A: I think because I heard that story and we
laughed so much about it, I’ve been very
mindful of trying hard to remember that
I’m supposed to be the judge and not an
advocate. But it is hard to separate yourself.
The hardest part has been … as an advocate
you have a side and you argue, and as a
judge, you have to get it right. And that’s
much more difficult.
What’s been really gratifying is that both
the plaintiffs’ attorneys and the defense
attorneys have been really pleased to
have me involved in their cases. In fact, my
minute clerk came in here one day—she’s
just this wonderful lady—and she said,
“We’ve now had two different cases where
the lawyers called and want to move their
trial date up before the end of the year so
you can be the judge for their trial.”
Q: Nice endorsement.
A: I thought, “Gosh, that’s a tremendous
compliment.” I don’t know how many of
them I’m actually going to try. A lot of
the cases are ending up settling, which is
what is supposed to happen in real life.
The only cases that should go to trial are
cases where there’s some real issue that
has to be decided. Most of the time, smart
lawyers can figure out some overlap that
generates a settlement if they just talk.
Q: When you return to private practice,
what will you tell people about being
A: There are three things I will be telling
everybody. Number one, judges work
Two, we don’t pay the fair value for the
work we get. It’s shameful what judges
make. They’re true public servants.
The third thing is unique to New Orleans,
but something that I feel very strongly about,
and I had already known this before I came
down here. Our facility for our courthouse
is deplorable. The week before I started, my
courtroom flooded. I’m sitting here at my
desk right now looking at my ceiling tiles, and
they’re all stained. The carpet’s got big spots
all over it. I don’t expect to have a palace to
work in, but we need a new courthouse really
bad. We’re stuck in the politics of that.
Q: Would you consider going into the
judiciary full time?
A: I’m having a blast but it’s not on my
bucket list. This is just the right amount
of time. I love what I do as a trial lawyer.
I love the wheeling and dealing and the
performance in court. The reality of it is
I’m very happy to go back into my private
practice. The other piece of it is that I’m
sitting during an election cycle, so it’s
unlikely that there would even be an
opening anytime in the foreseeable future
that I would consider. And we have a very
qualified group of judges sitting, and I
don’t have the experience they have.
Q: The Louisiana State Bar Association
recently gave you the Human Rights
Award for your work in promoting
diversity and inclusion in the legal
profession. Do you have any stories of
facing discrimination early in your career?
A: I was very lucky because I was hired
when I was in law school. I worked for
two years during law school in the public
defender’s office. The people there were
incredibly supportive and nurturing. Then
I was hired by a big law firm, Adams and
Reese. I was there 18 years. I was very well
treated, but I did have some very hilarious
experiences with outside attorneys who
tried to intimidate me and be disrespectful.
There was one lawyer in particular who
was really, really ugly to me. Very mean,
very disrespectful, and just pulled all
kinds of ugly, nasty stunts. I had many
cases with him because I was doing
maritime law, and we frequently crossed
paths. He couldn’t have been any more
of a challenge because he would just
do whatever he could to try to make me
question myself and lose confidence. The
good thing about him was that, because
I had such great mentoring and support
from my own firm, all it did was make me
a better lawyer. It forced me to develop
the skill set to deal with someone who
was unpleasant and disrespectful.
Q: You also once won an award for being
one of the 10 best-dressed women in
A: I do like to dress professionally and with
a bit of pizzazz. I enjoy who I am. I’ve had
people ask me if I was the court reporter
because I was frequently the only woman
there. I’ve had people be dismissive of me
because, obviously, a girl who wore eye
makeup couldn’t possibly have a brain,
because you can’t be both cute and smart.
It was pretty common in the ‘80s when
I started practicing law, because that
was really the time when a lot of women
started being out there in the practice. My
experience was, mercifully, much better
than many of my friends who had terrible
experiences, didn’t have the support
network that I had, who actually quit
practicing law because it was just so awful.
That’s not my personal story, but I know
enough people that experienced it that I
can tell that story and relate to it. It’s also
not just being a woman. I see the racial
component of it as well.
Q: How much has the atmosphere changed
and how far do we still have left to go?
A: I think that it is no longer acceptable in
most places to be overtly discriminatory.
[When I] give these talks, I say, “Who here
is opposed to diversity in the workforce
or diversity in your law firm?” No one will
raise their hand. Everybody says they’re
in favor of diversity. “OK, so how are we
doing on inclusion? Who are your leaders?
How many women and people of color
do you have that are partners, that are
on your board, that are officers in your
organization, that have a voice in the
decision-making?” That’s the place where
we are not successful.
Here in the courtroom, I’ve been shocked
because I’ve been in and out of courtrooms
for 33 years and yet this coming Friday,
it will be 90 percent white men in here
arguing. Now, how does that make any
sense when half of our law school classes
are women, and women are overachieving
in terms of the statistics when it comes
to holding the higher grades in the class?
Where are they?
That’s a dilemma, but that’s where I
think it’s important for people to be out
there pushing the envelope and doing
these things. Believe me, I do not hesitate
to use the platform that I’ve been afforded
to get my message out.
This interview has been edited and condensed.