FOUNDER PROFILE: HANNAH-BETH JACKSON
When SBWL was founded in 1988, Santa Barbara County was one of the only counties in California without a women’s bar organization. Having had a very positive experience serving on the board of directors of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Hannah-Beth Jackson was enthusiastic when Deborah Talmage contacted her and asked for her support and assistance in founding SBWL. She saw the need for a support group for women lawyers, a network of women attorneys who would establish programs related to gender issues, such as bias in the courtroom, the glass ceiling, child care pressures, gender discrimination within law firms and support for women sole practitioners. Hannah-Beth joined a distinguished group of women attorneys to found SBWL. The organization was a great success from the start, with more than 90 members signing up within the first few months of its existence.
In many ways, she was a natural choice as a founding board member. Hannah-Beth had been appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in 1977 to be on the California Commission on the Status of Women and served as its Chair from 1981-1983. She had also been appointed by Governor Deukmejian to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Support Development and Enforcement in 1983. This commission was formed to look into the reasons more and more women were living below the poverty line ten years after no-fault divorce was enacted. Hannah-Beth was also named Woman of the Year by the Santa Barbara Commission for Women in 1989.
Hannah-Beth brought her years of experience working on women’s issues to the organization of SBWL. As a Deputy District Attorney in Santa Barbara, she prosecuted domestic violence and rape cases in the mid 70s and early 80s. She was one of only two women in the D.A.’s office at the time. Virtually all of the prosecuting and defense attorneys, judges, bailiffs, clerks and law enforcement officers were male. Victims of domestic violence and rape often were re-traumatized by the criminal justice system, and there was little understanding of the psychological aspects of sexual assault on the victim. Hannah-Beth felt it was her job as a prosecutor to help the victim, explain the process and put some humanity into it.
She was incensed that the law at that time permitted defense attorneys to inquire into the victim’s sexual history, on the theory that it was relevant to the defense of consent to the assault. The victim was put on trial. Hannah-Beth began to speak out and become an advocate for a change in the law, and eventually legislation was passed prohibiting evidence of the victim’s sexual history. In domestic violence cases Hannah-Beth often found law enforcement officers reluctant to get involved in dangerous, volatile family conflicts. She worked to change the attitude that domestic violence was a private matter and also worked to establish a support system for the victims, who often had no realistic alternative but to return to their batterers. Hannah-Beth believes significant advances have been made in this area. There is now much more sensitivity toward sexual assault and domestic violence victims. The SART team works with all such victims, providing important emotional support and a professional approach to investigation and prosecution. Jackson hopes that SBWL will renew and strengthen its commitment to assist victims of domestic violence. There is still much to be done.
She has served as a judge in Teen Court, a “great program” for youthful first-time offenders, in which the jury is a panel of teens, the young offenders, peers. She describes her approach as firm, yet compassionate. The court has had great success in helping the teens to turn their lives around, and the program has provided great value for the tax dollars that support it. Her practice concentrates upon family law. Jackson is married to Superior Court Judge George Eskin, and they have a daughter, Jennie. Hannah-Beth was elected to the California State Assembly and served for the maximum term.By Janet Vining Mitchell