Reflections on WLALA from the Chair of the Criminal Justice Section

I am the current and past chair of the Criminal Justice Section of WLALA. I first served on the WLALA Board in 1997. Back then, WLALA had a Government Lawyers Section, and a Criminal Defense Law Section. I served as Chair of the Criminal Defense Law Section.

In the course of my first year on the Board, I repeatedly encountered an inherent philosophical conflict between being a criminal defense lawyer, which is what I am and always have been, and being the Chair of the WLALA Criminal Defense Law Section. The conflict existed because as a women's group, WLALA is committed to women's rights. Conversely, as the Criminal Defense Law Section, we as defense attorneys are committed to the protection of everyone's rights, both men and women. This philosophical conflict impacted the Criminal Defense Law Section's co-sponsorship and support on criminal law-related amicus briefs, legislation, and other matters that were promulgated for the protection and benefit of women only.

From conflict often springs resolution, and in October 1998, the Criminal Justice Section was founded as a merger of both the Government Lawyers Section and the Criminal Defense Law Section. The newly formed Criminal Justice Section promised to bring together prosecutors and defense attorneys to achieve joint goals in the criminal justice system. Although I was unaware of this at the time, this is model of the ABA Criminal Justice Section. Assistant United States Attorney Patricia Donahue, and myself, were the first co-chairs. Since then, many amazing prosecutors and defense attorneys have taken the helm.

That was 13 years ago, yet many of the women who were active in WLALA 13 years ago are still active today. Kathleen McDowell, Ellen Pansky, Eileen Decker, Meg Lodise, Becky Walker James, Lucy-Ellen Chun, Angela Haskins, Susan Steinhauer, Holly Fujie, Linda Hatcher, Hon. Nicole Bershon, Helen Kim, Hon. Beverly Reid O'Connell, Jennifer Landau, and Hon. Judith Chirlin, and others, are just a few of the women I was privileged to serve with then, and now.

Since 1998, the Criminal Justice Section has had substantive programs and happy hour social gatherings geared toward education, raising awareness, and bringing together everyone who takes part in making our criminal justice system here in Los Angeles work.

In that tradition, later this year, the WLALA Criminal Justice section will present "Women in the Federal Criminal Justice System Who Get it Done!" The program will showcase women in all aspects of federal criminal justice, women who "get it done" every day in today's over scheduled and economically challenging times.

As I sit around the Board meetings of today, I reflect back to the Board meetings of 13 years ago. Many of us were pregnant, me included. We met in an unappealing room because we had no office or space of our own. But we laughed and we bonded and today many of us are still friends. Today's meetings are as expected more polished, and certainly our location has improved greatly, but the camaraderie is just as warm and inviting as it was 13 years ago. The biggest single change I see is just how much better, we as women, all really look!

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