The Sacramento Superior Court recently hosted an educational panel discussion for its judicial officers, court staff, and bailiffs on how to better serve the LGBTQ+ community.
Broadcast via Zoom, the hour-long discussion took place Oct. 13, in recognition of National Coming Out Day, an annual awareness day observed to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in "coming out of the closet.”
“We’re trying to bring awareness to issues of diversity and inclusion and understand how we can best serve all communities that interact with the court.”
--Judge Andi Mudryk, Sacramento Superior Court
Based on questions submitted anonymously by court employees, discussion topics included:
- Personal experiences with bias and how even seemingly minor incidents can negatively affect victims
- Misgendering and its powerful impact on the recipient
- Gendered language versus gender-neutral language of inclusivity
- Treating courthouse visitors with respect from the time they enter the courthouse
Panelists Share Their Advice, Experiences
“Everyone in the courtroom—including witnesses, victims, jurors, defendants, court staff, attorneys, and the general public—should at a minimum be treated with dignity, humanity, and respect,” San Francisco County Judge Linda Colfax. “It’s what the public should be able to expect of us.”
“In my role as a judge, I’m concerned with how to create a courtroom setting that is inclusive,” added Santa Clara County Judge Jessica Delgado. “I try to create an affirming space, such as beginning every courtroom session by announcing my pronouns and addressing parties by their preferred pronouns as well." Judge Delgado added that she also uses litigants' preferred pronouns in her written decisions.
Alameda County Judge Victoria Kolakowski recalled an incident when an attorney and bailiff in her courtroom were heard making disparaging remarks about transgender individuals while she was out of earshot in chambers.
“People can be very polite to our faces, but say horrible things about us behind our backs,” said Judge Kolakowski. “Mocking or making fun of people is not acceptable in a courtroom, and is not acceptable for officers of the court or court staff.”
Panel Is Part of Sacramento Court’s Community Outreach Program
The panel was presented by the Sacramento Superior Court’s Community Engagement and Fairness Committee, which works to eliminate inequities and biases in the court system to ensure all people feel welcomed, included, and valued. The committee previously hosted a disabilities workshop for its employees.
“The Sacramento County Superior Court strives to create an inclusive environment for everyone who walks through our doors,” said Presiding Judge Michael G. Bowman. “The recent LGBTQ+ panel discussion is just one facet of this effort.”
“We’re trying to bring awareness to issues of diversity and inclusion and understand how we can best serve all communities that interact with the court,” added Sacramento County Judge Andi Mudryk. “We can’t really include everyone or treat people with complete humanity unless we understand who they are, and allow them to be who they are.”
Statewide Efforts to Address Bias and Diversity
- Training on Unconscious Bias: Under Rule 10.469 of the California Rules Of Court, all state judicial officers must participate in education on unconscious bias, as well as the prevention of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and inappropriate workplace conduct. The education includes issues related to gender and sexual orientation.
An online toolkit developed by the Judicial Council helps judicial officers fulfill this education requirement by offering training on unconscious bias and cultural responsiveness. In addition, the council’s Advisory Committee on Providing Access and Fairness makes proposals on education for judicial officers and court staff related to improving access to the judicial system, fairness in the state courts, and diversity in the judicial branch.
- Addressing Bias in the Courts Workgroup: Last year, the council approved recommendations from a workgroup appointed by the Chief Justice to revise the standard of court administration that promotes an environment free of bias and the appearance of bias in court proceedings. The workgroup invited and received input on the recommendations from members of the public, attorney groups, and judicial officers.
- Multi-Branch Effort to Increase Judicial Diversity: A valuable tool to continue diversifying the California bench, the Judicial Diversity Toolkit encourages courts to reach out to underrepresented groups—which include individuals with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, and sexual orientations—to educate and advise them about pursuing careers in the law.
Governor Newsom last July announced the California Judicial Mentor Program as a statewide undertaking between the executive and judicial branches to develop and recruit qualified and diverse judicial applicants for the state’s superior and appellate courts. That statewide program includes judicial mentoring programs in all of the state’s appellate and trial courts.
- Historic Judicial Appointments: Judge Victoria Kolakowski became the first openly transgender trial court judge in California when she was elected in Alameda County in 2010. And fellow panel member Sacramento County Judge Andi Mudryk in March of this year became the first openly transgender person in the state to be appointed by a governor to serve on the bench.
Other notable, diverse judicial appointments in the last ten years have included Justice Jim Humes in 2012 as the first openly gay justice appointed to the California Court of Appeal and Justice Martin Jenkins in 2020 as the first openly gay California Supreme Court justice.
- Report on Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation of Judiciary: Every year, the council surveys California judges and justices to get a snapshot of the demographics of the California bench—which for the last 11 years has included gender identity/sexual orientation. Responding to the questionnaire is voluntary for judges, and the data only reflects the responses provided.
Of the respondents who provided information last year about gender identity/sexual orientation, the following identified as:
- Lesbian - 1.8% (up from 1.1% in 2011)
- Gay - 2.3% (up from 1.0% in 2011)
- Bisexual - 0.2% (up from 0% in 2011)
- Transgender - 0.1% (up from .06% in 2011)
In addition to the above categories, the report also records how many judicial officers opted not to answer the gender identity/sexual orientation question. From 2012 to 2021, the number of judicial officers who didn’t respond to that question has decreased from 40% to 22%.