Full Time Practice

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

LA Women in Law Host Judge Sherrill Ellsworth

(Written by Ladell Muhlestein, a member of the LA Chapter board of the JRCLS.)

Judge Sherrill Ellsworth

On April 23, 2013, the Women in the Law Committee of the Los Angeles Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, chaired by Nancy Chung Allred, hosted a light supper and presentation by Judge Sherrill Ellsworth, former Presiding Judge of the Riverside Superior Court. She is only the second woman in the 100 year history of Riverside County to be elected by her peers to the position of Presiding Judge, and so far as research has revealed, currently the only female LDS judge in the state of California. 

Judge Ellsworth spoke on  “Gender Equality:  A View from the Bench.”  Judge Ellsworth and her husband have six children.  

I found Judge Ellsworth’s personal story very compelling.  She was raised in Riverside County by a single mother, who taught her to believe she could do anything she wanted to do.  She joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the only one in her family to do so then, at the age of 12.  She describes herself as a “card-carrying, temple-going, active member of the LDS Church.”  

Judge Ellsworth is a great story-teller and it was easy to see why she enjoyed her time in front of a jury.  She structured her comments around interesting personal experiences.  She commented that as a female LDS attorney, she felt the sting of gender bias both in the professional world and, unfortunately and more disappointingly, in the communities and cultures of wards and stakes.

Judge Ellsworth speaking to June Barlow and me
She said that for the most part in her experience within the Church, it has been women more than men who have shown strong bias concerning working women. Women who work in other than typically female fields can become isolated as a result of strongly held preferences and biases by some of our sisters, she stated.  Judge Ellsworth said that an insightful bishop took care of that and made her Relief Society president.  So on Sundays she made home visits, and on many a Monday she made jail visits.  She said they were very much the same.  She found that when people are in crisis and hurting they all need respect and compassion.

Judge Ellsworth complimented the men brave enough to attend the event and encouraged them to encourage the women in their lives to be what she refers to as  “ultimate women” – women who rely on their inner beauty, who are intelligent, who are strong, and who are courageous.   She encouraged female litigators to embrace their gender and not moderate their voices, appearance, or behavior.   She said she wanted jurors to see her as a woman, a mom, a sister, an aunt, and a daughter.  She believes, in fact, that being a strong, compassionate, intelligent woman is why she is so successful.

Judge Ellsworth and Nancy Chung Allred, a board member 
The part of Judge Ellsworth’s presentation that resonated most with me was when she said she has often thought, “Who better than me?”   "Who better than me, a mother of six, to sort out the complex issues of high-conflict custody battles? Who better than me, an LDS woman, to preside over child molestation cases where the victims and the juries need a gentle touch? Who better than me to handle domestic violence cases?”

Judge Ellsworth’s question motivated me to seek the self-confidence and the desire to make a contribution that would prompt me to ask, “Who better than me?”


  1. Judge Ellsworth spoke to the Orange County JRCLS 2-3 years ago and is such a strong, fearless example for both men and women LDS attorneys. Thanks for including the details of her speech, Ladell. I recognized one male attorney friend in the first photo (one of my mentors).

  2. I often tell the youth and relief society, it is not "why me?" It is "wow me!" I like your phrase, "who better than me?"