Her Honor

My Life on the Bench...What Works, What's Broken, and How to Change It

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Pub Date 26 Oct 2021 | Archive Date 03 Jan 2022

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In Her Honor, Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell provides a rare and thought-provoking insider account of our legal system, sharing vivid stories of the cases that came through her courtroom and revealing the strengths, flaws, and much-needed changes within our courts.

Judge Cordell, the first African American woman to sit on the Superior Court of Northern California, knows firsthand how prejudice has permeated our legal system. And yet, she believes in the system. From ending school segregation to legalizing same-sex marriage, its progress relies on legal professionals and jurors who strive to make the imperfect system as fair as possible.

Her Honor is an entertaining and provocative look into the hearts and minds of judges. Cordell takes you into her chambers where she haggles with prosecutors and defense attorneys and into the courtroom during jury selection and sentencing hearings. She uses real cases to highlight how judges make difficult decisions, all the while facing outside pressures from the media, law enforcement, lobbyists, and the friends and families of the people involved.

Cordell’s candid account of her years on the bench shines light on all areas of the legal system, from juvenile delinquency and the shift from rehabilitation to punishment, along with the racial biases therein, to the thousands of plea bargains that allow our overburdened courts to stay afloat—as long as innocent people are willing to plead guilty. There are tales of marriages and divorces, adoptions, and contested wills—some humorous, others heartwarming, still others deeply troubling.

Her Honor is for anyone who’s had the good or bad fortune to stand before a judge or sit on a jury. It is for true-crime junkies and people who vote in judicial elections. Most importantly, this is a book for anyone who wants to know what our legal system, for better or worse, means to the everyday lives of all Americans.

In Her Honor, Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell provides a rare and thought-provoking insider account of our legal system, sharing vivid stories of the cases that came through her courtroom and revealing...

A Note From the Publisher

For media requests, please contact Christine Mykityshyn at christine.mykityshyn@celadonbooks.com.

For media requests, please contact Christine Mykityshyn at christine.mykityshyn@celadonbooks.com.

Advance Praise

"Would you sit in judgment of your neighbors? Order them caged, or freed? Decide who should raise their children? And what of being judged, for your race, your gender, your every act? With wisdom, grace, humor, and humanity, Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell challenges and guides you on every page to deeply ponder what it means to 'Judge.'"

-Ian F. Haney López, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law, UC Berkeley

"LaDoris Cordell's Her Honor is a testament to the need for representation. It makes a strong case for the need to have people of color properly represented in all aspects of the society we are attempting to live in together. It's fitting that the first Black female judge that Northern California had ever seen would be the one to police the police."

-Talib Kweli, rapper, musician and activist

"In her memoir Her Honor, the principled and uncommon retired California Superior Court Judge LaDoris H. Cordell offers an unvarnished peek into the mind of a jurist as she adjudicated within a legal system that is politically, systemically, and historically flawed. Narrated with candor and humor, and rich with tales from the bench and inside her chambers, Cordell unpacks her efforts to do both what is right and what is just, and to critique and improve upon a system even as she revered it. Revealing, engrossing, funny, and ultimately instructive, the memoir concludes with ten recommendations for judicial reform that all jurisdictions would do well to take up. A must-read about the ability of one person to stand up for justice both within the system and outside of it."

-Julie Lythcott-Haims, New York Times bestselling author

"LaDoris Cordell was the first Black woman judge in Northern California. In this remarkable book - part memoir, part insistence on reform, she tells it exactly how it is. Alternately searing and heartwarming, this is a book that will at one moment will make you shudder at the profoundly sad stories that find their way into our legal system, and tear up at others. This is one great read, and not to be missed."

-Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law, NYU School of Law

"Beautifully written and riveting from start to finish, this remarkable memoir by one of our nation's most pathbreaking jurists seamlessly interweaves vivid and often gut-wrenching courtroom scenes with fascinating legal history and candid personal reflection to provide a unique glimpse inside the process of judicial decision-making. A brave, profound and affecting book that combines wisdom, candor, wit and humanity in equal measure, Her Honor is a sterling embodiment of the meaning of judicial independence that should be required reading for law students and anyone interested in our system of justice."

-Kathleen M. Sullivan, Former Dean, Stanford Law School

"Her Honor is essential and urgent reading. With openness, honesty, and courage, Judge Cordell offers a rare and illuminating look at what it is really like to be a judge. She shares the moments of warmth and humor, the unexpected victories, the redemptions-and the moments of fear, frustration, regret, and uncertainty. She asks us to stand by her side on the good days and the bad days, to confront the tragic choices and deep inequities, so that we may know the truth about our legal system and heed the call to make it better."

-Adam Benforado, New York Times bestselling author of UNFAIR: THE NEW SCIENCE OF CRIMINAL INJUSTICE

"Her Honor is exceptional--an instant classic that will undoubtedly enter the canon of the greats of non fiction. As funny and charming as Bill Bryson, but as powerful and eye-opening as Bryan Stevenson, Her Honor, part memoir, part primer on America's court system is a joy, a revelation, and an education. Judge Cordell is a tough, humane, and wildly comedic guide through the judiciary, warts and all. The book succeeds on every possible level. I devoured it and loved every minute, laughing out loud at times, wiping away tears at others, and even mourning as I neared its triumphant ending. Thanks to this extraordinary book, I've become a more informed citizen. Judge Cordell is exactly what America needs right now."

-Susannah Cahalan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of BRAIN ON FIRE and THE GREAT PRETENDER

"LaDoris Cordell uses her experiences as a judge to provide unique, important insights into our legal system and how to reform it. This beautifully written book shows us what it's like to wear judicial robes and to make judgments that determine the course of other people's lives."

-Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law

"With candor and insight, Judge LaDoris Cordell puts a human face on the judges who make life-changing decisions on a daily basis. She takes readers inside the courtroom, presenting stories of the people whose lives have been altered, for better or worse, by our laws and the professionals who enact them. This is an inspiring and hopeful book, filled with good ideas for how to make the legal system work for all."

-Robert Reich, Former Secretary of Labor and author of THE SYSTEM

"Would you sit in judgment of your neighbors? Order them caged, or freed? Decide who should raise their children? And what of being judged, for your race, your gender, your every act? With wisdom...

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Featured Reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Her Honor". Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell shared a variety of encounters from her time on the bench. In her time on the bench, she saw the impact of the injustices in the law & worked to find better solutions when the law allowed. She was also instrumental in making significant changes to critical injustices in the law. While I'm not an expert on the judicial processes in this country, I know this country could benefit more from legal scholars like Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell. We need more legal scholars to challenge the injustices in our judicial system & work to remove these injustices.

Our judicial system is definitely better because of the impact of Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell's time on the bench in California!

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Her Honor is a plain spoken objective overview of the law written by a black female judicial officer with a wide juridical assignment experience. Written in lay language rather than legalese, the author provides brief overviews of many kinds of cases punctuated by lessons learned by presiding over specific cases. It is a fascinating look at the legal profession and those who are subjected to its sometimes irrational rules. She reveals her occasional boredom with routine, the difficulties inhering from the application of laws that imperfectly guide decisions, and the lack of preparedness of those newly ascending to the bench. It is a perspective not often shared with the general public in such an accessible form.

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Her Honor is an enlightening look into some aspects of what it means to be a judge. Examples of the good and bad of our judicial system along with what's broken are shown. It is easy to read and doesn't bog you down with terms you won't understand. Once I started it I just kept reading. For me, it gave another perspective of what a judge deals with on a daily basis.

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Behind the scenes look at the judicial system at work from the eyes of a judge. Well written with compelling stories of. actual cases that Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell presided over. I was particularly interested in her well thought out suggestions for overhaul of the legal system.

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LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, who earned her law degree from Stanford and had her own office in Santa Clara county didn't know what she was signing on for when she agreed to step in as a temporary judge in a municipal court in the early 1980's. It turned out to be a case that involved only 2 other people besides herself -- two women in their late 20's, both African American. They were locked in a dispute over payment involving payment for work on hair. Black women's hair. This early part reminded me of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Evidently it was believed that a woman of color would be better suited to try such a case. LaDoris then went on to become the first African American jurist in Northern California, serving in municipal and superior courts and putting into effect programs that have changed the methods in which justice is dispensed. For the lay person, there is a lot to learn about the inner workings behind the bench, and with her wit and warmth and obvious care for people, she can add to her many accomplishments, writer.

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I’m generally particular when it comes to reading memoirs and biographies. So when Her Honor arrived (to my surprise) in my mailbox from Celadon books, I was skeptical as to whether I would enjoy the book. Was I ever wrong!

From the start, beginning with the introduction, I was hooked. Cordell certainly has a knack for writing in a way that is easy to understand. It’s as if you were conversing with a friend. Cordell deftly explains legal concepts, and goes further to describe her thought processes for her judicial decisions.

Topics covered in the book run the gamut. Some of the topics are marriage, divorce, criminal cases, probate, and my personal favorite, name changes. With topics such as the above, Cordell introduces actual case files, describes the circumstances, offers her opinions, and finally how she ruled on each case. Thoroughly intriguing.

In addition to actual case file decisions, Cordell also details the shortcomings of the judicial system and offers ten possible solutions for creating a better system that is equitable for every American.

Her Honor is a superb memoir and a definite must read for those readers interested in the court system, the legal doctrines behind the decisions, and how certain laws can have a detrimental effect in the outcomes. Five stellar stars.

I received a physical ARC from Celadon Books, and a digital ARC through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.

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“Her Honor” by Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell (Retired) is an excellent work of non-fiction, very instructive, and highly enjoyable.

Judge Hazzard spent almost 20 years adjudicating cases in the California Municipal and Superior Courts. “Her Honor” tells the story of that experience in very human terms. It describes many of the cases Judge Hazzard heard, and explains what she thought, and thinks, about areas of the law that most often affect people in their daily lives (e.g., criminal and juvenile law, marital and domestic law, estate and probate law, mental health law, and even how judges make it onto the bench). By extension, “Her Honor” illustrates for readers how and what other judges might feel and think and some of the factors that can affect the decisions they make.

She is particularly adept at identifying problems within our judicial system and suggesting solutions for them. Readers may not agree with every solution, but I thought all the solutions offered both thoughtful and thought-provoking. For instance, she repeatedly suggests that we provide our judges with better training in the disciplines affecting the areas they’re assigned to (e.g., judges adjudicating juvenile and mental health matters ought to have a solid grounding in psychology so that they can fully understand the testimony of experts, the consequences of expert recommendations, and even when an expert is selling them a bill of goods.)

Judge Hazzard is a talented writer. Her prose is clear, direct, easy to understand, and devoid of baffling “legalese.” And she manages to leaven her story, and the stories of some of the cases she handled, with a wonderfully dry and self-deprecating humor.

In conclusion, a great book for all readers and especially for those interested in obtaining a better understanding of our laws and legal system and the judges who administer them.

My thanks to NetGalley and the author and publisher for making this ARC available. The foregoing review is my honest and independent opinion.

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Judge Cordell was the first black woman to preside as a judge in the Superior Court of Nothern CA. In her memoir, she provides behind-the-scenes accounts of her daily life as a Judge. I’ve always been interested in the legal system and how it works. So, if you are too and want an insider's perspective, you will learn so much by reading this book.

Judge Cordell writes with full transparency. She shares the good and the bad cases that came across her courtroom along with the flaws that need to be fixed in our justice system. Her stories are very personal and honest and it was a truly eye-opening experience for me.

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