The year 2019 was one of highs and lows for Honorable Bernadette D’Souza, Judge, Orleans Civil District Court. She had a career-high when she took the Oath of Office to become president of the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) in Los Angeles on October 19, 2019. She was honored when District of Columbia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, who administered the Oath, read a congratulatory letter expressing sentiments from longtime NAWJ member, Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson. This has been a season of new experiences for Judge D’Souza. In late 2018 she was an invited speaker at the U.S. State Department International Narcotics and Law Bureau (INL) Office’s Role of Women in Justice Conference in Yerevan, Armenia. The conference united Armenian judges, lawyers, investigators, and law enforcement personnel on ways to overcome cultural obstacles in the justice system. In March 2019, Judge D’Souza presented on “Integrated Domestic Violence Courts” at the United Nations Convention on the Status of Women in New York. In June, at the invitation of Pope Francis, she attended the First Pan American Judges’ Summit on Social Justice and the Franciscan Doctrine in the Vatican City where she made a presentation on “Equal Access to Justice: The Importance of Civil Legal Aid and Delivery of Justice to Eradicate Poverty.” She commented, “As a former legal aid lawyer representing the poor of our city, I was truly humbled and privileged to have been bestowed with the honor to participate.” October brought her NAWJ appointment as president.
2 The NAWJ’s mission to “protect the rights of individuals under the rule of law through strong, committed, diverse judicial leadership; fairness and equality in the courts; and equal access to justice,” aligns with principles Judge D’Souza has displayed throughout her career. During her NAWJ swearing-in ceremony, she mentioned her humble beginnings in Goa, India; the opportunities she was afforded, and the consistent support she received from her husband with whom she moved to the United States and started a family. She discussed her family’s encouragement during law school. With all the highs of 2019, in July there was a major loss; the challenge to endure the loss of her husband, best friend, and father to her three children. His life of service, her faith and commitment to this important work of the bench has inspired her to move forward. Judge D’Souza thanked her children, who were present at the swearing-in, and her colleagues, whose constant support helped her throughout this year. Regarding serving as president, Judge D’Souza expressed, “I am humbled by both the opportunity and responsibility of this office and inspired by the passion, grace, and dedication of our leaders and membership. NAWJ provides a vital and unique source of community, support, diplomacy and integrity to our members and the individuals we serve.” Judge D’Souza understands the highs and lows and uses them to complete her life’s work to serve others. She is once again supported by family, her children and the spirit of her beloved husband, which she says give her the momentum to look beyond her emotions, see the needs of others, and concentrate on the work that must be completed. Judge D’Souza’s theme for her term as NAWJ president is “Innovation Efforts to Improve Access to Justice through Global Judicial Leadership.” As president, she will utilize her NAWJ experience as a Co-chair of the Domestic Violence Committee, NAWJ Secretary, Chair of the Personnel Committee, Co-chair of the Executive Director Search Committee, and District Director. Judge D’Souza looks forward to playing host to the NAWJ in New Orleans at its 2020 Mid-Year Meeting, March 11-13.