Hon. Carol Codrington '84: A Longtime Champion of the Underrepresented, Judge Focuses on Outreach
The Hon. Carol D. Codrington envisioned herself on the bench long before she became the first African-American justice on the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two in Riverside, CA and the only African-American female justice in California. As a sixth-grade student on a field trip to Los Angeles Superior Court, Codrington was drawn to the bench. “I walked into the courtroom, and everyone stood up for the judge in the black robe. I said, ‘That’s the job for me!’”
As it turns out, she was right – and for reasons well beyond the courtroom formalities. She has thrived on the bench, receiving myriad accolades and several elevations during her career. She credits her litigation experience on both sides of the aisle with preparing her to preside over trials. “I started out doing plaintiffs’ work and liability cases, then plaintiffs’ class actions, then representing municipalities in claims. I’ve always gone back and forth,” she said. “It makes for a very well-balanced lawyer. It’s important that you have a breadth of experience. As a jurist, it helps to be familiar with a variety of disciplines.”
Long a champion of the underdog, Codrington has spent much of her career helping children and people with disabilities. She serves as a judge in Riverside County Youth Court, in which real juvenile defendants participate in trials that feature youth attorneys and jurors. Parents attend, and the youth jurors mete out real sentences, such as visiting a jail or writing an essay. “It gives them an opportunity to see what the criminal justice system is like, and hopefully it scares them straight,” she said.
Witnessing first-hand the challenges experienced by two brothers who required wheelchairs, Codrington has fought for disability rights. She taught disability law as an adjunct professor at the Law School, and she served as the director of litigation at what is now the Disability Rights Legal Center. Codrington is particularly proud of her work advocating for freeway call box accessibility for people with hearing impairments, as well as eliminating caps on insurance coverage for people with AIDS. However, there was an adjustment period. “It was weird coming back as an alumna and going into the faculty lounge, and people calling me Professor Codrington!”
Protecting the rights of those who are underrepresented has been a cornerstone of Codrington’s career. She specialized in civil rights, serious personal injury and other litigation as an associate and then partner at the law firm of Mallory, Brown-Curtis & Mallory. She handled complex civil rights and employment litigation as a member of the Office of the L.A. City Attorney. While there, she led continuing legal education classes on disability law. She also advised the L.A. Police Department on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She took that passion for helping the underserved to the L.A. Unified School District, where she was associate general counsel and led the special education team. She later founded the Law Offices of Carol D. Codrington, where she represented public and private clients in a variety of practice areas.
Elected as a court commissioner in Riverside County in 2006, Codrington began her time on the bench as a judicial officer presiding over a range of cases that included limited civil, traffic violations and unlawful detainers. Later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger elevated her to a judgeship in Murrieta, CA. As a judge on the Riverside Superior Court, she handled a “vertical felony calendar” department that included everything from arraignments to preliminary hearings and motions to sentencing. She also presided over drug court and family court, where she implemented the first domestic-violence court in the region.
Codrington credits her penchant for community service to Loyola Law School. “Loyola instilled in me the importance of community service, giving back and paying it forward,” she said. Her laundry list of volunteer activities is proof. Codrington annually helps disabled and repeat exam takers prepare for the bar exam, and she has volunteered in several free legal clinics. She also served as a judge pro tem on the L.A. Superior Court for many years while practicing in Los Angeles County.
Codrington worked three jobs while attending classes in Loyola Law School’s evening program, but that did not stop her from forming lasting connections. She remains connected to Loyola, counting among her friends David W. Burcham ’84, LMU president and a former section classmate. And Loyola students and alumni maintain a presence in her courthouse; one of her two highly respected research attorneys is Loyola alum.
Throughout her career, Codrington has remained committed to diversity in the bar and on the bench. As a student, she was president of the Black Law Students Association, from which she received a Distinguished Alumni Award. As a practitioner and jurist, she has volunteered with the Black Women Lawyer’s Association, of which she was president, and the John M. Langston Bar Association, which named her Judge of the Year. She has also volunteered with the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the California Women Lawyers, among others. The California Association of Black Attorneys presented her with its Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Legal Community.
Increasing diversity on the bench is a priority for Codrington, who would like to continue to build on the progress already made. “We should really work hard to continue to identify well qualified minority, women and disabled candidates and encourage them to pursue judicial appointments. Diversity only serves to enrich our judicial perspective. Our state courts serve a broad range of constituencies and an increasingly diverse public. A diverse judiciary increases the public trust in the concept of justice for all.”