Judge Jonathan Karesh

jek profile

In January 2019, Jonathan Karesh became the second LGBTQ judge ever elected to be the presiding judge of the San Mateo County Superior Court. At the time, he was the only out LGBTQ presiding judge of a county Superior Court in California.

He is one of three LGBTQ judges on the San Mateo County bench, having been appointed by Governor Gray Davis in 2001.

It would seem that Karesh’s career as a judge was decided long before he started law school at Berkeley. After all, his father Joseph Karesh was elected a San Francisco Superior Court judge the year he was born, and his earliest memories are of father-son bonding time spent going to watch his father’s trials. “We would also go to the courthouse on the weekends and then go to lunch after and just have a really nice time,” he recalled.

When Karesh was just 10 years old, he volunteered for his father’s friends’ campaigns for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At that time, he thought he might want to be a congressman.

It was a mock trial he was a part of in an eighth-grade social studies class that steered him towards a law career. Karesh loved playing the role of an attorney. That same year, he placed second in a speech competition, which further cemented his confidence. “I was terrible at sports, but I could speak and speak persuasively.”

After law school, Karesh spent his twenties and thirties as a deputy district attorney. At the time, he was heavily involved in the Democratic Central Committee and Democratic candidate campaigns. Those connections served him well when he applied to be a judge at age 38 and was able to have prominent community leaders write letters of recommendation to Governor Davis.

Now that Karesh has served as a judge since 2001, he has no desire to run for office. “I love my job too much, and besides, politicians have to fundraise and campaign, which I don’t want to do.”

These days, Karesh presides over criminal trials. He tries serious felony cases, which include trials for attempted murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault.

For the last ten years, Karesh has also mentored LGBTQ law students through the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF). His most recent mentee was a young man who recovered from substance abuse to go on to work with criminal defendants with similar histories. In 2018, he received BALIF’s Mentor of the Year award. That same year, the San Mateo
County Trial Lawyers Association presented him with their Judge of the Year award.

In 2011, Karesh filmed an It Gets Better video with the BALIF team. “It’s important for young people to know you can be in this profession and being gay is not a hindrance at all.”

Karesh came out at work in 2006 because he did not want to put up a wall between his personal and work life. He did so thanks to some advice from California’s first out lesbian judge, Rosemary Pfeiffer, who was outed by the press in the early 90s after attending a gay rights event.

“It was exhausting to maintain that wall, to keep things from my friends on the bench,” he explained. “I think it’s very important to be out at work.”

Karesh has never had an issue as a gay man at work. In fact, the day he came out by sending an email to a dozen people connected with court system, colleagues flooded his inbox with congratulatory emails.

Rich Gordon was serving on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors at the time. The Board Chambers and the Court Rooms were in the same building, and Gordon remembers there was an immediate buzz in the hallways and the elevators when Karesh made his announcement. “The buzz was positive and supportive,” said Gordon. “I had known Jon prior to his appointment as a judge due to his political work in our county. His coming out filled me with pride.”

“Jon is an outstanding human being and an outstanding judge,” reflected Gordon. “His integrity, his dedication, and his commitment to the rule of law make him an outstanding role model for those LGBTQ attorneys who stand on his shoulders.”

Around five years ago Karesh had a full-circle moment of getting then giving advice when a young district attorney came to him with questions about coming out.

Karesh himself did not come out until later in life. With a lesbian older sister, who came out in 1977, he felt pressure to be straight. He spent years in denial, only starting to date men in his early thirties and coming out to himself fully in his late thirties. Karesh came out to his mother shortly thereafter, at age 41. He never got the chance to come out to his father Joseph, who passed in 1996.

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Judge Karesh officiating the marriage of his sister Barbara Karesh (right) and sister-in-law Joy Accosta (left).

In 2008, his personal and work lives collided when Karesh had the immense privilege of officiating his sister Barbara’s wedding. “It was the most moving experience of my life.”

Barbara’s real wedding took place many years before on a beach in Pacifica with a Unitarian minister when she and her partner first got together in 1979. It was the small 2008 ceremony that married the two in the eyes of the law.

As for his own love life, Karesh got engaged back in September while on a cruise to Canada. His partner Steven is retired from the semiconductor industry, and in two and a half years, Jon will be eligible to join him in retirement so that the two can spend the rest of their lives together.
Jon, Barbara, his sister-in-law, and his fiance are all very close friends

Karesh is “pretty sure” he will retire in 2025, but if he’s anything like his father, he’ll change his mind. Joseph Karesh worked until he was eighty-seven years old, becoming the oldest working judge in the state at the time.

Outside the courtroom, Karesh has two passions when it comes to musical groups. He loves folk music, particularly the Kingston Trio. For the past 16 summers, he has gone to Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp, where twice he won the Camper of the Year award. He plays music with his colleagues in a band called The Folking Judges.

His other favorite band is Phish, whom he has seen perform 57 times in nine different states. He flew to New York this past New Year to see them play at Madison Square Garden.

Karesh is also active in his Episcopal church, which has welcomed him and Steven with open arms.

Judge Shawna Schwarz


In the fourth of a series, read about Santa Clara County’s first out lesbian judge, Judge Shawna Schwarz.

Although Judge Shawna Schwarz made history as the first out lesbian judge in Santa Clara County in 2006, her LGBTQ+ identity has been fairly irrelevant in her legal career. “The bench has been very welcoming,” she said. The only time her identity really comes into play is when people confuse her for fellow judges Julie Emede and Jacqueline Arroyo (both lesbians), even though the three look nothing alike.

“For example, once Judge Emede got a thank-you note from one of our colleagues for something that I did,” Schwarz stated. The three laugh about the mixups and tease their colleagues rather than take offense.

Not long after coming out at age 27, Schwarz met her partner of 31 years, Sandy Berry, who works in commercial real estate. As was the case with some same-sex couples, the two got married at the last hours of November 4, 2008, the day Proposition 8 passed and restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples. Worried the window to get married would close, earlier in the day they had arranged to have a judge friend officiate their wedding that evening. As they and their friends stood in front of the television to watch the election results, which included the victory of Barack Obama, they said their “I do’s.” Later, the brides took over a neighbor’s election party to celebrate their union.

Learning about Judge Schwarz’s childhood, one would think she was always on a path to working with children. Born in Cleveland, Ohio to a military family, Schwarz was the second of four daughters. Her two younger sisters were originally her cousins but were adopted into the family after her mother’s twin sister lost her life to domestic violence. In the eighth grade, Schwarz wrote that she wanted to be either a pediatrician, basketball player, or child psychologist.

When the Stanford graduate got to law school at Santa Clara University, she discovered her real calling through the process of elimination. “I took a property class and I thought, nope, that’s not for me. I took a contracts class and I thought, well, I’m not going be doing that. Then I took Children and the Law and I thought, oh my gosh, I could totally do this. This is what lights my fire; this is what I want to do.”

The instructor for the law class ran the Legal Advocates for Children and Youth (LACY) program, where Schwarz subsequently landed an internship and later a job upon graduation. She spent seven years as the directing attorney at LACY before applying to be a commissioner for the superior court in juvenile dependency in December 2001. The county superior court appoints a small number of commissioners, who have all the same responsibilities and authority of a judge except for the title.

After four years, the presiding judge of the dependency court, Len Edwards, encouraged her to apply for a judgeship, which she did. Subsequently, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her in May 2006. “My nephews always wanted to know, did I actually meet the Terminator?” she laughed. “I did not. He had his appointment secretary take care of that sort of thing.”

In Schwarz’s daily work as a juvenile dependency court judge, she interacts with LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system. (In California, juveniles go through a dependency court separate from the adult court.) She has observed that sexual orientation isn’t the big deal it used to be; now, gender identity is front and center. “I’ve seen a real increase in the number of our transgender youth. Before every hearing, I will make sure to ask the lawyer which pronouns to use. The lawyers will let me know, and I will make a note so that I can be correct with the kid. If I make a mistake, I apologize.”

Schwarz has seen how fluid young people are these days. “They’re not going to be offended if I say to a boy, do you have a boyfriend? Or ask a girl if she has a girlfriend. I’ve seen a real increase in the number of our transgender youth. I don’t know if that’s because there are more of them or because they’re more comfortable identifying that way.”

Family rejection is one of the main factors leading to homelessness for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth, but in Santa Clara County, that isn’t the primary reason LGBTQ+ youth end up in foster care. Schwarz believes more often than not, parents lose custody due to substance abuse, mental illness, or domestic violence.

As far as Schwarz knows, once in a foster placement, queer youth rarely encounter a lack of acceptance. “To be fair, it’s entirely possible that some foster placements fail because of homophobia or transphobia. I may not know. I only know what’s in the court report in front of me.”

Schwarz feels immensely privileged to be able to work in dependency court, even though the system is often maligned. “We take kids away, we terminate parental rights, and that doesn’t make us very popular, but the people who work in this system, they really want to help families and kids. The attorneys who work here aren’t making a lot of money; they’re doing it because it’s a calling and they’re passionate about it.”

In Santa Clara County, providing foster homes for young people is especially challenging. Housing prices often keep local foster youth from remaining in stable placements with access to top-tier county services. “We don’t have enough foster homes or we have situations where we have relatives who would like to take the kids in, but they don’t have room in their houses.”

For those compelled to step up, Schwarz recommends working with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, which is run by her queer colleague Fred Ferrer. “If you can’t be a foster parent, be a court-appointed special advocate. You’ve heard the expression: Not everybody can be a foster parent, but everybody can help a foster child. It is so true.”

Schwarz believes that some people who work in the field of juvenile dependency have a family situation that led them there. She confided that she has a relative with a mental health issue, and feels she has a deeper understanding of mental health issues from having soembody who’s been impacted by that. “When I’m in court talking to kids whose parents have mental health issues, I feel like I can connect with them and understand some of what they’ve been going through,” she said.

Schwarz feels fortunate to work in Santa Clara County. She does a lot of teaching throughout the state and often hears from other judges how awesome the court is here. She gives much credit to Judge Edwards, who was a leader in the field of dependency law. She also feels lucky to have worked with Judge Katherine Lucero, who recently was appointed by Governor Newsom to be Director of Youth and Community Restoration at the California Health and Human Services Agency.

At the end of talking about her work in the courtroom, Schwarz wanted to be sure to add that the Social Service Agency in Santa Clara County is one of the best in the state. “We have better services here than most other counties,” she said. “Although we are far from perfect, our Department is always striving to do a better job. But even with good services, it’s better for the kids long term if we can keep them at home or keep them with their relatives.”

Judge Randy Rice

Rice Hon. Randolf J. 83712

A reflection by Ann Ravel,

I first met Randy Rice when I was a sophomore at Willow Glen High School and he was a junior. We met because he was friends with my brother, Paul, who was in the same class as Randy.

Soon Randy was a staple at our house. My parents loved him, as did I, and he became a member of the family and was always there for bridge with my parents and brother, dinners, and parties.  Randy was a brilliant student, and also the warmest, most charming, thoughtful and considerate person I had ever met.  Throughout his life he was kind and humble, which made him a very well respected jurist.

When in high school, Randy served for two years on the school Judicial Council, and was elected as the Supreme Court Justice of the Judicial Council.  This foreshadowed his future. 

After high school, Randy graduated from UC Santa Cruz, and then attended the Episcopal Divinity School of the Pacific. He was ordained as a priest in 1973, served as a curate of the Calvary Church in Santa Cruz, was Vicar of Christ Church in San Francisco, Canon of Trinity Cathedral, San Jose, and Chancellor of the Diocese of El Camino Real.

Randy would go on to  graduate from UC Hastings College of the Law.  After graduating from law school, he became a partner at Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro in San Francisco, and was a founding partner at Genesis Law Group in 1996, which in 1998 merged with Skjerven Merrill Law firm.

In 1999 Governor Wilson appointed him as Judge of the Superior Court in Santa Clara County.  He had all the qualities needed in a judge: he was empathetic, fair, a judicious analyst of the law, and he believed that his calling was to serve the people of this County.

Randy was the first only “out” LGBTQ Judge in the County. When he was able to do so, he married his partner and husband Nikolaus Merrell. 

Unfortunately, Randy suffered a fall while trimming a tree at his home in 2004. The fall resulted in a severe head injury, which was really debilitating.  But true to Randy’s commitment to public service, he remained on the bench until January of 2008, when he retired on disability.  He and his husband moved to Costa Rica.  He died there in September, 2019, from complications from his fall. He is survived by sons, daughters, and grandchildren. 

Though he had a limited time on the bench, Randy was an outstanding Judge due to his compassion for people, his selflessness, and his legal acumen. Randy was an exceptional and unusual person, and unique in many ways on the bench in Santa Clara County.

Judge Jessica Delgado

Delgado 2022 profile

In the third of a series, read about Santa Clara County’s newest LGBTQ member of the bench, Judge Jessica Delgado.

One of six LGBTQ+ judges in Santa Clara County, Jessica Delgado draws from her experience of being on her own at a young age and her intersectional identity as a queer Latina to handle cases with a nuanced and empathetic perspective.

Outed in high school in central Texas in the mid-eighties and rendered homeless, Delgado said she came into her queerness the only way that existed back then: through bars and soccer teams. In 1991, she and her girlfriend at the time decided they wanted to move to a place where they could be safe and out. They chose Santa Cruz.

With the encouragement of teacher and mentor Sam Marian, Delgado eventually went to Berkeley to study law after completing her bachelor’s degree through Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz.
Although Delgado swore she would never be in criminal defense, she became a public defender in Monterey County. In 2001, she joined Santa Clara County, where she worked as a deputy public defender for twenty years.

Former Santa Clara County Public Defender and now State Appellate Court Justice Mary Greenwood had told her that it is always important to re-examine your career, so in 2019 she thought it was time to think about a new thing. “I was deeply invested in public service, so being a judge seemed like another way in which I could continue to serve the community,” Delgado said.

As fate would have it, it was Governor Gavin Newsom who appointed her a judge in April 2021. Though they have never met, Delgado and Newsom have a connection that made his appointment of her that much more meaningful. When Newsom was mayor of San Francisco, he defiantly allowed gay marriages on February 12, 2004. It happened to be a court holiday, so she and her partner, along with other lesbian couples, rushed around and drove up to San Francisco to get married.

“Newsom’s action had a tremendous impact on us personally,” she said, “because we felt a sense of hope that our family finally might be recognized.”

Delgado’s marriage, along with all the others, was ruled invalid by the California Supreme Court, but Newsom’s bold move had given her hope. She and Diana, a public defender, have remained domestic partners and have a 16-year-old son.

Delgado felt it was very rewarding to have Newsom evaluate her as a judicial candidate. “To be fully out from the very beginning of the application process all the way through the interview—I felt like a whole person in the process,” she said. “I felt like all of the parts of me and all of the work that I had done over the years was all valued in a way I don’t think any official process had ever felt before. It was special for me to have someone appoint me who had given my family dignity.”
In her work as an out Latina judge, Delgado witnesses the impact of representation on a daily basis. “Just my being up there and who I am means something to the people who are in front of me. I see it all of the time. I see it in the Latinx community when I pronounce someone’s name correctly.”

Despite the neutrality required of judges, joining the bench has been an extremely personal process for Delgado.

“It’s a sacred relationship you have with the public. You should really be asked challenging questions about who you are and who you will be in that position. It’s like an autopsy of the soul, while you’re still awake and alive.”
The experiences of her youth-built resilience and a strong work ethic, and at the same time, gave her high expectations for herself and everyone around her. Delgado has had to learn to manage those expectations when sentencing young people in her courtroom.

“I remember what it was like to be that age and be completely on your own, and there’s a way in which bringing that perspective and that empathy is very powerful from now sitting in this position of deciding what is your sentence going to be, what discretion might I exercise? How can I include this context?”
Delgado brings that same understanding when it comes to racial equity and LGBTQ issues in the system, but she wasn’t always out at work. During her first ten years as a public defender, she worried her identity might harm a client’s case.

Although it has been over a decade since then, the landscape is still far from ideal. “It’s still a very heteronormative criminal justice system and justice system at large.”
Delgado also said she sees students of color struggle with the same challenges she faced as a law student almost thirty years ago.

Delgado works to foster inclusivity by using her intersectional identity to bridge worlds. “I like to bring a little queerness to the table when I’m in the Latinx world. And I like to bring a little bit of a discussion of race and equity when I’m in the LGBTQ world. I try to remind both of those groups that trans women of color should be our priority. They are the most vulnerable in our community and I believe that to be true in Santa Clara County as well.”

In the courtroom, Delgado announces her pronouns and uses gender-neutral phrasing in standard scripts. Outside of court, she has a special focus on mentoring transgender applicants. Currently, there is only one trans judge on the bench in California, and Delgado wants that to change.

“I have my own work to do around being affirming to my trans brothers and sisters. We have to have the capacity to have empathy and compassion for people who are different to be a good ally.”

Judge Julie Emede

Julie square 1 1

In the second of a series, read about Julie Emede, an openly lesbian judge who has served on the bench since February 2010. 

Even when members of the LGBTQ community feel comfortable in their own identity, fears can still seep in about being accepted and respected in daily life. 

Stemming in part from her experiences finding acceptance as an out lesbian from Michigan to California, Emede prides herself on trying to have a greater understanding of people’s circumstances when they become before a judge.

“I think coming to court for anybody is scary, but I think it’s additionally scary if you feel like you’re different and have something else that you have to think or worry about than anybody else,” Emede says. “It’s really important to me as a judge that when people come into my courtroom, they feel like they can say whatever they need to say about their circumstances and not be afraid that they’re going to tell me something that will cause me to treat them with any less respect or any less dignity and they’re entitled to it in my courtroom. I work really hard at that.”

Emede had a “classic Midwest life,” growing up in a medium-sized town in Michigan. But after graduating from Michigan State in 1984, she began coming out and questioning whether the Midwest would be a place she could find happiness and acceptance. 

“So, I moved to California,” Emede says. “I definitely believe that the way my life is now and the things I’ve been able to do professionally, I could not have done if I’d stayed in Michigan.”

That’s when she acquired a job at Hewlett Packard in Palo Alto, where she worked for seven years in a range of positions, eventually managing the production scheduling for product lines from Malaysia and Singapore. Eventually, she took a voluntary severance from HP, which ended up paying for the first year of law school at UC Hastings College of the Law, commuting from San Jose to San Francisco. 

Despite worries her sexuality would impact her success in the profession—particularly in passing the “moral application” required of all law students—Emede graduated and passed the bar in 1995. She worked for nearly two years in a “boutique” civil law firm in Tiburon, before ultimately ending up at a San Jose firm, where she eventually became a partner.

She says she was drawn to family law because she wanted to do a practice in an area that dealt with people with their real everyday lives, and was able to get her start from connections she made playing softball, of all things. 

The idea of a judgeship had never really crossed Emede’s mind, since only a few lesbians had ever donned those robes when she started off as a lawyer. But by the late 2000s, she started giving real consideration to the idea of becoming a judge, from not only coworkers but also fellow LGBTQ lawyers who successfully were appointed. Despite being a Democrat when then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in office, Emede submitted her application in early 2008 and was appointed to the bench by the end of 2009.

However, the application for judgeship brought back the same anxieties and questions she felt when applying for the bar: would being a lesbian threaten her chances at this career?

“It’s sort of a black box, it’s very behind the scenes,” Emede says. “But I knew I did really want to do something different that I felt was more public service.”

Emede and her partner, Marci Garcia, have been together for 31 years. After registering as domestic partners in 2001, they married in October 2008—hoping to tie the knot before the Prop 8 election would possibly take that right away. The couple were involved in different aspects of the LGBTQ community; she was on a clogging team that performed at Pride and was elected co-president of the political organization Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, or BAYMEC, while her wife was a contestant in gay rodeos. 

“If I hadn’t been involved with BAYMEC, I’m not sure I would’ve had the courage to seek appointment,” Emede says. “I recognize that I’ve benefited from all the hard work and groundbreaking that happened long before I was here. Without having people like Ken Yeager and Wiggsy Sivertsen’s influence, I just don’t think that my path would be the same.”

However, Emede had to tone down that open involvement in LGBTQ community politics and events once she was appointed to the bench. While it was a sacrifice she had to make, she says it was worth it to be able to make a different kind of impact.

“Judges all understand that when we take our oath that we can’t be involved politically in the same way that we were before,” Emede says, even though she does still openly mention her wife in various settings, like at Bar Association meetings and when teaching lawyers and judges.

“I do look forward to someday being able to participate in a way again, but it’s been very different inside the system—working on cases one at a time as opposed to trying to work on broader change.”

Emede prides herself on her work as a judge, from broadening recognition of people’s pronouns in courtrooms and managing cases of name and gender changes on her court calendar. 

“I think it’s important that there are people on our bench that reflect what people in our community look like, and I feel like it mattered for there to be an open lesbian on the bench,” Emede says. “I don’t think we’re probably out in the world enough for people to see that it does matter that we have judges on our bench that are LGBTQ. I think that that is a really powerful thing for the community to know.”

Judge Charles Adams

charles adams profile

Not much is known about the six LGBTQ+ judges that serve on the bench in Santa Clara County. In the first of a series, read about Charles Adams, an openly gay male judge who has served since 2018.

Judges often lead lives of privacy, as they strive to unbiasedly guide others through the legal system’s stresses and hardships.

For Judge Charles Adams, who serves in Santa Clara County’s family courts, being “out” as a gay man at work means frequently setting that element of his personal life aside.

The 43-year-old is by no means the first LGBTQ judge in California; Judge Stephen Lachs holds that title, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1979.

More than 40 years after that historic ‘first,” Charles proudly serves as one of 73 LGBTQ judges in California in 2021, after he was appointed in 2018—also by Gov. Brown, during his second term.

After growing up as the son of two teachers in Antioch, a relatively small town in the East Bay, Charles went to college at the University of California, Davis, followed by law school at Pepperdine down in Los Angeles, where he started working in civil litigation and family law.

Charles stumbled into a job as a research attorney for the Superior Court in Santa Clara County in 2006, combining his desire to focus on finding solutions with a homecoming back to the Bay Area.

One of Charles’ career highlights began in 2011, when he began working as a permanent staff member under Judge Edward Davila in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, prior to his own 2018 judicial appointment.

Charles says he thrives serving on the bench, as his role in the justice system revolves around being careful, caring and wanting to do the right thing to help people.

After alternating between family and criminal court, Charles became a supervising judge for family court, overseeing cases involving issues like domestic violence, restraining orders, probate and guardianship.

Notably, Charles was not previously openly “out” at work before becoming a judge. That changed in a simple yet meaningful moment: deciding to check a box identifying him as a part of the LGBTQ community on the application to become a judge.

“It’s not a required question, but for me it was going to be sort of the first public acknowledgement of being gay or LGBTQ,” Charles says, adding that he only recently began feeling comfortable and safe bringing his partner of 12 years to work events. “From then, it never came up.”

That may be, in part, because there is often little crossover between the bench and LGBTQ politics, unlike many politicians and other public figures, who often share their personal lives to connect with other residents and build community.

Charles says that judges often live lives outside of the public eye in order to avoid any potential impacts to their perception of impartiality, especially within family courts. While anyone serving on the bench has their own attributes and feelings—consciously or unconsciously—he rejects any idea that personal characteristics should be reason for disqualification, regardless of whether judges are Latino, female or LGBTQ.

“When you’re sitting on the bench, who you are is important, but it’s not necessarily relevant,” Charles says. “Personally, I think it’s smart to not put too much out there so that people don’t have preconceived ideas of how you’re going to be, how you’re going to rule and what your perspective is going to be.”

Fortunately, he has yet to run into any problems.

“Going into every case, I only see what the issues are, what the law says, what the facts are as I find them and I make a decision based on that,” Charles continued, adding the he and his colleagues take the issue seriously. “I think just understanding how people, feelings, and families work translates beyond not being a parent, myself.”

Charles has years of practice, first seeking out privacy of his personal life beginning in law school—an often competitive environment where it’s natural to be careful about what others know and slowly learn who to trust.

“It’s not something I wanted people to really know about or have a reason to think differently of me, just because of that,” he explains. “It really wasn’t until I moved back to the Bay Area that I was a little more willing to have that part of my life shared.”

That’s one reason Charles hopes that the fact that he’s gay provides another example for future lawyers and aspiring judges to know it’s possible to be successful, despite any personal background that is different from the “norm.”

“I remember being a law student and there weren’t really any role models that I knew for what I wanted to be—to see that someone could be successful,” Charles says. “What I hope is that people in the same position I was in can see me doing the things I am, now saying they could do it, too.”