On Saturday, December 3, Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Inc. (BWL) held a memorial tribute service at the Southwestern Law School to honor BWL Co-Founder and the first African American woman judge in California Justice Vaino H. Spencer who passed away in October of 2016 at the age of 96.
Southwestern Law School was Justice Spencer’s alma mater.
During the event, Justice Spencer’s friends, family, colleagues, bar leaders, attorneys, and court staff gathered as they remembered her life and legacy. Not only was Justice Spencer the first African American woman judge in California, at the time, she was also the third African American woman Judge in the nation.
In 1961, she was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court. Fifteen years later, she was elevated to the Los Angeles Superior Court. In 1980, Justice Spencer served as the Presiding Justice of Division One at the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District until she retired in 2007.
Justice Spencer served on the bench for 46 years making her one of the longest serving judicial officers in California.
“She was a trailblazer for women and people of color in the legal profession, advocating tirelessly for gender and racial equality in the bar and on the bench,” said the Black Women Lawyers Association.
Several local jurist including California Appellate Justice Hon. Lamar Baker, Hon. Carol Codrington, Hon. Candace Cooper, and Hon. Gary Hastings; Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Hon. Irma J. Brown, Hon. Rupert A. Byrdsong, Hon. Marguerite D. Downing, Hon. Holly J. Fujie, Hon. Marion J. Johnson, Hon. Xenophon Lang, Hon. Veronica S. McBeth, Hon. John V. Meigs, Hon. Emily A. Stevens, Hon. Patricia J. Titus, Hon. Allen J. Webster; Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Kristen Byrdsong; and California State Bar Court Judge Yvette D. Roland were also in attendance.
Other notable attendees included National Association of Women Judges President and Contra County Superior Court Judge Diana Becton Smith; Southwestern Law School Dean Susan Westerberg Prager; BWL President Amber Finch; BWL Foundation President Syna N. Dennis; California Association of Black Lawyers President Camille Townsend; California Women Lawyers Association President Christine Goodman Chambers; Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law Executive Director, Betty Nordwind; and a host of lawyers other legal professionals.
Judge Marguerite Downing concluded the tribute with an announcement of the Hon. Vaino Hassan Spencer ’52 Judicial Externship Endowment Fund.
The fund, established in honor of Justice Spencer’s legacy at Southwestern Law School, will fund a judicial externship for a law student.
Southwestern will continue accepting donations for the fund on an ongoing basis.