These TV Judges Will Make You Get Your Act Together

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In 1939, Jane Matilda Bolin became the first Black woman to serve as a judge in the United States. But this was only after becoming the first African-American woman graduate of Yale Law School, to join the New York City Bar Association, and to join the New York City Law Department.

Today, almost 80 years later, Black women preside over courtrooms both on and off the television screen. Don’t let the entertainment value of these women discount their professional accolades though.

Black women judges on television followed the path of Jane Matilda Bolin - making history as “firsts,” and serving the communities they love.

Judge Lynn Toler, Divorce Court

An alumna of both Harvard University and The University of Pennsylvania Law School, Judge Toler was first elected judge of The Cleveland Heights Municipal Court in 1993. A dedicated public servant, Judge Toler mentored young, at-risk girls and advocated for victims of domestic violence through initiatives like the Cleveland Heights Coordinated Community Response to Violence against Women and Templum House, a battered women’s shelter.

A woman of many talents, Judge Toler has served as an adjunct professor, is a published author, and the mother/step-mother six sons. Her books build upon her experiences both in the courtroom and in her personal life. My Mother’s Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius, for example, is a memoir sharing how she coped with a parent who was mentally ill. While Making Marriage Work: New Rules for an Old Institution blends her courtroom experience with changing social tides to provide solutions to America’s rising divorce rate.

A beacon of daytime television and legal pioneer in her own right, Judge Toler is a boss both in and outside of the courtroom - telling you like it is, and sharing the steps needed to get where you want to go.

Judge Mablean Ephriam, Justice with Judge Mablean

Judge Mablean is no newcomer to the camera.

In addition to starring in Tyler Perry’s “Madea” movies, Judge Mablean presided over Divorce Court for seven years (1999-2006) - where she was the first star of the revived version of the show.

Though born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, Judge Mablean was raised in Los Angeles, CA where she would eventually serve as a prosecuting attorney. Before entering the world of entertainment, Judge Mablean worked in investment banking and as a correctional officer, legal secretary, and law clerk.

After years as a city prosecutor, Judge Mablean opened her own practice and remained engaged in her local community. She led the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, served on the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California - Family Law Section, and joined the Los Angeles County Bar Association. She was also the first Black woman on the Board of Directors of Union Rescue Mission - just to name a few.

Judge Mablean did not apply for her TV gig. Rather, word-of-mouth of her legal talents made its way to an entertainment attorney, and the showrunners hired Judge Mablean within seven days of her interview.

As an entrepreneur, Judge Mablean owns a Bed & Breakfast in Johannesburg, South Africa, and attributes her success to God, her parents, her family, and close friends. Want to know how she does it? Check out her book, Judge Mablean’s Life Lessons: Tools for Weekly Living.

Judge Faith Jenkins, Judge Faith

Judge Faith debuted in September 2014, only after a substantive legal and pageant career.

As the highest ranking student in her graduating class at Southern University Law School (Baton Rouge, LA), Judge Faith went on to litigate for the prestigious Sidley Austin law firm. Transferring from a docket of high-profile clients and complex commercial litigation issues, Judge Faith would move from Wall Street to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and later to private practice involving issues of business, white-collar defense, and government investigations, among other areas.

In 2001, Faith Jenkins became the only contestant in the history of the Miss America Pageant to be awarded all three of the following awards: swimsuit, talent, and “Quality of Life” - recognizing her volunteer work around issues of literacy and education. Though she placed first runner-up in the 2001 pageant, Judge Faith already carried the title as the first African American woman to win the Miss Louisiana Tech title in 2000.

Judge Karen Mills-Francis, Supreme Justice with Judge Karen

Judge Karen is known for her “no-nonsense” approach to the courtroom.

The Honourable Karen Mills-Francis made her nationally-syndicated TV-debut in September 2008. After a formal audition process, Judge Karen was selected and soon began daily taping of shows in Los Angeles, CA.

With extensive legal experience, Judge Karen spent 13 years practicing criminal defense law, as well as private practice. She later became the first Black woman to serve on the bench in Miami-Dade County.

In her signature burgundy robe, Judge Karen is no stranger to standing out - or speaking out. She is a staunch advocate for women’s empowerment and authored Stay in Your Lane: Judge Karen’s Guide to Living Your Best Life aims to empower readers to take charge of their own lives through positive mental and emotional health.

These Black women accomplished historical feats even before reaching your TV-screen. Make sure you know their history before you change the channel.

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