By Sonia Giordani
BERKELEY -- Ten years ago, a handful of women in criminal defense got together and, over a pizza, talked about forming an organization to share their stories, strategies and challenges in the courtroom.
Women Defenders started out with Sunday brunches and cocktail parties. Now the group hosts annual seminars as well as spring and fall events to honor the achievements of women in criminal defense. And the group has grown into a network with more than 350 members up and down the state.
"There seemed to be all these old-boys clubs but nothing for women attorneys outside the office," says Kimberly Kupferer, an Alameda County deputy public defender and co-chairwoman of Women Defenders. "And when you talk about criminal defense lawyers, people still think about Perry Mason. Why weren't more women getting recognized?"
While a number of associations promote the advancement of women in all areas of the law and still others focus on the work of criminal defense attorneys, Women Defenders sought early on to home in on some of the unique issues facing women.
"For some women, it was about balancing family with work. For others, it was about learning to be the only woman in chambers or in the courtroom -- which was more common 10 or more years ago," says Berkeley solo Elizabeth Grossman, a founding member largely credited with helping the group get its start from her private office.
On May 6, Women Defenders will mark its 10th anniversary with a ceremony at the Berkeley Yacht Club recognizing Grossman and 10 other attorneys who founded the group. They are: Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Margo George; Oakland attorney Susan Jordan; San Anselmo attorney Denise Kendall; San Francisco Deputy PD Jan Lecklikner; retired Alameda County Deputy PD Louise Simpson; Frances Ternus of the First District Appellate Project in San Francisco; S.F. attorney Deborah Wald; Marin County Assistant PD Linda Kremer; Elspeth Farmer, an affiliated scholar with the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University; and S.F. attorney Rebecca Young.