On January 6, history was made when lesbian Justice Laurie M. Earl was sworn in as a judge for California's Third District Court of Appeal. She was first confirmed by California's Commission on Judicial Appointments before to be confirmed unanimously by the Senate. It's an invaluable step towards increasing diversity on the bench. She becomes the fifth openly LGBTQ person to serve on a state's court of appeals and the tenth woman on the Third District court bench.
Laurie M. Earl is a native of Southern California. She was born in San Jose, but spent most of her childhood near Modesto. She and her wife Jody Cooperman now live in Sacramento. They were married in 2008, but they have been together for nearly three decades. In that time, they have raised two sons - a 25-year-old son who is studying law in Portland and a 22-year-old son who is attending college in San Francisco.
Earl has become a highly respected member of the California legal community with a wealth of experience in criminal defense and prosecution.
After earning a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and a J.D. from Lincoln Law School in Sacramento in 1988, the legal career of the Honorable Laurie M. Earl began in 1989 as an Assistant Public Defender for the Sacramento County Public Defender's Office.
“I learned a great deal as an assistant public defender in just human nature,” said Earl. “I represented people who were, quite frankly, scared.”
After working as a defender for six years, she then switched sides of the courtroom to become a Deputy District Attorney for the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office. In this role, she worked on cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, and homicide.
She remained with the District Attorney's Office until 2004, when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to the position of Senior Assistant Inspector General for the the Sacramento County Office of Inspector General. In this capacity, she oversaw the independent review of internal affairs investigations of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and was widely praised for her impartial and fair approach to investigations.
After completing her term as Senior Assistant Inspector General, Judge Laurie Earl was appointed to the Sacramento County Superior Court in 2005, where she served two two-year terms, first as Assistant Presiding Judge from 2010 to 2012, and then as Presiding Judge from 2012 to 2014.
In addition, she has served in a variety of leadership roles, both at the local and state level. Earl has served as a Judicial Council liaison for both the Sutter and Yolo County Courts, and her work on the Judicial Council's Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee's Joint Rules Working Group has helped to shape the state's court rules.
She has also served as the presiding judge of the Prerogative Writ Department. In that role, her leadership of the Prerogative Writ Department has helped to ensure that writ petitions are adjudicated fairly and expeditiously.
And she has served on the Trial Court Budget Group as well, providing valuable input on how to allocate the court system's resources, and was a member of the Commission that sought to envision the future of California's Court System.
In 2014, in addition to her work on the judiciary, Earl has returned to her alma mater, Lincoln Law School of Sacramento, to teach Criminal Law Pleading and Practice, in addition to providing instruction for judicial education courses in both criminal law and ethics courses. She also directed the Democracy in Action Academy, a program that introduces high school students to the three branches of government. Earl's wealth of knowledge and experience has been a significant asset to her students, who have benefited immensely from her guidance.
As for her political affiliation, Associate Justice Laurie M. Earl is a Democrat. She works to uphold the Democratic party's core values and reach their objectives.
Associate Justice Laurie M. Earl is a highly respected member of the Sacramento legal community. She was named "Alumnus of the Year" by Sacramento's Lincoln Law School in 2005, and "Judge of the Year" in 2010 by the Capitol City Trial Lawyers Association. In 2013, she was awarded the Judicial Council's Ronald M. George Award for Judicial Excellence - its highest honor for a judge - in recognition of her exemplary leadership in collaboration with trial court judges and executive officers to implement a new methodology to allocate state trial court funding among all 58 courts. The same year, she was also named Judge of the Year by the Sacramento County Bar Association.
Judge Earl is widely admired for her intelligence, fairness, and dedication to her work. She is a role model for lawyers and judges alike, and her many accomplishments reflect her dedication to justice.
Earl's appointment as associate justice to the Third District Court of Appeal is a testament to her impressive career and dedication to justice. She has worked hard for many years to achieve her dream of becoming an appellate judge, and today that dream has come true. Judge Earl has been appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice M. Kathleen Butz.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Senior Presiding Justice Vance W. Raye from the 3rd District appellate court cast their votes in favor of Earl during her confirmation hearing.
It hasn't been easy, but she's finally made it. After years of dedicated work and determination, Laurie Earl is now an appellate judge for the 3rd District court bench. It's a well-deserved position for someone who has fought so hard to get where she is today.
“January 6, 2021 rioters broke through the glass doors to gain access to our nation’s capital. January 6, 2022, Laurie M. Earl broke through the glass ceiling to gain access to the California Court of Appeal,” Earl's son wrote about the historic moment, drawing a parallel between his mother's achievement and the events of the previous year.
In her first public remarks as an Appellate Judge, Laurie M. Earl spoke about her pride in being herself. She also spoke about how those aspects of her identity have informed and guided her work as a jurist.
“I accept my role in history as being first and am honored to claim January 6 not as that day but as my day,” she said. “Today, of all days, January 6 is now a date that needs to make room for the pride and honor I feel in being here today.”
“I am proud of who I am, and all of who I am has informed and guided me as a jurist,” she added. "I am a woman, I am a wife, I am a mother, I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am a lawyer, I am a criminal defense attorney, I am a prosecutor, a teacher, a student, and a trial judge. And, yes, I am a lesbian.
“Each part of who I am has given me perspective on the bench and, more importantly, has given me what I consider the most important personal attributes a judge should have: humility and the ability to always remember where you came from,” she concluded.
The appointment of Laurie M. Earl to the state Court of Appeals brings the number of out women on the court to three. This is an incredibly significant step for the LGBTQ+ community, as it represents a significant increase in visibility and representation.
The other two women serving on the state's Court of Appeals are Therese M. Stewart (1st District) and Marsha G. Slough (4th District), both of whom are lesbians. In addition, two gay men serve on the state Court of Appeals. They are James M. Humes (1st District) and Luis A. Lavin (2nd District).
With five openly LGBTQ+ members, the state Court of Appeals is now one of the most queer-friendly courts in the country. This is a major victory for our community and a sign that progress is possible.
Congratulations to our newly elected Appellate Judge!
Top photo from the Sacramento state college of continuing education