More women judges on bench, group says

Women continued to make small gains in the number of judgeship positions held nationwide this year — particularly in Maryland — though they’re far from reaching parity with men, according to a report released Monday.

Roughly 27.1 percent of the country’s state and federal judges are female, up from 26.6 percent in 2011 and 26.1 percent in 2010, a study from the University at Albany Center for Women in Government & Civil Society showed. The increase was led by a small rise of 0.7 percent in state judgeships and offset slightly by a decline of 0.1 percent in federal positions.

“This is both good news and bad news,” Dina Refki, the center’s director, said in a statement. “The good news is that there is movement, at least at the state level, but the bad news is that the rate of change is so slow, and, in the case of the federal benches, we are experiencing a setback.”

Maryland bucked the trend by gaining a female federal judge this year and boosting its percentage of women judges on that bench to 26.7 percent from 25 percent last year. It also gained ground at the state level, adding six women and losing eight men in 2012, for a female percentage of 34.4 percent.

Overall, one of every three judges in Maryland is a woman (103 out of 306 total), giving the state the sixth-highest concentration of female judges in the country at 33.7 percent, up from 10th highest in 2011 and 2010.

According to the center’s report, Montana has the highest concentration of female judges today — 40 percent — while Idaho has the lowest at just 11.3 percent.

“If women are graduating from law schools at the same rate as men, and if there is a pool of qualified women who are ready to serve, there is no explanation for the unbalanced representation on the bench,” Refki said.

Women have earned 40 percent or more of the country’s law degrees every year for the past quarter century, according to the American Bar Association. Last year, they were awarded 47.3 percent of the nation’s juris doctor degrees.

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