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Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, Inc.
Media Contact: Amber Finch
(213) 457-8046

LOS ANGELES, Calif., December 5, 2016. On Saturday, December 3, 2016, Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Inc. (“BWL”) held a loving Memorial Tribute service to honor the legacy and leadership of BWL Co-Founder Justice Vaino Hassan Spencer, who passed away on October 25, 2016, at the age of 96.

Justice Spencer was a legal giant. She was the first African American woman judge in California when she was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1961, and only the third Black woman judge in the nation. In 1976, she was elevated to the Los Angeles Superior Court and, in 1980, to the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District. Justice Spencer served on the Court of Appeal for over 26 years, where she served as the Presiding Justice of Division One until her retirement in 2007. Serving on the bench for 46 years, Justice Spencer is one of the longest serving judicial officers in California.

Justice Spencer was a trailblazer for women and people of color in the legal profession, advocating tirelessly for gender and racial equality in the bar and on the bench. Exemplifying these efforts, in 1975 she co-founded Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Inc. with then Congresswoman Yvonne Burke, and in 1979, the National Association of Women Judges, with Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein. With Justice Klein, she expanded the scope of her advocacy to the international stage, co-founding the International Association of Women Judges, which led to training and promotion of women judges worldwide.

The Memorial Tribute was held at Justice Spencer’s alma mater, Southwestern Law School, where Justice Spencer’s family, friends, colleagues, bar leaders, attorneys and court staff remembered her life and legacy.

The power-packed audience included former Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke and former California Attorney General John Van de Camp.

Several local jurists also attended the ceremony, including California Appellate Justices Hon. Lamar Baker, Hon. Carol Codrington, Hon. Candace Cooper, and Hon. Gary Hastings; Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Hon. Irma J. Brown, Hon. Rupert A. Byrdsong, Hon. Marguerite D. Downing, Hon. Holly J. Fujie, Hon. Marion J. Johnson, Hon. Xenophon Lang, Hon. Veronica S. McBeth, Hon. John V. Meigs, Hon. Emily A. Stevens, Hon. Patricia J. Titus, Hon. Allen J. Webster; Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Kristen Byrdsong; and California State Bar Court Judge Yvette D. Roland.

Other notable attendees included National Association of Women Judges President and Contra County Superior Court Judge Diana Becton Smith; Southwestern Law School Dean Susan Westerberg Prager; BWL President Amber Finch; BWL Foundation President Syna N. Dennis; California Association of Black Lawyers President Camille Townsend; California Women Lawyers Association President Christine Goodman Chambers; Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law Executive Director, Betty Nordwind; and a host of lawyers and other legal professionals.

The hour-long tribute was filled with special remembrances of Justice Spencer and the impact she had on the personal and professional lives of members of the community and the legal profession. Justice Candace D. Cooper served as the Mistress of Ceremonies. Remembrances were offered by Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, Judge Veronica S. McBeth, Judge Patricia J. Titus, Shirley A. Henderson, Esq., Hon. Diana Becton, and Shirlet Hope, Justice Spencer’s longtime judicial assistant.

At the conclusion of the tribute, Judge Marguerite Downing announced the creation of the Hon. Vaino Hassan Spencer ’52 Judicial Externship Endowment Fund which has been established to honor Justice Spencer’s legacy at Southwestern Law School to fund a judicial externship for a deserving law student. Several donations to the endowment were received that day. Additional donations will be accepted by Southwestern Law School on an ongoing basis. A hosted champagne jazz reception immediately followed.

Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Inc. is a non-profit corporation whose mission is dedicated to charitable, educational and community-based services. To learn more about BWL, visit Also, find us on Facebook under “BlackWomenLawyersLA,” and follow us on Twitter @BWLofLA.

About Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Inc.
Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Inc. is a non-profit corporation whose mission is dedicated to charitable, educational and community-based services. BWL was founded in 1975 after a small group of Los Angeles based African-American women judges and attorneys held a luncheon meeting to discuss the marked absence of an organization which addressed the needs and concerns of African-American women in the legal profession.

The dialogue and events that followed became the genesis of BWL. Over the years, BWL branched out and grew through its various community projects and committee activities. The first BWL scholarship luncheon was held in 1975 at the Medallion Restaurant. Since then, BWL has raised scholarship funds annually for second and third year law students through its annual fundraising efforts.

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