Newsom names lesbian family lawyer Crocker to Sonoma bench

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday October 6, 2023
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Kinna Crocker was appointed to the Sonoma County Superior Court. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office
Kinna Crocker was appointed to the Sonoma County Superior Court. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office

Governor Gavin Newsom has named Kinna Crocker, an attorney of East Indian ancestry who specializes in family law, to a vacancy on the Sonoma County Superior Court. The lesbian Santa Rosa resident aims to close down her law firm and take her oath of office by the end of October.

"I am working very hard to do that at the moment. The goal is as soon as possible," Crocker, 46, told the Bay Area Reporter during a phone interview October 6.

The 2002 University of San Francisco School of Law graduate has had her own practice since 2013. In the spring Crocker submitted her application to be considered for a judicial appointment by the governor, having contemplated doing so for several years.

"After having conversations with my colleagues, as well as sitting judges, I finally decided to throw my name in the ring. I applied in April of this year," said Crocker, a married mother of 15-year-old twin daughters. "I really contemplated over the application process and really dug deep to decide what I wanted to do."

A registered Democrat, Crocker is filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Arthur Wick. She was one of 15 state superior court appointments that Newsom announced October 5.

San Francisco attorney Charlie Spiegel, a gay man who also specializes in family law, called Crocker an "excellent choice" in an email to the B.A.R.

Crocker noted that it isn't often that a family law practitioner is selected for a judicial appointment. Before becoming a sole practitioner, who also specializes in LGBTQ legal issues, Crocker was an associate at Terre Family Law in Santa Rosa from 2011 to 2013. The National LGBT Bar Association named her one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40 in 2013.

Prior to that she was employed with the law firm Lozano Smith from 2010 to 2011. Between 2004 and 2008 she had worked for the Northern California Family Law Group in Sacramento.

"When I interviewed with the governor's office, the last question they asked me was if there was anything I wanted the governor to know. I said that I appreciate the governor's focus on diversifying our bench in terms of the diversity of our legal community as well," recalled Crocker, president of the Sonoma County Bar Association. "Not only because of my identifiers in race, gender, and sexual orientation, I am also grateful he values diversity of practice. Not a lot of family law attorneys are named to the bench. Our expertise is something very valuable we can bring to the bench."

Born Kinna Patel in London, England the middle child of three sisters, Crocker immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was age 2. They ended up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Crocker would go on to graduate from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Having long dreamed of moving to California, she applied to the San Francisco-based law school after deciding to pursue a legal degree. Coming out of the closet to her friends at age 20 also played into her decision to relocate to the Bay Area.

"My identity had a lot to do with that. Jokingly my friends would say everyone in San Francisco is gay, it is where you should go," recalled Crocker. "I know that is not true, but it was a safe space for me to figure out who I was."

At law school she met her future wife, Ashle Crocker, who now works as an assistant city attorney in Santa Rosa. The couple had moved to Sacramento after law school but decided to relocate to Sonoma County after they had their daughters in order to be closer to Ashle Crocker's parents, as she grew up in Santa Rosa.

"We were desperate for help," quipped Kinna Crocker.

Crocker told the B.A.R. she believes she will bring the number of out judges on the Sonoma bench to two once she takes her judicial oath due to the appointment of another lesbian lawyer earlier this year. As the B.A.R. reported in March, the Sonoma superior court had no LGBTQ judges in 2022 per the judicial demographic data released annually by the state judicial council.

"Becoming a judge is the ultimate manifestation of my obtaining my U.S. citizenship," she said.

The first time Croker ever stepped foot into a U.S. courtroom was when she took her oath to become an American citizen at the age of 16. It was inside a small courthouse in Greeneville, Tennessee.

"I remember walking into the courtroom and I felt intimidated and excited at the same time," recalled Crocker. "I remember seeing a large seal on the wall and wondering what happened in that room on a daily basis and what would the walls say if they could talk. Seeing the judge I felt in awe and felt the power of the robe in that courtroom as I was given the privilege of becoming a citizen."

That day left a lasting impression on Crocker, who early on was drawn to the legal profession as a fan of the TV show "Law & Order." Later she saw first hand how the law can be used to marginalize people as someone barred from marrying the love of her life.

Quoted in a 2008 guest opinion piece in the B.A.R. about the legal fight for marriage equality, Crocker noted, "It hurts to be reminded that we are not treated equally under the law."

The couple married in June 2008 shortly after the state's supreme court ruled same-sex couples in California had a right to wed. Voters that November brought the same-sex weddings to an end with the passage of Proposition 8, which was later overturned by federal court rulings in 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality nationally in 2015.

"Getting married and being threatened with that being taken away, I do have a sense of fairness, justice and equality that I plan to bring to the bench," said Crocker, who had taken her wife's last name when they first became domestic partners in 2006.

As a judge, Crocker will earn $232,399.

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