Judge Josey-Herring Takes Oath as D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge
October 19, 2020
D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Herbert Dixon Jr. (left) administers the oath of office to newly installed Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring. Holding the bible is the chief judge’s husband, Albert Herring. The ceremony was livestreamed on Zoom with an interpreter (inset) for the hearing impaired.
On October 16, Judge Anita Josey-Herring was installed as chief judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, becoming the first female judge to hold the position in the court’s 50-year history. The investiture was broadcast live on Zoom, with a select few present at the court, appropriately distanced and wearing masks. With elbow bumps replacing handshakes and hugs, the ceremony served as a sobering reminder of the challenges facing the court during the pandemic.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who serves as chair of the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission, read the commission, while D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Herbert Dixon Jr. administered the oath of office. Following the administration of the oath, D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby welcomed her colleague while addressing the oddness of the environment in which the event was taking place.
“It seems a little weird and eerie to see the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the people’s court, so quiet and empty… it looks like the Court of Appeals! Usually our investitures are large public celebratory events, with members of the community, the bar, and the court gathered together to welcome and celebrate our new judges and our new chief judges,” Judge Blackburne-Rigsby said. “But just because this celebration is a virtual one doesn’t mean it’s not a celebration nonetheless.”
Blackburne-Rigsby said she looks forward to working with the new chief judge and the Superior Court’s executive team to continue to contend with COVID-19’s disruptions and ensure continued access to justice for District residents.
Chief Judge Josey-Herring succeeds Judge Robert E. Morin, who retired on October 1. Judge Blackburne-Rigsby thanked Morin for his work leading the court through difficult challenges, including unprecedented vacancies, a government shutdown, and a global pandemic.
Zabrina Dempson (left), clerk of the D.C. Superior Court, presents former Chief Judge Robert E. Morin with an End of Term Commemoration on behalf of the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission.
In her remarks, Chief Judge Josey-Herring said that the current crisis is “a time when the clarion call for access to justice, equity, and reform is simply impossible to ignore.”
“Our ability to respond effectively to the call will undoubtedly impact those who enter our courthouse doors. It will impact those who enter our local jails. It will impact those who lack a place to live, and it will impact those who find it difficult to make ends meet because of the pandemic,” the chief judge said.
“Like many local courts in this country, this court is faced with resolving critical issues that strike at the very heart of what is important to those we serve, and while our constitutional mandate is to dispose of cases fairly and without bias, it is the public who serve as the final arbiter of whether we’re actually living up to those great expectations. Public trust and confidence in the court and our government is central to the very survival of our democracy, make no mistake about it,” she added.
Other featured guests at the ceremony included D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Tara Fentress, D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Rhonda Reid Winston, D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings Chief Judge Eugene Adams, and National Legal Aid & Defender Association President Jo-Ann Wallace.
Judge Fentress dedicated the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to the new chief judge, while Judge Winston recalled the historic nature of the day and expanded upon the impact of women in the D.C. court system.
Quoting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made . . . it shouldn’t be that women are the exception” — Judge Winston said that women in important decision-making roles are not the exception in the D.C. Courts.
“Women occupy 24 of the authorized 61 associate judgeships in Superior Court, 18 of the authorized 24 magistrate judgeships in Superior Court, and 4 are active judges in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals,” she said.
Wallace remarked that Josey-Herring’s effective and authentic leadership will help guide the court through the crisis, recalling the chief judge’s efforts on behalf of the Public Defender Service and family court during challenging periods. “Crisis doesn’t build character,” Wallace said. “It reveals it.”
Chief Judge Josey-Herring will serve a four-year term. “With the privilege of donning a black robe comes the responsibility of understanding the impact of our decisions on the lives of those who come before us. This reality should temper any misapprehension that we are called to do anything other than add our lot to that of so many others in this community that every day we roll up their sleeves and work hard to achieve the ideal of justice,” she said.