© 2021 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trailblazing Black female judge takes an unflinching look at the judicial system

Ways To Subscribe
  Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell (ret.) was the first African American woman jurist in northern California.
Celadon Books
/
Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell (ret.) was the first African American woman to sit on the Superior Court of Northern California.

In a memoir of her 19 years on the bench, Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell points to what is broken in our judicial system and how it can be fixed.

Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, the first African American woman to sit on the Superior Court of Northern California, was appointed to the bench in 1982 and served until her retirement in 2001.

In her new memoir "Her Honor," Cordell points out that prosecutors have more power than judges: They decide what crimes to pursue and how to charge them, and the judge has no say in the matter.

Because of their high caseloads, Cordell observes, "justice becomes swift, and the question is, is it really justice?"

Cordell observes that judges are woefully unprepared for cases of people with mental health issues. She says many aren't even aware of the DSM-5, "the Bible of diagnoses for mental illnesses."

Cordell says that mandatory minimum sentences are a major factor in mass incarceration, and is grateful the issue is now being examined as part of the criminal justice reform movement in America.

In her career, Cordell became known for thinking outside the box and introducing changes in court, and she says her profession can both uphold the law and take steps to improve it.

"I think judges are uniquely positioned to help change the legal system, to make it better," she says.

When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.