Voice of Judiciary
*This interview is a companion piece to “Walk in My Shoes: A Day in the Life of a Black Woman Attorney” by Danielle Johnson.
I was fortunate to recently talk with Justice Kimberly S. Budd about her career path and her experiences as a woman of color in the legal profession.
SH: What drew you to the law?
KB: I was lucky in that my Dad was a lawyer so he exposed me to the law. I have to admit, though, that when I was a kid, I did not really have an understanding of what a lawyer did. I do remember going in to work with him on the weekends, and helping him by pulling files. That’s what I grew up in. When I graduated from college, I went on to law school because I didn’t know what else to do (I majored in English). In hindsight, I wish I had taken a year to work between college and law school. I felt really young and inexperienced in law school.
SH: Has your identity as a woman of color affected your experience as a judge?
KB: I think it is fair to say that being a woman of color affects every part of my life, including being a judge. The piece written by Danielle Johnson about her experiences in Housing Court brought back similar memories of my experience as a young litigator. I have been mistaken for a defendant’s girlfriend by a court officer, and have been underestimated by countless numbers of opposing counsel over the years.
As a judge in Superior Court, it was clear that attorneys, litigants and jurors were not expecting to see a Black woman judge when they came into the courtroom. I remember one particular afternoon I was sitting in a civil motion session in Middlesex County and working with a Black woman courtroom clerk and a Black woman court officer. I think those who had business in the “D” session that afternoon were surprised to see our team!
When I handled criminal cases, many of the defendants were Black. I like to believe that it made a difference for them to see someone who looked like them on the bench, especially if everyone else in the courtroom was White.
SH: What was your experience with Judicial Evaluations?
KB: State court trial judges are evaluated periodically by practitioners who are surveyed anonymously. The evaluations have both objective and subjective components, resulting in a numerical rating, and written comments. In 2014 a review of the judicial evaluations showed that judges who were of color and women judges consistently received lower ratings than White male judges. Attempts were made to figure out how to account for bias, implicit or otherwise. We haven’t come up with a solution, and I’m not sure that there is one. The evaluations reflect the biases that exist in our society.
I have to admit that whenever I received my evaluation results, it was difficult to look at the comments. Many were good, but it was the negative ones that consumed my attention. After my first evaluation I stopped looking at the written comments altogether.
SH: You are the third African American ever appointed to the SJC, correct?
KB: Yes, and the second Black woman. Chief Justice Rodrick Ireland was the first African American appointed to the court in 1997 (the first in the Court’s over 304 year history). He subsequently became the Chief Justice in 2010. He was an excellent chief—and a great leader; everyone thought he did an amazing job. He was cognizant of the fact that his performance likely would affect the way judges of color who came after him would be perceived.. When Chief Justice Ireland retired, Justice Geraldine Hines replaced him and was the first African American woman.
SH: Can you describe your relationship with Justice Hines?
KB: I have been fortunate to know Gerri for a long time. She started in the Superior Court, back in 2001. I remember attending her swearing in ceremony when she first became a judge and being so excited for her and for the Commonwealth. Little did I know that eight years later I would be her colleague on the Superior Court. She was my mentor there, and again when I joined the SJC. It makes such a difference when you have someone in your corner showing you how to do the job, answering your questions and rooting for you to succeed. Her presence on the SJC when I arrived was huge. And her absence is still felt (she retired in 2017). She is only a phone call away though!
SH: The future of the SJC. Do you see more diversity coming?
KB: I sure hope so.
I would hate to think that anyone would use my presence on the Court to support an idea I am one of just a handful of people of color who are qualified to be a Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. That certainly is not the case. I also cringe when I think there are some who might believe that I am here only because they needed a Black person to fill a slot. Even though diversity and inclusion are and should be priorities for the Commonwealth’s judiciary system and in many workplaces, I believe that I hold my own on the SJC. I am not just taking up space. And like Danielle, I work every day to prove it.
Kimberly S. Budd is an Associate Justice for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), where she has served for nearly four years, and a former Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court. She was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Devall Patrick in 2009. Justice Budd was a litigation associate at Mintz Levin, an Assistant United States Attorney in the United Stated Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, and a University Attorney for Harvard University in the General Counsel’s Office. She also worked at Harvard Business School as the Director of Community Values. Justice Budd earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Georgetown University and her law degree from Harvard Law School.