On Jan. 1, Risë Jones Pichon '73, J.D. '76 became Santa Clara County’s first minority presiding Superior Court judge.
Pichon, 62, said she got to the top of her legal career by taking chances outside her comfort zone and learning how to deal with obstacles tied to her race. Today she brings to her new position a lifelong understanding of race relations.
“Having lived when I lived gives a person a great understanding of how people feel, how they feel when there’s only one of them in a group,” said Pichon.
“The fact that they can feel powerless and some can abuse their power. … It’s given me the courage at this point of my life to make sure people are treated fairly. I can’t say it’s best to treat everyone the same because that’s no longer true. Justice is not blind.”
As an undergraduate at Santa Clara University, she felt marginalized and dismissed by some of her professors who, she said, had low expectations of her as a math major. But that all changed when she went to law school at the same university. Out of 260 classmates, only eight were African-American. And, she says, they were treated equally.
Pichon will also manage the court’s budget and deal with state cuts that already have shut down courtrooms from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto. And there’s pressure to deal with the disproportionate number of African-American and Latino kids in juvenile hall.
submitted Jan. 9, 2015 3:00P