waiting to learn if she passed the state bar examination. A respected deputy district attorney, she was hired to serve in the governor’s legal affairs office, then in its legislative affairs unit. At the age of 31, she was appointed to the Sacramento County trial court, where she served for 15 years until elevated in 2005 to the Third Appellate District.

The governor then elevated her to the California Supreme Court in 2010 as the first Filipina chief justice of California and the second woman to serve as chief justice. During her 12 years as chief justice, she skillfully guided the state’s courts through the Great Recession and COVID-19 pandemic, and she revamped the administration of the courts to streamline and enhance its service to the public.

While the new chief justice began her leadership of California’s judicial branch, the governor nominated two women to fill vacancies on the Third Appellate District.

Elena Duarte was one of 12 graduating law students nationwide selected for the U.S. Attorney General’s Honor Program at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC. After prosecuting criminal cases in the District of Columbia Superior Court, she returned to her home state of California as an assistant U.S. attorney, becoming section chief in the cyber and intellectual property crimes section in 2005. Appointed a Superior Court trial judge in 2007, she was elevated to the Third Appellate District in 2010.

Andrea Hoch also was selected by the governor in 2010 to serve on the Third Appellate District, following her three years in private practice and over two decades of public service with California’s Labor Relations Board and Public Employment Relations Board in the Attorney General’s Office. She rose to chief assistant attorney general for the Civil Law Division, then administrative director of the California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Workers’ Compensation until the governor appointed her as his legal affairs secretary, providing legal advice and counsel to the governor and top administration officials.

A Historic Moment

On April 17, 2012, the first all-women panel of justices (Butz, Duarte, and Hoch) in 108 years of the court’s existence convened to hear oral argument. It was a case of great importance, but the more significant impact of that day was the realization and recognition of the value and importance of women in the law and on the bench.

After the retirement of Justices Butz and Hoch, California’s governor named four more accomplished women jurists to the Third Appellate District.

Laurie Earl is now the court’s administrative presiding justice and its first LGBTQ+ jurist. Recipient of many awards for distinguished service to the legal community and the rule of law, she was an assistant public defender, deputy district attorney, and assistant inspector general for the State of California prior to appointment to the Sacramento County Superior Court, where she became its presiding judge.

She also chaired the Judicial Council of California’s Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee, developing a new allocation methodology for trial court funding. She became a justice of the Third Appellate District in 2021 before her elevation in 2023 to serve as its administrative presiding justice.

Justice Stacy Boulware Eurie, another frequent award recipient, worked in a law firm, then the California Attorney General’s Office, becoming the statewide head of its government law section. She was appointed to the Sacramento County Superior Court, where she worked for 15 years, including as presiding judge of its Juvenile Court, and served on the Judicial Council of California. Elevated to the appellate court in 2022, her lineage as an African American woman includes Harold Boulware, one of the attorneys who argued the consolidated Brown v. Board of Education cases.

Justice Shama Mesiwala, the first South Asian and Muslim woman on California’s Courts of Appeal, has been honored repeatedly for her longtime leadership in the legal community. She began her career in the Federal Public Defender’s Office, then transitioned to appellate law at the Central California Appellate Program. Her advocacy in the Third Appellate District so impressed the court that it recruited her to become a staff attorney for the court, where she served for over 12 years before being appointed as a commissioner of the Sacramento County Superior Court and then a judge of the court. Elevated to the appellate court in 2023, she is member of the California Supreme Court’s Ethics Opinion Committee.

Justice Aimee Feinberg served as a law clerk for Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice Stephen Breyer from 2003 to 2004 after being a law clerk for DC Circuit Judge David Tatel. She was an appellate law litigator at Munger, Tolles & Olson until becoming director of the California Supreme Court Clinic at the University of California, Davis School of Law from 2012 to 2014. She then became a deputy solicitor general at the California Department of Justice until returning to Munger, Tolles & Olson, then being appointed to the Third Appellate District in December 2023.

Different Pathways but Common Qualities

The impressive and accomplished women justices of the Third Appellate District arrived to the court in different ways but shared many attributes. Of course, each brought the intellect, work ethic, integrity, legal skills, experience, collegiality, and commitment to the rule of law to excel on the court. Except for two who preceded the founding of the American Inns of Court, all are committed to the American Inns of Court mission and have been leaders in their local Inns.

In addition, all have mentored countless law students and young attorneys and have been role models for women and others in the legal profession. And all have insights, gained as women in the law, to advance the administration of justice.

The Future

From zero to a majority on the bench is the likely future of women on the Third Appellate District. One vacancy remains to be filled, and the applicants the governor has submitted to the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for assessment before he decides whom to appoint are predominately women. If this likelihood becomes reality, women in the law will have continued their long journey for equality in the profession—an outcome to be applauded by all.

Justice Arthur G. Scotland (Ret.) is of counsel for Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP and a retired presiding justice of the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, in Sacramento. He is a member and past president of the Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court. He is also a member of the American Inns of Court Board of Trustees and serves on the Editorial Board for The Bencher.

© 2024 Justice Arthur G. Scotland (Ret.). This article was originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.