In November 2008, Greg Ramirez brought all the minority bar leaders in Ventura County together for a meeting at the Tower Club to discuss his idea of working together on issues common to all of our respective communities. The top priority was increasing the diversity of our local bench. While some good suggestions were discussed at this first meeting, the idea only remained at the inception stage.

One of my initiatives this year as VCBA President has been to promote diversity and otherwise facilitate and make this idea a reality. Thus, in January, I called together the same minority bars to formally create and develop this coalition. The bar leaders are Rennee Dehesa, Jill Friedman, John Fukasawa, Alvan Arzu, Jessica Arciniega, Jodi Prior, Tina Rasnow, David McDonald, Kata Kim, and Carmen Ramírez, representing the founding member organizations: Ventura County Mexican American Bar Association, Women Lawyers of Ventura County, Ventura County Asian American Bar Association, and Ventura County Black Attorneys Association. We all agreed on the name Ventura County Diversity Bar Alliance (VCDBA). The VCDBA is being modeled after the pioneering and hugely successful Multi-Cultural Bar Alliance (MCBA) of Southern California comprising 20 minority, women and LGBT bar associations.

According to the 2010 census, the population of Ventura County was 823,318, comprised of nearly 50 percent people of color (40.3 percent Hispanic or Latino origin, 6.7 percent Asian, and 1.8 percent Black). Females made up 50.3 percent of the population. As to diversity on the Ventura County bench, the 2006-2007 Ventura Superior Court Annual report (“Ventura report”) indicated there were six female judges, two male Hispanic judges, and one African American judge out of a total of 31. Currently, only one Hispanic judge remains on the bench, and there are no African American or Asian American judges. Of the ten appointments made from 2007 through 2011, two judges were female and one said he was of more than one race. The Ventura report cited to the Judicial Council’s Strategic Plan and noted: “The makeup of California’s judicial branch will reflect the diversity of the state’s residents.” The Judicial Council’s Strategic Plan is intended to guide the local courts and assure that they implement the stated goals to achieve access, fairness, and diversity in the courts.

By contrast, neighboring Santa Barbara County, with a population of 423,895, which is 49.85 percent female, and is comprised of 42.9 percent Hispanic or Latino origin, 4.9 percent Asian, and 2 percent Black, has three Hispanic and one Asian judge on the bench: half the population, yet four times as many minorities on the bench.

In light of the statistics above, an important focus of the VCDBA will be to address the issue of judicial diversity in Ventura County. VCDBA has recently sent a letter to the Governor bringing to his attention the importance and need for diversity on the Ventura County Superior Court. Why is diversity on the bench important? As stated by Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon, the first woman to lead the Los Angeles County Superior Court, “The more inclusive and diverse the judiciary system, the greater the degree of trust and confidence that the public will have in the integrity in our judicial system.” retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno has urged that “only by having a diverse bench can equal justice for all be obtained. Diversity serves as a structural safeguard against bias and prejudice. Diversity ensures a full and balanced deliberation and decision-making process.” Governor Jerry Brown’s Senior Advisor for Policy and Appointments, Joshua Groban, confirmed that “diversity is important to Governor Brown and that his view of diversity goes beyond racial and gender lines and extends to life experiences.”

VCDBA will also serve as a way for each of the member organizations to promote and support each other’s events and to collaborate on future joint events. A number of activities are being planned for VCDBA’s kickoff year, including an inaugural Mixer on May 16 at Twenty 88 tapas bar in old town Camarillo to introduce VCDBA to VCBA and the Ventura County community. This Mixer will also be a fundraiser to benefit VCBA’s pro bono program, Volunteer Lawyer Services Program (VLSP). Please see the flyer in this month’s CITATIONS.

On June 23, VCDBA will be hosting its first speakers panel program and workshop called “Everything you Wanted to Know About Becoming a Judge, But Were Afraid to Ask,” featuring Judge Manuel varrubias, Judge Matthew Guasco, Judge George Eskin from Santa Barbara County, and Judge Holly Fujie and referee Cynthia Loo from Los Angeles County. referee Loo, who will moderate this panel, is currently the Chair of the Judicial Committee of the State Bar’s Council on Access and Fairness, and Chair of MCBA’s Diversity on the Bench/ Judicial Mentoring Program. The purpose of this half-day Saturday program will be to provide important information and tips to those who are interested in applying for judicial appointment to submit their applications to the Governor’s Office. After the initial panel presentation, VCDBA plans to have breakout workshop sessions where attendees can get more one-on-one mentoring with other judges on our local bench or from outside Ventura County.


Please don’t forget that this month, there are two great events to benefit VLSP: (1) Ventura County aralegal Association’s 16th Annual Wine/Beer Tasting & Silent Auction on May 3 and (2) VCBA’s Law Day 5K run/ Walk (now in its 29th year!) on May 19. Come join us for a lot of fun and to support  good cause.

About Charmaine H. Buehner

Charmaine H. Buehner is an Assistant County Counsel and is the 2015-2016 president of the Ventura County Bar Association.