In a highly personal talk, Judge Paula Xinis recounts how two women inspired her career in the law through their different battles with adversity: Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist who escaped from slavery, and Xinis’ mother.
Xinis recalled how Truth won her 5-year-old son’s freedom after turning to a New York court in the 1820s. She later became a forceful advocate for women and African Americans. “No matter what confronted her, she kept speaking truth to power, in courts of law and in the courts of public opinion,” Xinis said.
Xinis, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, then told the story of her mother, whose life unraveled after she suffered devastating injuries in a car accident and “received pennies in a legal settlement.”
“My mom’s life had two chapters, before the accident and after,” Xinis said. “I lived only with after-the-accident mom. And that mom was depressed, anxious. As I grew older, it became harder for her to bottle up that resentment of having been robbed of everything.”
Xinis spoke in late March during a virtual observance of Women’s History Month hosted by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Before she was appointed to the bench, Xinis served as a federal public defender and then entered private practice, representing disadvantaged clients in criminal and civil cases.
“There’s no doubt that my mom’s struggle became one very important reason why I did what I did as a lawyer,” Xinis said. “And I know she influences how I am on the bench.”
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