Late last month, stay-at-home mother of three Christa Pehl Evans publicly complained after being denied an excusal from jury duty by Fresno County Superior Court Judge James Petrucelli.
Pehl Evans, who has a PhD from Princeton, said the Judge’s remarks in response to her request to be excused left her feeling bullied. She called his line of questioning anti-woman and anti-mother.
“I don’t care about your children.”
According to Pehl Evans, when she stated that she could not serve on jury duty because she was the primary caregiver for her three small children, Judge Petrucelli stated, “I don’t care about your children.”
He went on: “Who is going to take care of your children when you get hit by a Mack truck?”
When asked “What do you do when you are sick?” Pehl Evans replied, “I take care of my kids.” Thereafter, Petrucelli allegedly, “shook his head at [her] with a disgusted expression on his face.”
After continuing to dress down Pehl Evans and another juror—“a very pregnant mother of a 20-month-old”—the Judge stated: “I just don’t understand these people with no childcare.”
But that’s not all. According to Pehl Evans:
“His conversation with me went on and on in front of the entire courtroom. There were almost 300 people at the courthouse called to serve jury duty, and Judge James Petrucelli chose to berate two mothers of young children.”
According to Pehl Evans, Judge Petrucelli’s treatment of her and the pregnant juror stood in stark contrast to Petrucelli’s treatment of the male jurors who sought to be excused.
Pehl Evans stated: “In contrast, the man in the room asking to get off the jury because he needed money from his job to support his family was not questioned. Judge Petrucelli simply nodded his head in agreement with him.”
Petrucelli stands by his remarks.
In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Petrucelli initially denied those remarks. However, after reviewing the court transcripts, he stood by his comments. The Sacramento Bee also shared a detailed rap sheet of the judge’s prior infractions, which include a censure in 2015 for “serious misconduct.”
Look. There is no question that jury duty is an important civic responsibility.
Judges and juries serve an important role within our legal system and within our society.
The work I did as a judicial intern when I worked for a judge during law school remains some of the most important work I’ve done in my career. I still remember sitting for trials and observing the care that went into jury selection. It’s an important job, and one not well-appreciated by the average citizen who hasn’t served.
Respect for jury duty is not the problem here.
The problem here is the cultural bias against women and mothers that permeates even the highest offices in this nation. It’s the reason we don’t have a universal form of paid parental leave. It’s the reason mothers are often sent back to work a mere six weeks after childbirth. It’s the reason post-partum care in the U.S. pales in comparison to the care afforded to other new mothers across the world.
The mindset held by Judge Petrucelli is shared by far too many people in power. It’s the reason mothers face discrimination in the workplace at alarming rates.
It’s the reason women are suddenly and unlawfully fired from their jobs days after they disclose their pregnancies. It’s the reason women are forced to pump in dark closets. It’s the reason women don’t receive promotional opportunities at the same rates as men.
This bias is also the reason securing quality, affordable childcare is so hard to come by, which, by the way, Judge, is the reason many of “these people” don’t have childcare.
Beyond that, there is value in raising children. The problem though is there are too many Judge Petrucellis out there who refuse to see that value. Instead, they choose to penalize women.
They penalize women for becoming mothers. They penalize women for having the potential to become mothers. They penalize women for continuing to perform paid work after they become mothers, and they penalize women for taking a break from paid work after they become mothers.
Judge Petrucelli’s remarks highlight this truth and reveal a bias held by many—even by those who should know better.