History is being made right now in Allen Superior Court. For the first time, it’s a majority female bench, with five of the nine judges women.
“Not just women, but awesome, community-involved, forward-thinking women and it’s neat to be a part of that,” Hon. Frances Gull said.
Rising to the top of a traditionally male-dominated profession wasn’t always easy. In the last four decades, a lot has changed in the legal field and women lawyers and judges are more and more common now.
“The climate is different today,” Gull said. “There’re more women. Our Chief Justice is a woman.”
“[Now] they just view us as any other lawyer, which is what we wanted to be,” Hon. Nancy Eschoff Boyer, said. “I always hoped that what I started and what I did would help other women who came after me.”
Bonus Video: The judges talk about what it means to be a women leader and their hope for young girls today.
When Boyer graduated law school in 1976, she was not only one of the few women in her law school, she joining only one other female lawyer in Fort Wayne.
“To say it was difficult was an understatement,” she said. “I couldn’t get an interview with some of the law firms.”
Boyer did get hired, and worked in private practice for 14 years before she became a judge. But, it was full of overcoming obstacles.
“I’d be called honey or dear. I thought if I become angry or say what I think it’s not going to help me or any other women coming to Fort Wayne. After a few years, one of the biggest compliments I got was, ‘You practice law like a man.’ I said thank you and thought I don’t know what that means. I think they had a stereotype in their mind of what a woman lawyer would act like and I wasn’t that,” Boyer said.
Boyer was also the first female to become a judge in Allen County, taking the bench in 1991. She was also considered in 1985, but didn’t get the appointment that time.
Bonus Video: Judge Boyer recalls a newspaper article about her being in the running for judge.
“It was a different world. The Board of Judges I came into was a lot older men. They would practice law for 30 years and retire to the bench. I think they looked at me as a novelty maybe,” Judge Boyer said.
As a judge, Boyer said she had to prove herself again.
“Attorneys from Fort Wayne all knew me, so they were fine. It was the out-of-town attorneys who would come in and try to test me. I would stand my ground, but be polite, but as soon as they would start to push me around or bully me, I would let them know that wasn’t going to happen,” Judge Boyer said.
Boyer was the only female judge in Allen County for six years. Judge Frances Gull joined her in 1997. Like Boyer, Gull also had to fight through barriers as an attorney before becoming a judge.
“I’m running head-first into these walls. I was told by major law firms that they didn’t have any room for a woman lawyer or they already had their woman lawyer, and I was completely taken aback. I did not expect to see that in 1984 in Fort Wayne, Indiana,” Judge Gull said.
She also remembers being treated different than the men in the courtroom.
“It was majority men, and a bit older men, who had a different idea of what women in law should be doing. [It was] getting addressed by the Court as honey, being the only person in the room whose attire was commented on. I took it in stride. That’s what it was. I need to change their perceptions and they’re not going to change their view of me, so I need to change how I view their attitude and the atmosphere,” Judge Gull said.
Judge Wendy Davis graduated from law school in 1990.
“When I came into the field, it was definitely male dominated. It was challenging at times. I was brought up by my mother and father to not play the gender card and get there on my own merit,” Judge Davis said. “The times I was being sexually harassed or discriminated against, I would think, ‘I’m better than this and I’m going to overcome this and I’ll get there on my own merit. Over the years I have felt I had to be just a little bit better and be a little bit smarter.”
Davis became an Allen Superior Court judge in 2011, bringing the women judge count to three.
“Even in 2010, in my first election, I had a male lawyer tell me, ‘We don’t need anymore women judges.’ So what do you do with that? It’s moments like those that define who you are.”
Acceptance and inclusion of women in the legal field continues to improve as more and more women choose it as a career.
“My hope is that women are encouraged to go into law and to be part of due process and our Constitution. There are a lot of women out there and you can do it. You can juggle it all. It’s possible and to step out and be part of something bigger than you are,” Judge Davis said.
Hon. Andrea Trevino became a lawyer in 2003. When she was in law school, her classes were about 50 percent women.
“I’m very appreciative of where we’ve been and to those who blazed that trail for me and others to not have it so rough,” Trevino said.
While Trevino hasn’t had to deal with overt sexism like her female predecessors, she’s noticed little things here and there.
“There were times along the way when it was made known to me, a reminder that I have to work that little bit harder to establish myself,” she said.
The first time she appeared in Traffic and Misdemeanor Court with a client, the bailiff asked her if her attorney was coming.
“I said I’m the attorney, and at the time it didn’t ring to me that it’s becuase I’m a woman. But, it was something everyone was getting used to,” Judge Trevino said. “That woman in that suit with that briefcase, she’s not here to be a defendant or be a paralegal. She’s the attorney. She went to law school and graduated just like everyone else.”
Trevino was appointed to the Superior Court bench in March 2018 after serving as a magistrate in Allen Circuit Court since 2013.
“Older generations will act surprised, like ‘Oh! You’re a lady judge’ and I’m like ‘Yeah!’ When we have girls come through here and law clerks, I always encourage them to not let gender be a hindrance,” Trevino said. “We can aspire to what typically have been male-dominated positions and I think it has just as much to do with our society as it does with women feeling empowered and believing in ourselves and lifting each other up.”
Hon. Jennifer DeGroote, while serving as a magistrate for the last 20 years, is the newest Superior Court judge. She officially joined the bench in January and made it a 5-4 female majority.
“We’ve got such a great bench to work with – men and women. But, being aware of the history and of where things have come, it is significant. Here we are in 2019 to be able to say that,” Judge DeGroote said.
“We’re so fortunate in our community that we have such a broad, talented pool to select from, but it can be replicated across the state and it should be,” Judge Gull said of the female majority.
Bonus Video: The judges talk about what wearing the robe means to them in the video below.
“Hopefully it sends a message to encourage young women to go after their dreams,” Judge Davis said.
As these women rule, day after day and decision after decision, they’re continuing to open doors for the next generation.
“Follow your dream. If you want to be a lawyer or whatever you want to be,” Judge DeGroote said.
Judge Gull added that women also need to encourage each other.
“Leading by example and encouraging other women behind us to follow us and succeed us. Nothing drives me more crazy than to see us tearing each other down. I’m not jealous of my colleagues’ successes. I’m not jealous of women I see making new strides and new paths. I celebrate those women. We need to celebrate each other,” she said.