History-making group of black female judges relishing initial days on job

17 black judges in Harris County were sworn in on Jan. 1.

HOUSTON – What might look like just a gathering of girlfriends, a sorority meeting, or networking event is anything but.

Inside this Harris County courtroom are history-makers with more than 200 years of legal experience.

They're part of a group of 19 black women who ran for judge positions locally or statewide.

Seventeen of them won and have now taken the bench in Harris County courtrooms.

“We like to say that it's divinely created," Judge Toria Finch said. "You'll notice that there are 19 of us, and the interesting thing about it is that in 2019, you will have 19 African-American women that will be taking the benches in Harris County, so I think that's how it kind of took a life of its own, essentially.” 

Their campaigns created an undeniable bond.

“We looked around and thought, there's quite a few of us right here," Judge Shannon Baldwin said. "This is something we should highlight. This is something we should make sure everyone else knows about, because we knew that it would attract voters."

And then, sort of like magic, this photo of the women went viral around the world, using #HarrisBlackGirlMagic.

“We had people calling us from literally all over the country, and I had a client in a foreign country that called me because he'd seen it on the internet someplace,” Judge Sandra Peake said.

The women seized the moment at a critical point in their campaigns.

“We got out and we did a lot of groundwork," Judge Deidre Davis said. "We went to a variety of communities. When I'm on the bench, I represent everyone, and so I was in the Persian community, I was in the Arab community, I was in the GLBTQ community. We actually represent everyone in Harris County and we're here for everyone in Harris County."

This was an unprecedented midterm election in terms of voter turnout. With so many using straight-ticket voting, the ladies responded to those who wondered if they were beneficiaries of straight-ticket voting.

“I don't think that we're necessarily beneficiaries of straight-ticket voting," Judge Angela Graves-Harrington said. "What we're beneficiaries of is voter excitement, and the job and the work that we did to turn the votes out. And there was some analysis done by quite a few people who studied this that showed that had there not been straight-ticket voting, we still would have won our elections.”

On Jan. 1, this group of 17, along with other elected officials, were sworn in.

They'll preside over criminal, civil, juvenile and family courts, a job they all say their experience makes them ready to tackle.

“These are things you think about in the beginning," Judge Lori Chamber Gray said. "You don't think about it after you've gotten there. You plan. And as lawyers, we have planned our lives, our careers for this very day. And so, while we may have never been a judge before, we have been lawyers and we have been well-prepared for what we're facing."

Judge Ramona Franklin shared her excitement about being able to show the younger generation what they can do.

"To me, it's exciting to go to the high school and say, 'Hey, we're actually running for judge,'" Franklin said. '"And you too can be a judge. You know, you can look just like me.'"

These women represent all walks of life.

They're wives, mothers, first-generation college graduates and even first-time political candidates.

You can see more of our conversation in these extended clips.