Article III Groupie is thrilled and honored to bring you the first interview in the Questions Presented series, a conversation with an ultra-glamorous federal judicial celebrity: Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit!
First, a brief bio. Judge Wardlaw was born on July 2, 1954, in San Francisco, California. She grew up in the Bay Area, raised by her Mexican-American mother, who worked as a bookkeeper, and her Scotch-Irish father, who worked as a door-to-door furniture salesman.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from UCLA in 1976--summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, natch--Judge Wardlaw went on to UCLA School of Law, where she served as an Articles Editor for the UCLA Law Review. She also spent a trimester externing for Judge Joseph T. Sneed, now her colleague on the Ninth Circuit. After graduating from the law school--with honors, of course--she clerked for Judge William P. Gray, in the Central District of California.
In 1980, Judge Wardlaw joined the turbo-charged law firm of O'Melveny & Myers, as an associate in the litigation department. In 1987, she made partner at O'Melveny, where she successfully represented numerous major corporations (and pro bono clients). In January 1996, she donned the federal judicial robes, taking the bench as a district court judge for the Central District of California. In August 1998, Judge Wardlaw was elevated to the Ninth Circuit. In July 2004, she was named the #2 Superhottie of the Federal Judiciary.
And now, on to the interview! A3G's questions appear below in italics, and Judge Wardlaw's answers follow in ordinary roman type. (For those of you pedants out there, A3G acknowledges that she has posed more than the canonical "20 questions" to Judge Wardlaw; these might be more accurately described as "oodles and oodles of questions, about 20 rather general subject areas.")
1. What are the best and worst parts of being a federal appeals court judge?
I love my job, and am excited about going to work each day. After all, what other job would require me to further justice and equality for all, and to render opinions that can make a very real difference in people’s lives? Each year brings four more highly intelligent and interesting law clerks and several externs, whose presence in my family’s life is welcome and enriching. The job keeps me young, as there are always new, challenging cases, new people, new problems, and more to do.
The worst parts are having to get one other vote in a panel of three, or five other votes in an en banc panel; working in a government bureaucracy; and mandated travel on a schedule that I do not control.
2. Prior to your swift elevation to the Ninth Circuit--which was a foregone conclusion, in light of your overpowering qualifications and enviable connections--you served as a district court judge for approximately two and a half years. How does your experience on the district court compare with your experience on the circuit court, and which judicial post have you enjoyed more overall?
If elevation was a foregone conclusion of some, it was not on my mind at the time. My service on the district court coincided with the later years of some of the greatest judges and human beings I have ever known (including at least two women whom you would consider judicial divas). Many of them I knew personally from 17 years before, as they were close friends of Judge Gray. These judges supported and mentored me, and taught me how to be a district court judge. It was a special time in my life that I’ll always remember. In addition, I believe my service on the district court has made me a better appellate court judge than I otherwise would have been. The Ninth Circuit is very different--from day one for a new judge, it is sink or swim, and, at least when I arrived, there was very little support for those of us in the Pasadena hinterland. (Things may have changed somewhat now.)
The Ninth Circuit experience, however, does have many advantages over the district court. The district judges are on the bench from 8:30 to 5:00 or later every day. If the judge does not move the cases forward, nothing happens, especially in civil cases. As a district judge, I rarely had a weekend off, especially not a Sunday. Monday was law and motion day, with civil cases in the morning and criminal in the afternoon. Tuesday through Friday, we tried cases. The only time for preparation was the weekends. Such a schedule would be difficult for anyone, much less a mother with two young children. (My daughter was six months old on my first day on the district court; my son was seven.) Between calendars, the appeals court offers much more flexibility--one can work at home at odd hours or leave in the middle of the day for medical appointments or a school play.
Finally, the appellate cases really are more complex and interesting, as there is usually more at stake for the parties and decisions are made on the cutting edge of the law. Overall, I am enjoying my work here on the circuit court over any other job I’ve ever had.
3. Before taking the bench, you were very active in the world of politics. You worked on campaigns for such figures as Mayor Riordan, Senator Feinstein, and President Clinton, and you were a Clinton delegate to the 1992 Democratic convention. You and your husband, Bill Wardlaw, were viewed by some as a "shadow government" for the City of Angels. You also enjoyed phenomenal success as a practicing lawyer, as a litigation partner at high-powered O'Melveny & Myers, where you represented blue chip clients such as Bausch & Lomb, Blockbuster, Cigna, and Paramount Pictures.
Now, of course, politics and private practice are off-limits to you as a federal judicial celebrity. What aspects of your pre-robescent life do you miss the most? And could you ever see yourself hanging up your robe, giving up your federal judicial super-powers, and returning to life as a regular gal?
I certainly do not miss private practice, especially in light of how it has evolved into its present-day form. I feel about politics the same way I do about the district court -- I loved it when I was there, but cannot “go back.” Politics has gone beyond “personal destruction”; it has become a lawyer’s game. Election law has become criminalized; raising and giving money is no longer free expression but the subject of ongoing criminal investigations; and it currently looks as though the Presidential election of 2004 will be decided by tens of thousands of litigators and in the courts.
What I miss most about politics is being able to actually do something about the issues I care about--to engage in advocacy, to support candidates I believe in, and to work for a candidate. In a three-year period, I was fortunate to work on Presidential, California gubernatorial (Kathleen Brown), and mayoral races. It was an exhilarating experience, but I cannot see myself doing it again. I remain interested in the subject, however, and am fortunate that my husband remains involved.
As for the last question, I’m already a “regular gal”; I’m just also a federal appellate judge.
4. Do you believe that women in the legal profession are judged according to different standards than men?
On a related note, do you consider yourself to be a judicial diva?
5. Regardless of your answers to question #4, based on your experience as both a district judge and a circuit judge, which position in your view offers better opportunities for a judicial diva to strut her stuff? (On the one hand, as a district court diva, you don't have to worry about securing the agreement of pesky colleagues; on the other hand, you do have to worry more than a circuit court diva does about getting reversed.)
As a district judge, I never worried about reversal. I adhered to Judge Gray’s view that you just do the best you can and then let it go. That’s still my attitude. But having to secure the agreement of colleagues is altogether another issue, best left undiscussed on this page. If you really want to be a judicial diva then the district court is for you. It is your show: you control the courtroom, dictate scheduling, and can rule from the bench. And, you can never be late because “court” isn’t “court” until you arrive.
6. As your status as a federal judicial superhottie makes clear, you are a super-hot female. (For UTR's more politically correct readers, here's a rephrasing of the prior sentence: You are--when judged according to conventional, Western standards of beauty, which A3G in no way endorses--a woman of above-average physical attractiveness.) How has your pulchritude affected your legal career, and has it been an overall help or hindrance? And do you agree with the reader who stated that you were “robbed” in the superhottie contest?
That is very flattering, but I really don’t think of myself as someone whose looks are her best trait, or even an important trait. Growing up, I was the slightly overweight, bookish older sister to a truly beautiful girl. She was the pretty one; I was the smart one. Those formative impressions never really leave you.
I did learn, early on, that people make assumptions based on their first snapshot of someone, and most of those assumptions are based on how one looks. Among them is: “a pretty woman can’t be smart.” One of my husband’s “liberal” friends once told us that his wife didn’t have to work because she was beautiful. During my second set of confirmation proceedings, I was told that some people thought I wasn’t smart enough because I looked like a California girl (which I proudly am). I actually empathize a bit with Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Legally Blonde”-- during my first semester at UCLA, no one invited me to be in their study group!
But those stereotypes and assumptions are readily overcome with great grades or a first-rate product. (After my first semester at UCLA, lots of people wanted my class outlines.) And, I’m here; so looks could not have hindered my career too much. And, by the way, attractiveness in a man is often deemed a factor for success, especially so for the older man. See supra, Question 4.
7. UTR readers who nominated you as a federal judicial superhottie raved about your "incredible body." Alas, serving as a federal appeals court judge isn't the most aerobically demanding of occupations. What are your secrets--e.g., diet, exercise, liposuction--for maintaining the judicial body in such fine form?
I’m just trying to stay healthy so I can still be on the bench when I’m 80. Diet and exercise, as everyone always says, truly are the key. I follow the school of high protein, lots of vegetables, low-fat food (except I’m addicted to Lay’s potato chips and chocolate chip cookies). I try to work out every day--half aerobic, half weights. (Okay, so its been a month, but I’ve been traveling.) Fortunately, I have two children who keep me extremely busy.
8. Please tell us all there is to know about your fabulous judicial robes! For example:
(a) "Who are you wearing?"
(b) How many robes do you own?
(c) Do you have different robe styles for different occasions?
(d) Any tips on how to properly care for judicial robes?
(e) Do you ever wear your robe outside the courtroom? (Some possibilities: on Halloween; to costume parties; when traveling in the Middle East, accessorized with a black ski mask; or when you take your Jaguar in for servicing, to send a message of "Don't overcharge me for those repairs--I may be a woman, but I'm a federal judge!")
(f) Anything other fun tidbits you'd like to add about your robes?
When I first arrived at the district court, Chief Judge Consuelo Marshall shared her robe-secret with me: all of her robes were designed by a retired Hollywood dress designer, Henri O’Bryant. He designed three for me before he passed away. The other two were gifts: one, a departing gift from O’Melveny & Myers, and the other, a gift from the Chancery Club. I keep one in San Francisco, two in my Pasadena chambers, and two at home for other travel. Some are dressier than others and are used (if I can find them) on special occasions. It has never even occurred to me to wear my robe outside the courtroom!
9. In terms of your non-robescent wardrobe, UTR readers have praised your "elegant ensembles." How would you characterize your personal style and fashion sense? In particular, please share with A3G any favorite designers or preferred shopping venues.
The best, most convenient venue is Union Square, including Maiden Lane, in San Francisco. Other places I love are Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Bergdorf’s in New York, and the Los Angeles garment district. Due to time constraints, I am a habitual catalogue shopper. A friend once described my style as “eclectic”-- I love finding new designers and trying out new styles. Despite all that, I’m most comfortable in jeans, which our chambers wears on Fridays.
10. You are a woman of impeccable taste, a lover of beautiful places and things. You and your husband have lived in some gorgeously decorated homes, including your current home in San Marino, and your home in Pasadena before that. You subjected your judicial chambers to an "extreme makeover," which included the installation of a controversial custom carpet that has UTR readers as bitterly divided as this year's presidential election. How would you describe your interior decorating philosophy?
Because I knew that my clerks and I would spend long hours in chambers, I wanted the chambers to be comfortable and elegant, as well as functional. My longtime personal friend, interior designer Penny Bianchi, who did most of the decor in both my homes, volunteered her services pro bono to help out with the chambers. I contributed some pieces from home, brought some from the district court, and inherited some from the late Judge Wiggins. Penny did the rest. By the way, the sea grass carpet has been featured in Architectural Digest. It is considered quite elegant by those who understand style.
11. There are many different models of the judge-clerk relationship. Some include the "buddy" judge, the "den mother" judge, the slave-driver judge, the professional but distant judge, etc. Do you subscribe to a particular theory of judge-clerk relations, and how would you characterize your own relationship with your clerks?
I think of our work as being on a team where we share the same values, goals, and dedication to our work, and in which we each have our separate roles, but must be team players. I try to develop lasting relationships with my law clerks and externs. With your indulgence, my current law clerks, who are far more clever than I, wish to add their thoughts to this question. The following is from them:
The Judge defies all labels, but we like these:
The “Sugar Mamma” Judge: The most difficult times in chambers are when we have to decide who gets the Judge’s tickets to a swanky tequila-tasting event and who will take her extra orchestra section theater tickets.
The “Coach” Judge: She gives us the play and trusts us to do the job well, but never shrinks from making the hard calls.
The “Party Animal” Judge: Taking us out for a “nightcap” during travel week.
The “Olive Garden” Judge: When you’re here, you’re family.
12. Clerks of yours have interviewed for, and obtained, coveted positions as Supreme Court clerks. The ranks of Supreme Court feeder judges are overwhelmingly male, even more male-dominated than the rest of the federal judiciary as a whole; you are one of the few women who has joined this elite club. How important is it for you to feed your clerks to the Court, and what efforts do you undertake toward this end?
I want my clerks to be successful in life, and if they want to clerk on the Court, I’ll do what I can to help them.
13. Judge Wardlaw, sometimes you seem almost too good to be true. As stated by one UTR reader, who nominated you as "#1 Gay Icon of the Federal Judiciary," you are "very smart, absolutely gorgeous, filthy rich, and super-stylish." Do you have any funny and/or embarrassing stories, either from your time as a practicing lawyer or your time on the bench, that show you are an ordinary and fallible human being, not some perfect "Stepford Judge"?
My stories of fallibility are numerous, but since I’ve managed to repair the damage before anyone found out (most of the time), I’d rather not share. But here are a few that I can share: There was the time during my first year on the district court that a trial ended and we took the kids on an impromptu vacation for a week in San Diego, only to receive a call from my son’s second grade teacher asking whether he would be joining them at school that year, as he had missed the first two days. We scrambled back the next morning, made it to Target by 8:00 a.m. for uniforms (the only place that was open at that hour), and got him to school by 8:10.
Also, I once broke my ankle because I foolishly thought I could do a step-class with weights and keep up with the Cal-Tech undergraduates. I haven’t been back to that class.
Finally, after finishing an en banc week in San Francisco, I jumped into a waiting car to get to the airport on time. It turned out Judge Fisher had ordered a car from the same service I had. My secretary had cancelled mine without telling me, because she thought Judge Fisher and I could share one car. I hope Judge Fisher made it to the airport, and that he is not still mad.
14. When you emerge from underneath your robe, departing chambers for the world outside, what do you like to do for fun?
I love to travel, spend time with my husband, children, and friends, go to concerts, theater (especially Broadway musicals), and dance performances, attend sporting events, watch movies, read non-legal books and magazines, go antiquing, and relax at the beach.
Judge and Mr. Kim McLane Wardlaw attending the UCLA Law School Awards Luncheon on October 21, 2004, where Judge Wardlaw recieved the law school's Public and Community Service Award. Judge Wardlaw has also received numerous honors from UTR, including #2 Superhottie of the Federal Judiciary, #1 Gay Icon of the Federal Judiciary, and "In" Judicial Diva.
15. The Los Angeles Times offered this amusing account of how you and Mr. Wardlaw "met cute" during a law firm interview, which sounds like it came straight out of a Hollywood romantic comedy:
Bill met Kim in 1978, when he was recruiting for O'Melveny. They both recall that the interview strayed into an argument over the relative merits of UCLA and Notre Dame basketball, and specifically about the play of Kelly Tripucka, the Irish's All-American shooter. Kim was a UCLA fan and Tripucka-hater. Bill thought Notre Dame could do no wrong.
What sports do you follow these days, which teams do you root for, and do you and your husband still disagree over college basketball?
We follow basketball, football, baseball, the U.S. Women’s soccer team, and tennis. Favorite teams are the Lakers (up to now; the jury is out on the team this year), Dodgers, Notre Dame, UCLA and any team on which our kids play. We still disagree about Notre Dame/UCLA basketball, but hope to see them play against each other early next year in South Bend. We both love Notre Dame and UCLA football (they will play each other in 2006). He roots for the Giants; I’m a Dodger fan. He rooted for the Yankees and then for St. Louis; I rooted for the Red Sox (against the Yankees, and then against St. Louis).
16. As one can glean from What Judges Want: Federal Judicial Wish Lists, UTR readers have a keen interest in federal judicial taste in arts and entertainment. Please tell us a little bit about some of your favorite movies and/or plays and/or books, and why they are your favorites.
I enjoy movies, theater, and books immensely. My interest in movies tends toward the classics. One of my favorite books/movies of all times is To Kill a Mockingbird, for reasons probably obvious to your readership. Also among my favorites are Breakfast at Tiffany’s, All About Eve (and its Broadway Musical version Applause), Gone with the Wind (book and movie), Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain, everything in which Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, or Marlon Brando starred, and all movie musicals. My recent movie favorites include Friday Night Lights, The Manchurian Candidate (both the classic and the new versions), and De-Lovely.
As to theater, I never miss the Tony Awards (on TV of course) and get to Broadway as often as I can. My “recent” favorites include Rent, Aida, Showboat, A Little Night Music, and Mamma Mia. (That’s how frequently I’m getting there these days!) But, here again, I love the oldies and especially any Sondheim music. My husband's and my favorite song is Send in the Clowns. If you haven’t seen the musical, you may not know that it is a song with a happy ending, because most popular renditions omit the reprise from the second act. I highly recommend the PBS special on the history of Broadway musical theater, which aired last week three nights in a row, and was reviewed in the New York Times. As for dance, I prefer the Joffrey to NYC, but attend either when I can.
I read as my work allows--mysteries, biographies, legal thrillers. I am currently reading Bill Clinton’s autobiography, the 9/11 Report, Friday Night Lights and Dawn’s Early Light, a book of poems given to us on our 20th wedding anniversary, written by a former Supreme Court law clerk, Pierce O’Donnell, as an ode to his wife.
17. As a federal judge, you are a paragon of respectability, with presumably rather highbrow tastes. Do you have any guilty pleasures--things that that you're not supposed to like, according to conventional wisdom, but nevertheless do? Some examples: Spam (the food, not junk e-mail); Desperate Housewives (the TV show, not the people); and Barry Manilow.
Besides Lay’s potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, my guilty culinary pleasures include In-N-Out Burgers, Baskin-Robbins chocolate mint ice-cream, and Dodger dogs. I am also the most ardent (to put it nicely) fan at my daughter’s soccer and son’s basketball games. (Yes, I’ve been known to argue with the refs.) My biggest guilty pleasure is slipping away from home and job responsibilities for a week to go to my favorite, women’s only, destination health spa.
18. If you had to be stranded on a desert island with four--and only four--of your Ninth Circuit colleagues, whom would you want on the island, and why?
If I were stranded today on a desert isle, I would choose Alex Kozinski (who else could replace all the entertainment I would be missing?, and besides, he is the Numero Uno Male Judicial Hottie); Barry Silverman (because he is witty, clever, and extremely funny); John Noonan (because he is a scholar and a gentleman); and Pam Rymer (with whom I could discuss our favorite sports teams, and who could use her oodles of sense and athletic prowess to figure out how to quickly get us off the isle). Although my choices have nothing to do with judicial philosophy, they have the fortuitous consequence of leaving most of the Democrat appointees to hold down the fort at the Court.
Pictured at left, from left to right, are Judge Kozinski, Judge Noonan, Judge Silverman, and Judge Rymer--Judge Wardlaw's companions of choice on the desert isle.
Imagine this headline: "Ninth Circuit Judges Banished to Desert Island." It sounds like a Republican dream come true, right? But wait--most of these judges are CONSERVATIVE! Article III Groupie suspects a nefarious plot by the Emperor Palpatine and Darth Ber..., um, She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (shown at right, posing in triumph)...
19. Who is your favorite non-judicial celebrity, and why? On a related note, if you could pick any actress to portray you in a major motion picture (or made-for-TV movie) based on your life, whom would you pick?
20. Your nomination to the Central District of California came after the offices of Senatrix Dianne Feinstein and Senatrix Barbara Boxer were deluged with more fan mail than the members of 'N Sync received at the height of their popularity. Your nomination to the Ninth Circuit sailed through the Senate like a sharpened knife through warm butter, during a period when the nominations of other Ninth Circuit judges--such as Judge Richard A. Paez and She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named--languished for months and even years. Clearly you are an authority on "working it," all the way to the federal bench.
What advice would you give to A3G and her fellow aspirants to federal judicial diva-dom on the topic of how to become an Article III goddess?
The only advice I have is to prepare for the moment when the stars might align to designate you the fortunate one among all the other highly qualified persons who are willing and available. That means hard work, success in some area of the law, keeping your options open, and being ready to accept the opportunity when it arises.
WOW! Article III Groupie may be a bit biased, but wasn't that a delightful interview? A3G thoroughly enjoyed her time in cyberspace with Judge Wardlaw, and she thanks Judge Wardlaw for her gracious participation in "Questions Presented."
A3G is now looking for a judge to be interviewed for the second installment of QP. To all of you federal judges out there who are considering being interviewed, A3G offers her interview with Judge Wardlaw as evidence that a QP interview is (1) lighthearted, funny, and fun; (2) a great way to raise your profile among prospective clerkship applicants, namely, UTR's large law student readership; and (3) so far removed from substantive legal issues that you don't need to worry about saying anything that would call your impartiality into question (or otherwise implicate judicial ethics rules). If you're at all interested, please e-mail A3G; if you have specific questions or concerns, she is happy to address them.
Kissing the hem of Judge Wardlaw's designer robe,