Talking to high school students today, First District Justice Martin Jenkins recalled a moment when he experienced discrimination as a young lawyer.
He was a new prosecutor in the Alameda County district attorney’s office, and he was working on the case against Huey Newton, the Black Panther leader accused of murder.
“About two months into that case, the bailiff in the courtroom had been seeing me every day,” Jenkins told the group of Balboa High School law academy students, who were assembled in Judge Charlene Padovani Kiesselbach’s courtroom in San Francisco. “One day I walked in the courtroom, and he looked at me, clearly recognized me, and said no family members of the defendant are allowed on this side of the courtroom," Jenkins said. "Ultimately what became clear to me was that he was bothered by the fact that this young black man was involved in this high-profile case. Sometimes in life there are people who have trouble with who you are and where you are, but you cannot allow that to limit where you go and how it is that you travel to get to the places that you want to get to.”
Jenkins was joined on the panel -- part of a “Color of Justice” program for students exploring legal careers, presented by the National Association of Women Judges -- by Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin and judges Brenda Harbin-Forte on the Alameda bench and Suzanne Bolanos on the San Francisco bench.
“Decide what it is you want to be and go after it and just keep working,” said Harbin-Forte, who noted that she defied the odds when she became a lawyer and a judge after having a baby when she was a teenager.