Volunteer Profile: The Honorable M. Kathleen Butz '81
Kathleen Butz '81, Associate Justice of the California Courts of Appeal, Third Appellate District, knows the value of a good mentor.
"What inspired me and what made me believe that I could do this job was my mentor and role model, Judge Frank Francis," Butz said of the former Nevada County Superior Court judge. "I think it's very important for law students to have the opportunity to connect with mentors and role models, and that's why I've tried to make myself available."
Justice Butz, who has frequently worked with students in the King Hall Outreach Program (KHOP) and the Law School's moot court and mock trial programs and who recently volunteered to administer the state oath at the 2009 Swearing-In Ceremony in December, certainly has the kind of life experience that can provide inspiration.
After entering King Hall at age 28 as a recently divorced single mother, she went on to private practice with a firm in Nevada County from 1982 to 1996. Encouraged by Judge Francis, she ran for a seat on the Nevada County Superior Court that was vacated by his retirement, and prevailed in a hard-fought 1996 campaign. She served on the Nevada County bench, handling criminal, civil, and probate trials as well as family law and juvenile matters until October 2003, when she was appointed by Governor Gray Davis to the Third Appellate District.
"I loved the trial bench, and it was a great experience," she said. "But now I appreciate being in the position to take more time to research issues, and I find it very satisfying to work with two other colleagues on a panel, and to reach a correct resolution based on the facts and the law. Even though I was successful as an advocate, I feel I'm well suited to the appellate bench. The position demands attention to detail and involves the areas of law I experienced as a trial court judge."
Butz credits Judge Francis, whom she described as "just a great judge, a tremendous man, and a wonderful role model," for helping her to reach her full potential and hopes that through her work with KHOP, she can help others find an equally apt career choice.
"One of the things I think is critical for students considering law school is to get as much exposure as they can to lawyers and judges, in order to get a sense of whether this is really what they want to do," she said. She has also spoken to students in Professor Timothy Schooley's Appellate Practice course, helped judge the Neumiller Competition and other mock trial competitions at King Hall, and recruited other judges to help as well.
"I've tried to make myself available, and I feel that's part of what judges should do to help mentor the next generation," she said.