Calif.’s 1st Female Black Judge and Longtime Jurist Dead at 96

Vaino Spencer is remembered by her peers as a “double pioneer” in the field of law. 

Vaino Spencer
Vaino Spencer The Associated Press via Twitter

The first female black judge in California, and one of the state’s longest-serving jurists in state history, has died at the age of 96, the Associated Press reports.

Vaino Spencer died in her sleep of natural causes Oct. 25 at her home in Los Angeles, her niece, Fatimah Gilliam, said.

Spencer was born July 22, 1920, in Los Angeles and graduated from Polytechnic High School in 1938 before earning an associate degree from Los Angeles City College in 1949 and a bachelor’s of law degree from Southwestern School of Law in 1952.

After obtaining her law degree, Spencer worked as a general-practice attorney until 1961, when she was appointed as a Municipal Court judge for the Los Angeles judicial district. She was the first black woman to serve on the bench in California.  In 1976 she was appointed as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. She spent 46 years on the bench, including more than 20 years presiding over a state appeals court before retiring in 2007.

Spencer and Joan Dempsey Klein founded the National Association of Women Judges in 1979. The organization was dedicated to helping promote female candidates to the bench.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement that Spencer was a “double pioneer.”

She was “a pioneer for women on the bench and a pioneer for people of color on the bench in Los Angeles, statewide and nationally,” Cantil-Sakauye said, adding that Spencer’s work laid the groundwork for women like her to even consider a career in law.

“She leaves a legacy as a jurist in her opinions and as a role model in the person she was,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

Read more at the Tribune of San Luis Obispo.

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