Baird, Lourdes G.: 1935—: Judge

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Lourdes G. Baird: 1935: Judge

Lourdes G. Baird became one of the highest-ranking Hispanic women in the U.S. Justice Department when she was appointed U.S. attorney for the Central District of California in 1990. The post involved supervising cases in a jurisdiction that was the largest in the United States at the time, comprised of seven counties with more than 12 million citizens. During her time in office, Baird played a role in the Justice Depart-ment's civil trial against the Los Angeles police officers who assaulted Rodney King. In 1992 she left the job for a federal judgeship with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court, where she has continued her involvement in high-profile legal challenges in the Los Angeles area.

Baird was born on May 12, 1935, in Quito, Ecuador. Her father moved the family of seven children to Los Angeles a year later, where she attended Roman Catholic parochial schools in the city not far from the family home on Van Ness Avenue. She remembered her female-only high school, Immaculate Heart, as a particularly encouraging environment. "There's something in retrospect that was great about going to an all-girls high school," she told Henry Weinstein in a Los Angeles Times interview years later. Weinstein noted that the school "was run by a highly independent order of nuns, who later clashed with the Los Angeles Archdiocese," and Baird affirmed this. "Those nuns were so independent, even in the 1950s," she told the newspaper.

Appointed U.S. Attorney by Republicans

Baird attended secretarial school for a time before marrying William T. Baird, a businessman, at age 21. They couple had three children, and Baird was a homemaker living in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles when she decided to return to school. She began taking classes at Los Angeles City College on a part-time basis, and it took her five years to earn an associate of arts degree. From there she transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and earned her sociology degree in 1973. She applied to and was accepted at UCLA's law school, and did well despite the hardship of a 1975 divorce. After graduating a year later, she took the state bar exam and passed it.

Baird began her career as an attorney at the age of 41. Her first job was as a prosecutor in the United States attorney's office in Los Angeles. Six years later, in 1983, she went into private practice as partner in Baird, Munger and Myers. In 1986 she accepted an appointment as a municipal court judge in Los Angeles, and two years later became a juvenile-court judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Baird's legal acumen attracted the attention of U.S. Senator Pete Wilson, a Republican, and he proposed her name for a soon-to-be vacant U.S. attorney post in the Los Angeles area; the nomination was somewhat unusual because of Baird's Democratic political affiliation. Her name was seconded by U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and her appointment was confirmed a few months later by Senate vote. When she was sworn into office in July of 1990, Baird became one of a few U.S. attorneys in history to be appointed during a political administration not of his or her own political affiliation. "Baird will become one of only five female U.S. attorneys in the country and one of the few who speaks Spanish fluently," wrote Weinstein of the Los Angeles Times at the time. "She also is the first grandmother ever selected for the post."

At a Glance . . .

Born on May 12, 1935, in Quito, Ecuador; daughter of James C. Gillespie and Josefina Delgado; married William T. Baird (a businessman), 1956 (divorced, 1975); children: William Jr., Maria, and John. Education: Attended secretarial school in Los Angeles, c. 1954; Los Angeles City College, associate of arts degree; University of California at Los Angeles, BA, 1973, JD, 1976. Politics: Democrat.

Career: United States Attorney's Office, Los Angeles, CA, prosecutor, 1977-83; Baird, Munger and Myers, partner, 1983-86; East Los Angeles Municipal Court, judge, 1986-87; Los Angeles Municipal Court, judge, 1987; Los Angeles Superior Court, Juvenile Court division, judge, 1988; California's Central District, U.S. attorney, 1990-92, district court judge, 1992.

Member: UCLA School of Law Alumni Association, president, 1981-84; Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, advisory committee, 1983-86; California Women Lawyers Association; Mexican American Bar Association; Latino Judges Association; National Association of Women Judges.

Address: Office Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse, 255 E. Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Baird's role as U.S. attorney in Los Angeles was an important one. As Weinstein noted, the former judge "assumes her post at a time when the area is considered one of the major national centers of drug crime, money laundering, savings and loan scams and defense contracting fraud, four principal areas of concern to federal prosecutors," the Los Angeles Times article noted. When she took over, there was even a federal grand jury investigation at her office of Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley for his possible links to a banking scandal.

Confronted With Variety of High Profile Cases

In 1991 Baird's office became involved in the Rodney King case. In March of that year, King, an African-American motorist, was stopped by Los Angeles police officers; a subsequent beating was filmed surreptitiously from a nearby apartment building, and released to the media. The tape ignited a firestorm of controversy, and a criminal case against the officers ended in their acquittal. The announcement of that verdict caused Los Angeles's black community to erupt in anger, and several days of rioting ensued in April of 1992. The federal courthouse that housed Baird's office was even targeted. Noting her importance as "the top Justice Department official in town," Los Angeles Times writer Jim Newton went on to describe the scene. "The federal courthouse had come under attack during the early hours of the rioting, and when Baird and other lawyers showed up for work on Thursday morning, the smell of smoke from torched palm trees hung in the elegant entryway, and broken glass carpeted much of the building's first floor." By then Baird was part of another investigation into the King incident, after Justice Department officials in Washington launched a probe into whether or not King's civil rights were violated. "Amid the uproar, Baird moved calmly to choose the attorneys who would represent her office in the case," Newton wrote. The trial ended with guilty verdicts for the officers, with a jury agreeing that they violated King's constitutional right to be free from the intentional use of unreasonable force.

By that time, however, Baird had moved on to a seat on the bench of the Central District of California's District Court in September of 1992. There she went on to play a role in several other important cases, including a 1996 lawsuit filed by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agent Jorge Guzman, who claimed that he had been unduly harassed at his job because of his Hispanic heritage. Some two dozen internal investigations of him had taken place, but he was never reprimanded, nor did they hinder his subsequent promotions. Guzman "alleged the existence of pervasive anti-Latino sentiments in the inspector general's office and the INS, especially among old-line officers in high positions," explained Los Angeles Times writer Patrick J. McDonnell. "As a senior supervisory agent, Guzman is one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the INS' Los Angeles district." The final straw was a raid on his home by plainclothes officers with weapons, who frightened the nanny for Guzman's daughter and his sister, and allegedly made sexual advances toward one of the women; they became co-plaintiffs in his suit. After a trial presided over by Baird, the Justice Department agreed to pay Guzman $400,000 in damages.

Baird also put an end to a legal challenge to block California's controversial Proposition 227, approved by voters in June of 1998. It ended three decades of bilingual-education programs in the California public school system, specifying that all classes be taught "overwhelmingly" in English. Supporters of bilingual education asked Baird's court to block it just before it was set to go into effect, but she refused. The following year, she heard sides in a case against three banks in Mexico suspected of money-laundering by the U.S. Customs Service. She also agreed with plaintiffs in 1999 that the use of a special restraining chair by sheriffs' authorities in Ventura County violated the constitutional rights of detainees. In 2000 she reversed a record $143 million award given to a British computer-chip maker for lost pets called Trovan. The suit was brought against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, who made and marketed an antibiotic also called "Trovan" that was linked to liver failure in animals. Pfizer lost the first round, and was ordered to pay the $143 millionthe largest trademark infringement verdict in U.S. history at the timebut then allegations surfaced that the lawyers for Trovan had falsified evidence, including spurious letters by pet-owners confused about the news about the antibiotic and its dangers.

In 2003 Baird decided in favor of a group of farm laborers from Mexico, who had come to Ventura County at the invitation of a labor contractor under the provisions of a federal guest-worker program known as H-2A. The workers helped harvest the county's lemon crop during a farm-labor shortage, but alleged that they were not paid in full, nor allowed proper breaks and lunch periods as specified by law. The defendant moved to have the case transferred to federal court, since the guest-worker program was a federal one, but Baird disagreed and returned the case to the Ventura County Superior Court. In her written ruling, she pointed out that the workers from Mexico were still protected under California statutes. "In creating a new system for the admission of H-2A workers there is no evidence that Congress intended to eliminate these workers' state law remedies," she was quoted as saying in her decision by Los Angeles Times journalist Fred Alvarez.

Baird has numerous professional ties to the legal community in Southern California and beyond. She belongs to the California Women Lawyers Association, the Mexican American Bar Association, the Latino Judges Association, and the National Association of Women Judges.



Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.


Buffalo News, August 1, 1998, p. A2.

Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1990; June 27, 1993; September 24, 1996; January 21, 1999; March 31, 1999, p. 2; November 23, 1999, p. B1; December 22, 1999, p. B3; July 21, 2001, p. B5; January 24, 2003.

Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2000, p. B2.

Carol Brennan