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Teri L. Jackson

State superior court judge and county attorney Teri L. Jackson was born in 1957 to Beatrice and Alson Jackson in Berkeley, California, where she grew up with her sister, Portia Collins. After watching the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, she developed an interest in the justice system. Jackson graduated from Jefferson High School at the age of sixteen and began her studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she earned her B.A. degrees in politics and history in 1977. She then went on to earn her J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1980.

Upon passing her bar exam, Jackson was hired as a deputy district attorney of San Mateo County, where she works as a trial attorney. Three years later, she began work as a prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, serving in the domestic violence unit, the felony charging unit, and the felony sexual assault unit. Throughout her career, Jackson has worked to combat domestic abuse in the Bay Area. In 1988, she became the first person to successfully introduce expert testimony regarding elder abuse syndrome in a court case. In 1995, she co-founded the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP), a rehabilitation course for individuals arrested for their involvement with prostitution. The program was replicated in other American cities within years of its founding. Jackson became the first woman to head up a homicide unit in the state of California upon her promotion to head district attorney’s homicide unit in 1997.

After working in private practice with the law firm, of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, Jackson was appointed to Superior Court Judge of California for the County of San Francisco in 2002. She was the first African American woman to serve in this position. She worked with an assortment of cases, including litigation in employment, trade secrets, the environment, real estate, and bankruptcy. Jackson has worked to increase the number of minorities working within the legal system, serving as an adjunct law professor at Hastings School of Law. Jackson is the recipient of the 2006 Rosina Tucker Award from the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the 2007 Community Service Award from the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.

Jackson is married to Imro Shair-Ali.

Teri L. Jackson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 6, 2011.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Marital Status


Middle Name



University of California Santa Cruz

Georgetown University Law Center

First Name


Birth City, State, Country






Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

If you disagree with me, take me out.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/San Francisco



Favorite Food


Short Description

State superior court judge and county attorney Teri L. Jackson (1956 - ) was the first African American woman appointed to Superior Court Judge of California for the County of San Francisco.


University of California, San Francisco Hastings School of Law

County of San Francisco

University of San Francisco School of Law

Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, LLP, San Francisco

Office of the San Francisco District Attorney, San Francisco

San Francisco Law School

Office of the San Mateo District Attorney

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Teri Jackson's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson talks about her mother's side of the family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson talks about her father's side of the family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson discusses her parents' upbringing and early adult lives</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson discusses her parents' marriage and decision to move to San Francisco, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson talks about her father's disposition and aspirations for his children</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Teri Jackson talks about her childhood and earliest memories</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Teri Jackson talks about religion and early childhood influences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Teri Jackson talks about her early education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses her early exposure to the legal profession</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson talks about her school experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson discusses early experiences with racism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson talks about recognizing a hurtful person from her childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson talks about her junior high school experience during the 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson discusses her parents' reactions to the Civil Rights Movement and Student Movement</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Teri Jackson talks about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Teri Jackson discusses her heroes</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Teri Jackson talks about her evolving views and extracurricular activities in high school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses choosing a legal specialization, her early legal influences and choosing a college</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson describes her experience attending the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the important world events of 1973</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson talks about choosing a law school and her experience attending Georgetown Law School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson talks about her work as a Deputy District Attorney in San Mateo County, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson describes the challenges she faced as an African American female Deputy District Attorney</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses her work with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and domestic violence cases</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson discusses prosecuting elder abuse cases and developments in domestic violence laws</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson discusses her opinions of the O.J. Simpson trial</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson talks about her most significant cases as an Assistant District Attorney</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson discusses being appointed to a judgeship of the Superior Court of California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson talks about her experience as a judge and her judicial approach</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Teri Jackson talks about memorable cases she has tried as a Superior Court Judge</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Teri Jackson describes the impact of presiding over criminal court cases</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Teri Jackson talks about the dangers of being a judge and her judicial philosophy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses her career activities and accomplishments</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson gives advice to future lawyers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson discusses her hopes for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson reflects on her career and legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson talks about African American bar associations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson talks about her family and how she would like to be remembered</a>







Teri Jackson talks about her father's disposition and aspirations for his children
Teri Jackson discusses her work with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and domestic violence cases
So did he have relatives out here already?$$No, it was just kind of the thing, it was the black migration from the South. Let me back up a little bit too. My dad [Alson Jackson] came back with his brothers and a lot of them from World War II. My father talked about growing up in the south and his relatives said he had to leave. Cause they didn't think my father was going to live. My father was a very outspoken man. And the, the segregation--I mean this is, if you can think of something worse than Jim Crow. That--we were talking about Louisiana and during the time of my father's and my mom's upbringing. And Daddy often told me the story when he, when he went off to college, he didn't think that white people could be just. Because what he had experienced being a young African American man in the south. And he went to Southern [University, Louisiana] and one of the first classes, it was a literature class, and he read this book by this as he said, a great author, William Shakespeare. And the first story he read out of William Shakespeare was the 'Merchant of Venice'. And then he realized that not all white people were wrong or bad. He realized that there was always a struggle for good and evil and that his experience in Louisiana should not reflect on everybody. And another thing that Daddy learned from that book of the 'Merchant of Venice', is that there was a woman lawyer named Portia. And he said if he should ever have a daughter, she was going to be named Portia and she was going to be a lawyer. Now you look at my name, it's Teri. My older sister is named Portia. And my father always had plans. Survive World War II, take his education and to become a teacher, marry the homecoming queen, have a daughter, name her Portia, she would become a lawyer and she would fight for justice. Well he survived World War II, he did get his degree from Southern. But his Southern [University] education because it was from a black college, did not translate for him to be a teacher in California. And the only way he could be a teacher and to realize his dream to teach geography, was to go back and do another four years and my father said no. He was a very proud man. His degree in his mind was just as good as anybody else's. So he did not fulfill that part of the dream, but he did marry the homecoming queen, he did have a daughter named Portia, and Portia hated law. And my name Teri, is named after my sister's imaginary friend. She was four years old, she could spell Teri with to Rs, and I became the lawyer. And it, it was very interesting because my father did everything to make, to encourage my sister Portia to be a lawyer. My mother was on this master plan. Once my father said I want to do this, my mom [Beatrice Jackson] was the implementer, implementer. So what my mom would do was have Portia sit down and watch all the Perry Mason shows, the "Young Defenders", anything that had anything to do with law, they wanted--they put that poor little child in front of the TV set and made her watch TV that dealt with lawyers. She would--they would not allow her to watch "Dennis the Menace" because they said she was so bad, that she didn't--they didn't want her to get ideas. So it didn't work. I was born, not that I was an afterthought, but the whole focus was Portia to become a lawyer. And then the movie came out 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. My father and mother had this plan that okay, we're going to take Portia off to go see this movie 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and she'll realize her destiny. They couldn't find a babysitter for me cause I was about four or five years old when the movie came out. But they assumed that I would go to the movie, fall asleep and Portia would realize her destiny. Portia fell asleep, I watched the movie, I walked out of the theater and my mom said that I looked up at my dad and mom and said I want to be Atticus Fench. I want to be a lawyer, and I want to fight for justice. And the rest was history. And my--$$How old were you$$About four or five years old.$$Four or five.$$And I wanted--I saw an injustice. A man wrongly accused, a man wrongly convicted and ultimately died for something he didn't do. And I wanted to be a part of a system where I could make a difference. And what struck me most was--there were two scenes that struck me most about "To Kill a Mockingbird". Was when Atticus Fench walked out of the courtroom and everyone stood up who--in the balcony. And I remember those balconies when I would go down and visit my relatives in Louisiana when we would go to the movie theaters and we would have to go to the balcony. I remember that vividly. But when the minister turned to Scout and said stand because a great man is walking by, because he made an impact on these people. Another thing that was always in his, in my mind ever since I saw that movie was when the judge read the verdict, or the verdict was read and the judge stormed off the bench and slammed the door. I remember saying to my mom, why couldn't that judge--he is the judge, why couldn't he do something? Why did he just walk off the bench? He knew it was wrong. I was able to pick that up. And that has always been my guiding force of why I wanted to be a lawyer, and I guess ultimately to be a judge.$Okay now San Francisco, District Attorney's Office, 1984, okay. Okay now you were recruited?$$I was recruited by Arlo Smith. He wanted, he knew my interest in domestic violence cases, and the laws were just start--there were--I shouldn't even say laws. There was an awareness that these cases should be treated like crimes, like every other crime, and that this is not something that happens between two loving, consenting adults. It is something that needed to be dealt with and it was a big, passionate interest of mine.$$Let me ask you this: And I don't know how this plays out in the Bay area [California], but in Chicago [Illinois] there's a, a women's organization called Southwest Women Working Together. It was formed around the issue of domestic violence. It was formed by the wives of Chicago Police Officers.$$Interesting.$$Yes, who themselves were--$$Victims of domestic violence.$$Yes. That was (unclear) actually stuck, you know, and stayed in existence. It still exists.$$Well the organization here in San Francisco and that's the Family Violence Prevention Fund, many of those women were either victims of domestic--when I say victims, but their partner or spouse was battering them, or they grew up in domestic violence environments. And so that's what started here in San Francisco and became nationally recognized. And there were a group of us. One now is the DA [District Attorney] over in Alameda County, [California] Nancy O'Malley. There was a woman by the name of Pierce who's a DA, and she still is down here in Santa Clara [California]. And several people in southern California. We were kind of the California advocates as prosecutors in the area of domestic violence and domestic violence prevention. And I'm very proud of many of the laws that are here in California, I was involved in them. Testifying, writing them, implementing them, teaching. When the Violence Against Women Act took place, I was called upon to lecture around the country in how to effect prosecution and how to set up a Domestic Violence Unit in various DAs offices. And I do a lot of training with the police departments all over the country.$$Okay. How did things change?$$Oh, God.$$--the training and the laws.$$When I first--this is how even though my court that I sit on, and a judge who was well respected, who's now since passed. When domestic violence cases, when we were taking an active, you know, had a unit and we were pursuing these cases, I'll never--and it would take a great deal to convince a person of domestic violence to come and testify. To testify against this person who you've entrusted your life with, who you've shared a bed with, meals and so forth and sacrificed for. And now you're testimony may, I won't say responsible, but it will have a factor in whether or not this person goes to prison or not. And so it took a lot. Very fragile souls. And I'll never forget I just got this woman convinced to come in, in fact I, I used to go and pick them up and bring them to court. And she was crying. And I had to get--and she was just composed and I said don't worry. We're in there, the court, judges, we're going to all be there to protect you. Just tell the truth. So here she is, she's a little behind me. And I'll never forget the judge yells out, courtroom full of people, "Oh here comes Teri Jackson and her debutant." That was the attitude when we first started prosecuting domestic violence cases. Judges hated it. And I'll never forget another judge said if two adult people want to beat their brains out at their home, why do we need our criminal justice system involved? So when you're telling me that the domestic violence awareness and the organization started in Chicago by women who were officers of domestic violence, I am not surprised. Because people felt that when an officer arrives on the scene, just take that battering partner out of the house, walk him around the block, and bring him back home. Walking that person around the block only meant you're sobering him up, so therefore he can hit her more, you know. So I'm very happy that we made it a recognized crime. It's always been a crime, but a recognized crime. And we've even gone one step further. California was one of the first to acknowledge domestic violence partners, same sex partners. That this is just as prevalent in same sex relationships as in heterosexual relationships. And I'm very proud that we were able to get a voice for those who are in those battering or troubling situations.$$So it really changed the attitude, I mean police can no longer say that someone being battered or beaten to a pulp in their house is okay as long as somebody, they're married to or going with is doing this to them?$$Oh, yeah. To get that--and not only the police get, society get the courts. I mean I remember my first jury trial. There is no question. You know, here are the photographs, just getting jurors convinced that this is a crime, and get them to talk about it. And you know now, more and more people are forthcoming and said I grew up in a household of domestic violence, or I have heard of it. People didn't talk about that in '84 [1984]. You know I had a case where the young lady said the reason I didn't report it because I saw my mother being beaten, I saw my grandmother being beaten. I just thought it was a way of life. I've also when I was a prosecutor, saw the consequences of children growing up in households of domestic violence. Had a very unfortunate case where this young kid saw his mother being beaten, not by one, but by several men in her life. But the last one, this one, this child trusted this man cause he had been in his life the longest. And he turned around and beat, had beaten his mother and he was only 11 years old. He felt helpless. The man was convicted and this child would go and visit him in, in prison. And it only--what happened was this child then turned eighteen and he was only visiting him, this batterer, the one, last one who had battered his mother in prison just to keep tabs on him. And on the first day that the man was released, this child had him come to a certain location in San Francisco and had ambushed him and killed him. And that is the impact. This child felt, and I remember in his interview, watching his tape, he said I was helpless, I couldn't help my mother and now I could. But it was the wrong way.$$Yeah this is a serious matter, domestic violence. So, so what are the--what do you think is the most significant legislation or action that you took part in?

The Honorable Vaino Spencer

Superior Court Judge Vaino Hassan Spencer was born on July 22, 1920 in Los Angeles, California to Ada Nona and Abdul Hassan. Spencer graduated from Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles in 1938, and went on to receive her A.A. degree from Los Angeles City College in 1949. Spencer earned her L.L.B. degree from Southwestern University School of Law in 1952.

After obtaining her law degree, Spencer worked as a general practice attorney at law in Los Angeles until 1961. She then became the first African American woman to serve on the bench in California as the Municipal Court Judge for the Los Angeles Judicial District. Spencer served in this capacity until 1976, then was appointed as the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge, a position she held until 1980.

In 1979, Spencer and fellow presiding justice Joan Dempsey Klein, founded the National Association of Women Judges, an organization intended to help promote women candidates on the bench. Spencer and Klein traveled around the country and met with judges, bar leaders, politicians and journalists to discuss the need for more women in the court room. The organization eventually set up a lecture series and established an annual conference for the association’s growing membership.

In 1980, Spencer began serving as the Presiding Judge of the Division One California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, a position she held for over twenty years.

Throughout her career, Spencer served on a number of judicial and law oriented boards, including the Judicial Council Justice Planning Committee, the Judicial Council of California, the Los Angeles County Commission on Justice and the California Law Revision Committee. Additionally, Spencer received various accolades for her groundbreaking law work, including the Outstanding Jurist Award in 2001, Metropolitan News-Enterprise’ Person of the Year Award in 1991, and the 1985 Trailblazer Award from the National Association of Business and Professional Women.

Spencer was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 22, 2006.

Spencer passed away on October 25, 2016.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category

Polytechnic High School

Los Angeles City College

Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School

Thomas Alva Edison Middle School

Southwestern School of Law

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Los Angeles




Leo Branton, Jr



Favorite Vacation Destination


Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles



Death Date


Short Description

State superior court judge The Honorable Vaino Spencer (1920 - 2016 ) served as a Municipal Court Judge for the Los Angeles Judicial District, and was the first African American woman to be appointed as the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge. She also co-founded the National Association of Women Judges, and later served as the presiding Judge of the Division One California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District.


Los Angeles Municipal Court


Los Angeles County Superior Court

California Court of Appeal for the Second District

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Vaino Spencer's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer lists her favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her parents and siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her neighborhood in Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer talks about her early family life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls the role of religion in her childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her childhood friends</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer remembers Thomas Alva Edison Junior High School in Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls graduating valedictorian from John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her brother's athletic career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her high school journalism class, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her high school journalism class, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes Los Angeles' restrictive covenants</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her difficulty finding work in journalism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her early career in real estate</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her real estate career in Los Angeles</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer remembers challenging restrictive covenants</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her decision to become an attorney</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer remembers studying for the bar exam</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls founding a student bar association</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer reflects upon the bar exam's low pass rate</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer remembers meeting her husband, Lorenzo Spencer</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer remembers establishing her legal practice</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls the civil rights lawsuits of the 1950s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer talks about the John M. Langston Bar Association</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her legal association memberships</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her first judicial appointment</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer talks about organizing the Democratic Minority Conference</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls campaigning for black candidates for Los Angeles City Council</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls becoming California's first black female judge</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls how black male lawyers failed to support her appointment as judge</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her early judicial career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer reflects upon her early reputation as a judge</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her promotion to the Los Angeles County Superior Court</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her tenure on the Los Angeles County Superior Court</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her conflict with a court administrator</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls her reelection to the Los Angeles County Superior Court</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls joining the California Court of Appeal for the Second District</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls the case of Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer talks about the conviction of Geronimo Pratt</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls vacating Geronimo Pratt's conviction</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes the bias against defendants</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes the importance of judicial independence</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes the threat of special interest groups to the judiciary</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer reflects upon the cases she heard as a judge</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes how she would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer describes her future plans</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer narrates her photographs, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer narrates her photographs, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - The Honorable Vaino Spencer narrates her photographs, pt. 3</a>







The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls becoming California's first black female judge
The Honorable Vaino Spencer recalls vacating Geronimo Pratt's conviction
Pat Brown is the governor in 1961, and he elects, chooses you to be the fifth black judge ever in the history of the State of California.$$That's correct.$$All right. Tell us how you felt and what your friends around you were expressing to you, and as you began to look that appointment, what you felt?$$Well, to go back a bit, at that first meeting that I mentioned of the Democratic Minority Conference we had Pat Brown as our guest speaker, and he was so impressed with the participants in that meeting, and what our mission was and so forth, that at that meeting he spoke to my mother [Ada Taylor Hassan] and I didn't know this, mother never told me until years later, he told her that he was gonna, he said, "I'm gonna make your daughter a judge." And so he wanted to appoint me almost from the--he got elected in '58 [1958], and he wanted to appoint me to the, one of the first vacancies. However, his chief of staff, Fred Dutton, who later became very involved in the John Kennedy [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy] administration, he told him that he couldn't because he would make an enemy of the then speaker, Jesse Unruh [Jesse M. Unruh], because of Jesse's antipathy toward me.$$Okay.$$And so that, that went on for some time and Carlton Goodlett [Carlton Benjamin Goodlett] and Leon Washington [Leon H. Washington, Jr.] and Norman Houston [Norman O. Houston] and also Paul Ziffren who was the California representative, who was our national committeeman from California, and he had appointed me to a number of committees. They were all urging Pat Brown to appoint me anyway, and Pat said he just couldn't afford to. He couldn't because he depended on the speaker to get his program through--$$Right.$$--and if he didn't get his program through he would go down as a failure with the governor. He was right; I understood this.$$Right.$$So, finally Pat said to me, he said, "Vaino [HistoryMaker Vaino Spencer], why don't you have lunch with Jesse," he said, "he's a hard-headed old Dutchman, but I'm sure that once he gets to know you he will stop being antagonistic towards you." And I said, "I doubt it (laughter), but okay I will do it." So, I called Jesse and invited him to, to lunch, and my husband [Lorenzo Spencer] I met him at a restaurant adjacent to the Democratic headquarters over on Hollywood Boulevard [Los Angeles, California] and at that time Pat had appointed the fourth black to our courts, and that was Bernard Jefferson and that was in--this all occurred in 1960. So, Jesse said, he said, "There's no question about the fact that we need to bury the hatchet because otherwise," he said, "the governor isn't going to give your group anything," and he said, "he isn't gonna give my group anything." He said, "And he'll be reaching out to someone who has never done anything for the party." So, we did bury the hatchet and--$$Okay, at that luncheon.$$--and that's right, and then the following year at the next vacancy Pat appointed me.$$That's a wonderful story (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) So, that's how that came about. And then after that my mother said, "Well I knew it all the time (laughter)."$The case, however, lingered, and Johnnie Cochran and others working on behalf of the defense, and they were working pro bono, they tried for years to unearth additional evidence to get the case reopened even after on appeal it had been, the conviction had been confirmed. And I'll give you a copy of the dissenting opinion that Judge Dunn [George Dunn] did, which I felt was brilliant. So, finally Johnnie Cochran and his team discovered additional evidence. For example, one of the witnesses against Pratt [Geronimo Pratt] had lied and that was known to the prosecutor, and the prosecutor had failed its duty to make that known to the defense. They concealed it from the defense, and it was on that basis that Cochran and his associates were able to get a judge. The case was moved out of Los Angeles County [California] to Orange County [California] because of the sensitivity and because of the involvement of the prior judge. So, this new judge in Orange County who had a reputation of being a very conservative judge, when confronted with this new evidence that the defense had not gotten a fair trial because the prosecutor had withheld this vitally important evidence, which could easily have made a difference. That was--so he granted, he set aside the conviction and granted a new trial.$$Okay.$$And so the matter then came to my court [California Court of Appeal for the Second District], and I received the case together with two of my colleagues and we upheld the trial court saying that without doubt Pratt had not gotten a fair trial. Well, the--$$Was it unanimous?$$It was unanimous, right, and the Supreme Court [Supreme Court of California] affirmed that, and the prosecutor then took the position that it would not retry the case, and I'm glad because it was a terrible, terrible miscarriage of justice.$$And a stain on California justice (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) That's right, and it was settled, I think, for about $4 million as I remember.$$Right.$$But that poor man spent all those years, over twenty-five years in prison for something that (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Four million or--no amount of money.$$But no amount of money--$$Right.$$--would compensate for that.$$I would agree. You've looked at a lot of cases, some here in California, but I imagine you've seen some cases, just read about them in other states, and the number of times where you've seen prosecutors hide evidence that they fully are aware of and, or simply don't acknowledge that DNA results have formed a--taken us down another road--$$That's right.$$--and, and so forth.