The Alameda County Bar Association is proud to honor Judge Kimberly Colwell as our Judicial Office of the Year at our January 14, 2016 Board Installation and Distinguished Service Awards Dinner. Her integrity, sense of fairness, and patience make her a champion for equal access to justice in all that she does.
When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
I knew I wanted to be a lawyer when I was about 12 and a great lawyer friend of my father asked my younger brother if he wanted to become a lawyer and join his firm. He didn’t ask me because I was a girl. That just pissed me off and I decided I would show him. And I did!
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?
I was offered a job as a fly-fishing guide. I turned it down because I was going to law school. My hunch is if I didn’t end up a lawyer I would have ended up in jail – no, really I probably would have become an English professor, with a side line as an ombudsman for the students.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first admitted to practice?
It’s OK to say you don’t know something and to openly discuss your case with the other side. As I practiced longer I realized that your opponent wasn’t the enemy. A good working relationship and give and take coupled with honesty, made for a better career and was actually much better for the clients you represent because you don’t waste time, and their money, fighting over the little things.
What is the biggest challenge facing you as a Judge today?
Access to justice. On the civil side we see so many people who are unable to hire a lawyer, both as plaintiffs and as defendants. I wish there were more services available to help these people. Most of them are smart and hardworking and have legitimate issues, but navigating the judicial system without a lawyer is challenging. I just try to treat them with dignity and give them a fair shake, but it’s clearly an uphill battle.
What is your favorite part of being a Judge?
I LOVE coming to work every day. This is the greatest job I’ve ever had. My favorite part of being a judge is helping people in a real way. I like pro se litigants, I like lawyers, I like the whole thing. If people are diligently working on their cases I am happy to jump in there with them and move things along in a way that makes sense for that case and those litigants. I’m not wielding a cookie cutter, I’m trying to get it right and be fair given the particulars of each case. People respond to that.
What is your dream vacation?
Going somewhere warm, with friendly people, great food, great coffee and really big fish that want to eat my fly.
What are you reading now?
My Own Country by Abraham Verghese. And I just finished Notorious RBG by Irin Carmen and Shana Knizhnik.
What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
That I raised pigs in the heart of North Hollywood.
What person, living or dead, real or fictional, would you like to have dinner with?
Since I just finished reading Notorious RBG, I think I would like to have dinner with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She sounds like a really smart, determined and funny woman who is dedicated to women’s equality. I would love to chat with her about her years as a lawyer and then as a judge.
Why did you decide to be an ACBA member? What is the greatest benefit of membership?
I wanted to be a part of the community bar in the county in which I practice. Now as I judge I really appreciate all the things that the ACBA and in particular the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC) does. There are so many people who don’t have the funds to hire a lawyer or who aren’t getting the access to justice that they need. The VLSC really helps with that. I am so proud to have been a part of the UD Mediation Program start up. I think it provides a great service to both sides of the UD Bar. I hope to make the program even bigger and stronger when I transfer to the new General Civil Department in Hayward.
I’ve also met the most interesting and dedicated lawyers through the ACBA and VLSC. It’s very humbling to see all the things they do to help the community in addition to handling their own cases loads. I am in awe of them.
Please join us in honoring Judge Colwell and the other Distinguished Service Award Recipients at the Rotunda Building Oakland on January 14th, 2016. Click here for more information and tickets.