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Posts tagged as “Judges”

A judge in twilight: impartiality, partisanship, and a life on the bench

Judge James Hill looks at home sitting on the bench wedged in the dim corner of Courtroom 5A in the Durham County Courthouse. A gleaming silver medallion emblazoned with the North Carolina state seal and mounted to the wall gives the space an air of grandeur. But Hill’s warmth is palpable, even with the plastic shield that separates him from the rest of the courtroom.

On a Wednesday afternoon last October, a defense attorney explains that her client is prepared to fulfill his two-day jail sentence, “but doesn’t want to lose his job.” 

The young man clasps his hands together and nervously explains that he is contracted to work an upcoming three-day shift but can’t report to his job on time if he is locked up.  

“You could go to jail right now,” the silver-haired, bespectacled Hill says, with a southern drawl. “And I could let you out at 5:00 a.m.” 

 The defendant’s eyes widen with relief, as a muscular bailiff handcuffs him. This savviness has served Hill well since he was first elected to the Durham County Court in 2002.  

For almost two decades, Hill, 71, was a fixture at the courthouse. But after losing his campaign for reelection in 2018, he now only comes to the courthouse occasionally as an “emergency” judge. Hill’s career is the story of a man who prided himself on his impartiality, only to suffer the consequences of a very public courtroom controversy – and  the arrival of partisan judicial elections. 

After being elected as judge in a nonpartisan election in 2002, he faced no opposition for his seat on the bench in 2006, 2010, or 2014. In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly put political parties on the ballot for District Court judicial elections. 

The state legislature’s decision paved the way for a Democrat to challenge Hill in overwhelmingly blue Durham County. For the first time since 2002, voters saw that Hill was a Republican and that his opponent, Clayton Jones, a former public defender and assistant district attorney in Durham County, was a Democrat.

In the race, Hill’s experience and candor on the bench were liabilities. Jones garnered 76% of the vote, while Hill won only 24%. 

The Beginnings

 Aside from the three years he spent in Alabama at Cumberland School of Law, Hill is a lifelong resident of Durham County. His road to the judiciary began when he decided he wanted to be a lawyer in 7th grade. 

 The self-described “little country boy” from Rougemont is the youngest of three, born to hard working parents who both had a 9th grade education. 

 “If you would have taken a blind look at my background, you would say that guy was never going to amount to much of anything,” Hill says. 

 He worked his way through school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a laborer and carpenter, when he estimated that cost of attendance was $2,000 a year.

 As a lawyer, Hill’s practice ranged from civil and juvenile cases to murder cases. It was good preparation for the rotating hats he would later wear as a District Court judge. 

 Before the Durham County Public Defender’s Office was established in 1990, private attorneys would sign up to represent those who could not afford a lawyer. 

 Hill “got on all the court-appointed lists,” as you did back then. 

 One of his first clients was a man with an IQ of 64, which generally indicates an intellectual disability. The man had relieved himself on the busy corner of Trinity Avenue and Mangum Street during peak morning hours and had been charged with indecent exposure. 

 Hill got the man off with a Prayer for Judgment Continued—a legal device that suspends a conviction even when defendants have been found guilty or have pled guilty. To this day, Hill considers it a win.

He looks at people straight from eye to eye,” says Judge  Archie Smith, Clerk of Superior Court. “He doesn’t consider himself any better than anybody else.”  

‘I didn’t start this race to lose’ 

 In 1994, all five of the Durham District Court judgeships and three of the four Superior Court judgeships were for the taking. Then-Chief District Court Judge Kenneth Titus told The Durham Herald-Sun that it was going to be a “wicked year.” 

 After failing to score an appointment, Hill was eager for a spot on the Durham District Court bench. The Democratic primary went into a runoff. 

 Outwardly, Hill remained hopeful. 

 “I didn’t start this race to lose,” he told The Herald Sun after the vote count.

Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal, who was then a lawyer, beat Hill by some 1,100 votes in the low-turnout run-off.  

 In the years after the election, Hill, once President of the Durham County Young Democrats and treasurer of the Durham County Democratic Party, switched his party affiliation. 

 “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. It left me,” says Hill, who declines to say much more. 

In 2001, the North Carolina legislature took political affiliation off the ballot for district court races. Hill ran again with the slogan “A judge Durham will be proud of.” He touted his 25 years of legal experience and his commitment to impartiality. 

 Hill lost the open primary, but ultimately clinched the judgeship by beating William A. Marsh III by a 12-point margin in November. 

 As for his status as a Republican, “at that time, not much was made of it,” Hill says.

 On the Bench 

 To Hill, District Court is the “people’s court,” and he says he strove to run it as such. He fondly recalls bantering about construction-related technicalities with one defendant. He remembers everyone else in the courtroom being bewildered, thinking “What in the world are you talking about?”

 “But I felt like that was good for me and him,” Hill says. “To let him know I knew what he was going through.” 

 Just a year into his courtship, Hill ruled that a North Carolina law imposing a $50.00 application fee to obtain a court-appointed lawyer was unconstitutional.

 He was the first judge in the state to do so. Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson affirmed Hill’s ruling. The North Carolina Supreme Court followed suit. He recalls this as one of his proudest rulings. 

 “I didn’t really think about political repercussions,” Hill says. “I just did what I thought was right.” 

  As a jurist, Hill presided over Mental Health Court in its infancy.  He also established and ran a truancy court—which creates legal penalties for excessive repeated unexcused school absence—for more than ten years at his middle-school alma mater, Carrington Middle School, until the idea fell out of favor with the prosecutor’s office. 

 Elections Made Partisan 

The 2018 judicial election was unlike any Hill had faced before. The North Carolina General Assembly had just recently made judicial elections partisan again, and Hill would have to run as a Republican candidate in a deeply blue district. 

In his last term, he also suffered a blow to his professional reputation. 

 Asked in a pre-election interview what decision made by the incumbent he most disagreed with, Jones, Hill’s opponent, cited a moment in Hill’s that stained his candidacy.

In a video viewed almost 20,000 times since its release by INDY Week in 2014, Hill lambasts an estranged couple at a custody hearing.

 The nearly seven-minute clip from the conclusion of a two-day hearing shows Hill repeatedly calling RiShawna and Collin Morrison “idiots.” 

 “Y’all the one that crawled into bed and had sex and made that baby,” Hill tells them. “He didn’t ask to be born.” 

 When RiShawna protests Hill’s ruling for joint-custody, Hill rattles off jail sentences, what he calls “trip[s] to the Durham County Bed and Breakfast”: first 24 hours, then 48, then 72, all the way up to 30 days. 

 “I’m going to jail for being a good mother?” RiShawana asks as chaos erupts. 

 RiShawana flails against the deputy who comes to restrain her and manages to free herself from his bear hug when he tries to handcuff her. Hill exits as others in the audience enter the tussle. 

 By the end, nine deputies have entered the courtroom. RiShawna, who Hill now calls a “good parent,” was reportedly cut and bruised. 

 After INDY Week broke the story, Hill received a public reprimand from the state’s Supreme Court for his behavior during the case. It was a finding for a minor violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Only 14 public reprimands have been issued since 2015. 

 Despite the reprimand, the commission’s team lauded Hill for his “good reputation in the community,” above average Judicial Performance Evaluation—4.19 compared to 3.56—and cooperation in the investigation. 

“My choice of words left something to be desired,” Hill says. “My goal in the hearing was to point out to them who the most important person in that hearing was, the child. What they were doing was hurting that child, who was innocent.”

“That was my goal,” Hill says. “That was my goal.”

During the 2018 race, Jones, a Democrat who called himself a proponent of “judicial activism,” brought Hill’s record into question, including the truancy courts. Jones said he would work to reduce the burden of fines and fees and expand pretrial release programs and drug and mental health courts.

“For 15 years, I just saw things—things that just didn’t sit right with me,” Jones said at a debate hosted by Kids Voting Durham. He referenced Hill’s habit of calling kids “babies” and his practice of shackling juveniles in court, which Hill claimed he did for the safety of the children.

Hill was unable to persuade Durham County voters to look past his affiliation with the Republican Party or the public reprimand. The even-keeled Jones cruised to victory with 76% of the vote. 

Judge Nancy Gordon, a Democrat elected to the Durham County District Court four years after Hill, takes issue with the politicization of judgeships, and she respects Hill for his impartiality. 

 “[Hill] tried really hard to not let people manipulate him with [his personal beliefs],” Gordon says, “and you get points for that.” 

Now, Hill only spends the occasional day in court, sometimes working alongside Jones. Otherwise, he goes on long morning walks, attends a prayer group on Tuesdays, and takes care of his grandson. 

“If you don’t stay busy, you’ll die,” he says. 

PHOTO ABOVE: Judge James Hill won three elections before being defeated in 2018, when Durham County compelled candidates for the bench to declare their political party.


As cases soar, emergency judges keep courts moving

Judge Nancy Gordon emerges from a concealed door behind the bench into Courtroom 5A. No one notices her, except for the bailiff, who stands and commands, “All rise!” 

“This honorable court for the County of Durham is now open and sitting,” the bailiff says on this morning in early October. “The Honorable Judge Nancy Gordon presiding.” 

During the bailiff’s cry, Gordon, 67, walks the few feet to the judge’s chair. She wears thin-frame glasses, and her short brown hair, with a faint white streak, is tied back. Her black robe engulfs her. 

She takes a laptop out from under her arm and places it on the desk. Lingering for a moment, she stands with a hand on the chair. The pause lasts just long enough that when the courtroom sits down after the cry, she does too. That way, they all sit in unison.  

It’s a familiar ritual, one Gordon first took part in for decades as a family law attorney, then practiced as a Durham District Court judge. As a jurist, she has never known if she’s supposed to sit or stand during the cry. That’s still the case now that she’s an emergency judge. 

When sitting judges are unavailable, emergency judges step in to keep the court system — and its ever-growing caseload — moving. Unlike sitting judges, however, they aren’t voted onto the bench by constituents in partisan elections. Most lost their bids for re-election, like Gordon in 2014, or chose not to run for another term. 

On the bench, emergency judges hold the same judicial power they did as elected officials. But there’s no longer the subtle pressure of re-election, or the hovering spectre of a constituency. There’s only the expectation to administer justice fairly and objectively. Before each court session, the bailiff’s cry reminds Gordon of this responsibility.

“Really what [the bailiff’s cry] is about is the institution, not the person,” Gordon said. “You’re representing one of the branches of government, and that’s a whole lot bigger than you.” 

‘I don’t own the court system the way I used to’

When Gordon lost re-election’, she spent 90 days away from the bench — the minimum time before she could apply to be an emergency judge. 

Once an emergency judge is placed on an active list, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and the chief justice of the state supreme court can assign them to hold court for several reasons, including if a judge goes on medical leave, if a case overload occurs due to a vacancy, or if a judge recuses themselves. 

Emergency judges’ schedules are unpredictable. They may serve in any county in the state, unlike sitting District Court judges. Gordon has spent a single day in some courtrooms; in other courthouses, weeks. 

Gordon was assigned to oversee domestic violence cases in Durham for a week in October. Since August, she has filled in for former District Court Judge Brian Wilks after his promotion to Superior Court.

On Oct. 13, Gordon is sharp and quick. One attorney requests that today be her client’s last appearance for a two-month long case. Without looking up, Gordon cuts her off and snaps, “I’m not marking it last.” They schedule another appearance.

Gordon runs through the afternoon’s 37 cases with remarkable speed. 

Once, she raises her voice at a witness who filed a complaint against the mother of his son. 

“Do you know where your eight-year-old goes to school? Do you have custody papers?” Gordon chides. “If you really want your son to live with you, you should know how he’s doing in school.” 

He tells Gordon that his son is playing the guitar at an upcoming talent show, and her tone softens. She asks if he and the mother can stay 500 feet apart at the event. 

Gordon commands the courtroom, in part because of her familiarity with Durham. But over the last seven years, the state has changed — and so has her work. 

She doesn’t know the younger lawyers, and they don’t know her. When she gets assigned to other counties, they don’t know what to expect from her. Smaller counties welcome visiting judges, but “in a sort of sucking up way that makes me a little uncomfortable.” 

“I don’t own the court system the way I used to,” Gordon said. 

By this she means she isn’t overseeing cases as often as she did as a District Court judge. But if owning the system also means making judicial decisions without the stress of re-election, Gordon might own the system more now than she ever did. 

‘It was like watching heads explode’

In North Carolina, defendants who participate in the state’s community service program must pay a $250 fee. But many can’t come up with the funds, Gordon said. Instead in Durham, judges order community service at a non-profit.

So that’s what Gordon ordered when she went to oversee criminal court in Alamance County, a region in north-central North Carolina that leans Republican. 

“It was like watching heads explode,” Gordon said, laughing. “They’d never seen this before. And I’m sure they were thinking, ‘Who is this progressive judge coming from Durham, that little blue hole?’” 

She could do that because she doesn’t plan to run for office again. As an emergency judge, Gordon doesn’t wonder if the lawyers like her judicial philosophy and will vote for her re-election, she said. She doesn’t worry about how she’ll raise campaign funds. And she doesn’t have to fret about whether someone will challenge her in the next election. 

“I just need to be on the right side of judicial standards, which makes me feel a little more independent about some of the things I can do and not do,” she said. “I just have to do the job that I think is a good job.” 

Re-election is an unspoken concern among sitting judges. Another emergency judge, Lunsford Long, noted that sometimes, sitting judges recuse themselves from a “hot-button type of case that’s going to have political ramifications.” 

“So [the AOC] calls in an emergency judge and says, ‘Look, you’re not an elected judge. You’re not from here. Why don’t you come down here and resolve this mess,’” said Long, who served as an elected judge from Orange County from 2009-2016. “[Judges] wouldn’t say that they’re [concerned about re-election], but that’s obviously what’s going on when they want to duck the case.” 

Attorneys who work in the same courtroom daily also grow familiar with their judges. Sometimes they become too familiar, which makes arguing cases in front of an emergency judge difficult, said Christy Malott, a senior staff attorney at JusticeMatters, an advocacy non-profit. 

If Malott knew who the emergency judge was ahead of time, she altered her presentation: the aspects she focused on, the way she presented evidence. She called attorneys in other counties and asked, “Who knows this judge? What do I need to know in order to do a good job?” 

“Bringing in a new judge can make it a little bit harder, but the alternative is that all those cases don’t get heard,” Malott said. “The calendar gets more and more backed up.”

‘Court should still be able to work’

In 2017, the number of emergency judges was hacked by two-thirds in a General Assembly budget cut. 

The AOC did not respond to requests for comment and recent data on the number of emergency judges in time for publication. 

Gordon, who views her role as an “experienced, knowledgeable backup,” believes the state should make more emergency judges available. Sitting judges bear caseloads that are too large and practice too little self-care, she said. 

“Judges should be able to take a vacation and their court should still be able to work,” she said. 

In the middle of Gordon’s October session, a defendant doesn’t know the name of his public defender. She tells him that it’s Barbara Lagemann and recommends that he meet her before his next court date, which Gordon schedules for Nov. 30. 

As he turns and begins to walk out of the courtroom, Gordon yells, “When’s your next court date, sir?” 

He’s startled. Over his shoulder, he mumbles, “November 30th.” 

Grinning, Gordon throws up her arm and gives a thumbs up: “You’re free to go.” 

Being a judge is solitary work. If you do it right, Gordon said, the job is also exhausting. Yet none of that deters her.

“Retirement’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” she said. “I like keeping my head active. I like being a judge.” 

PHOTO ABOVE: Judge Nancy Gordon has been an emergency judge since losing a re-election bid in 2014.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Barbara Lagemann’s last name.

Justice is blind. But what you wear to court matters.

At the Durham County Courthouse, judgments begin before a case is even heard. 

The first judgment happens at the doors of the courthouse, where deputies decide who enters. They scan dockets for defendants’ names, wave lawyers through, and direct victims and witnesses to courtrooms. As they do so, they glance at what each person wears, determining whether an outfit is presentable for court. 

The second round of judgments occurs at the doors of the courtroom. On a recent Wednesday outside of Courtroom 5A, a bailiff checks names again. This time, though, she looks closer at clothing. 

She mistakes a defendant wearing a crisp navy blue suit and glossy brown loafers for an attorney. She instructs defendants whose boxers peek through sweatpants and jeans to pull their pants up. Tuck t-shirts in. Take snapback hats off. If they don’t, she warns, the judge may not hear their case. 

There is no dress code in the Durham courthouse. Justice, after all, is supposed to be blind. But courtrooms are stages for human drama, where dress and decorum matter and their impact on one’s image is impossible to ignore. In other words, perception can shape justice.

“There’s a general formality in court that can be intimidating,” said Sarah Willets, spokesperson for Durham’s District Attorney’s office. “Even if no one has said to you explicitly, ‘You can’t wear this,’ you still get the sense when you walk in court that there’s a certain way things are usually done.”

In the courtroom itself, some outfits are expected. There are attorneys in suits and ties, blazers and pencil skirts. Bailiffs stand guard in beige uniforms, and the judge dons a traditional black robe. 

The clothes in the gallery, however, tell a story of defendants, victims, witnesses, and relatives who put their daily routines on pause to watch judges decide fates. 

                                                                           * * *

When a defendant is called up, judges take their attire into account. Some judges who don’t approve of an outfit won’t hear a defendant’s case until they change, said Durham’s Chief Public Defender Dawn Baxton. 

For some defendants then, an outfit can reflect the significance of the moment and indicate to the judge their regard for the legal process. On that Wednesday in Courtroom 5A — domestic violence court — the man in the crisp navy suit, Benjamin Wendt, slides a briefcase under the bench before fixing his tie. The court finds out he is representing himself. 

Wendt sits next to Ananias Surratt, a young man whose clothes suggest that his court appearance coincided with his plans to go for a run. Surratt wears navy athletic shorts and a black hoodie, along with a pair of red, white, and blue New Balance sneakers.

Both men are in court for the same charge — assault on a female. 

Baxton thinks judges regard inappropriate attire as disrespectful to the judicial process. 

“Judges might have, in their mind, a standard,” Baxton said. They consider tank tops and shorts to be inappropriate. They take offense at some writings on t-shirts. 

But for many defendants, the clothes they wear to court are the best they have. In fact, to address this issue, staff at the Public Defender’s Office have collected a closet of donated professional clothes. 

“I think judges don’t take into consideration the circumstances that people are coming to court in,” Baxton said. “Some leave work and come straight to court. Others don’t own business attire. These are things that I don’t feel should be distracting a case from getting heard.” 

                                                                         * * *

Later that day in Courtroom 5A, a victim takes the stand. She wears a burgundy striped button-down shirt and black skinny jeans. Her large black handbag sits on the table. 

Between shallow breaths, she recalls the night of July 9, one of many when the father of her children came home high and assaulted her. She fell and hit her head. 

“That’s what you deserve,” she recalls him saying. Her voice cracks. She begins to cry.  

Most victims and witnesses have never been to a courthouse before. In their first visit to a building consumed by decorum, they relive trauma — a judge interrogates their story, a jury questions their credibility. What they wear can affect both how they present themselves and how the judge perceives them. 

“[Clothing] matters in terms of feeling comfortable and feeling like you belong there,” Michelle Cofield, deputy chief of staff at the DA’s office, said. 

For years, the DA’s staff  scrambled to find solutions when victims and witnesses didn’t show up in court-appropriate clothing. Legal assistants kept jackets on hand. One assistant district attorney stashed extra clothes in her office. 

In September, the DA’s Office established a lending closet of professional attire for victims and witnesses. A month earlier, the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys allocated $500 to each prosecutorial district to purchase clothes for people to borrow. Cofield had a week to order them off Amazon. 

Now, over 45 items hang on a garment rack in the corner of Room 8600, known as the guest room — a space for victims, witnesses, and their families to wait during court. 

In the middle of the rack, a black dress with hot pink and turquoise flowers sits next to four identical black cardigans, size medium to 2XL. There are two short-sleeve pointelle shrugs from Loft: one in black, one in white. A salmon-colored wraparound sweater with balloon sleeves is a favorite among office staff. 

“We relied heavily on sweaters,” Willets said. “It’s freezing in this building all the time.” 

DA staff donated a third of the clothing. Willets points to a black button-down top with white polka dots and a cheetah motif she once wore. Her husband’s old blue dress shirt is one of 10 in the closet. 

The range in clothing style and size ensures inclusivity. It also gives victims agency over a small part of the court process. 

“When people are victims of crime, part of that experience is having choice taken from you,” Willets said. “Something happened to you and you didn’t have a say in it. And so we try to give people back that choice wherever we can.” 

While a victim might feel comfortable in their own attire, DA staff considers how a judge or jury will view the outfit, Cofield said. Sometimes, playing a guessing game of “what people might perceive” means the DA’s office can present a more compelling case.

“We spend a lot of time working with our victims or witnesses and preparing them for court,” Cofield said. “We don’t need one other thing to get in the way.” 

The goal is for the victim’s clothing to appear neutral and not distract from their testimony.  If an outfit is deemed inappropriate or a wardrobe malfunction occurs, the closet is there. “Our court system is built using people,” Cofield said. “It’s not a series of automatons that are making the decisions.” 

People make assumptions based on how others are dressed. It’s inescapable. Cofield searched for the right word to describe why attire plays such a big role in the courtroom, particularly for victims.

She landed on “dignity.”

PHOTO ABOVE:  The Durham District Attorney’s Office provides clothes for victims and witnesses who may need appropriate attire for court. Photo by Josie Vonk, The 9th Street Journal.



A Courthouse Moment: ‘Everything in there is serious.’

Judge Doretta Walker glared down at two women with matching magenta-streaked braids  who stood before her in Courtroom 4D – in the Durham County Courthouse.

One of the women, Sekia Pegram, had violated her probation and subsequently failed to appear in court. And Walker was not happy. 

 “You could go to jail for being late today,” said Walker, a District Court judge. “You’re in custody for 45 days.”

In Durham, judges are elected officials. While they are accountable to their constituents, in the day-to-day churn of the criminal legal system, Walker reigns over the courtroom. Her thick, melodic voice fills the space. She commands. She nudges. She scolds.

“I love helping people,” Walker said. “I love holding people accountable. I love making sure that they know that they need to do right.“

That morning, she wore her black robe, and her favorite matching black mask — the one imprinted with “Judge Walker” in bold white lettering.There are three Black female judges up here,” she said, “and a lot of people get us confused. So, I put my name.”

With a decade of experience on the bench, Walker sees cases from trespassing to theft on a daily basis. Felonies and other serious cases may pass through District Court up to Superior Court, but Walker understands the power she wields. 

“The consequences of a conviction, everything is serious,” she said, enunciating each syllable. “To me, everything in there is serious.”

In court, Walker defended the 45-day sentence she gave Pegram.

“She gets every single day that she gets. I was nice to her. I can’t be nice to people, and she spits in my face,” she told Pegram’s public defender, Abigail Holloway, who protested the ruling. 

The bailiff gently guided Pegram to a seat on the bench to the right of Walker and handcuffed her. She rested her cuffed hands in her lap atop acid wash jeans, and Pegram glowered as the loss of her freedom sank in. 

Judge Walker sets the pace of her courtroom.

“Do you have something for me to do?” she repeated throughout the rainy September morning.  “I know you have something for me to do now. At least this gives us something to do.”

Her eagerness sometimes edged into impatience.

“Were you just over there looking at a piece of paper?” Walker asked Assistant District Attorney Andrew House, annoyed that he had not presented her with a legal argument yet in Pegram’s hearing. 

Earlier that morning, one defendant apparently left before his case was addressed. Walker counted him as failing to appear when his case was called, although he was present earlier.  Her hands are tied if those on the docket are not in her courtroom. 

“Who are we going to deal with now?” she asked as she inclined her head to the three lean men who filed in during Pegram’s hearing. 

They sat in a row, cuffed hands in their laps. Two wore rust-colored uniforms, and the third wore a bright orange jumpsuit. The “jail line,” Judge Walker called them.  

“Come on, they’ll miss lunch,” Walker said, hurrying House, as he rifled through papers between cases. 

Next, a witness spoke in the case of Gary Burton, one of the men on the jail line. Burton faced one count of attempted larceny and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. 

Walker asked the witness what he wanted to see from the court system.

“I’ll let this court do what it wants to,” he said sheepishly, wearing a graphic T-shirt tucked into blue jeans. 

“Speak loud,” the judge said. 

 Walker asked the stout middle-aged man what he meant.

“We’re all human,” he said. “We all make mistakes.”

He just wanted Burton to be held accountable. 

 “You are so nice,” Walker told him. “You are a wonderful person.” 

ABOVE:  District Court Judge Doretta Walker. Photo by Josie Vonk, The 9th Street Journal