The summer of 1998 was bright for Teresa Raquel Robinson Freeman, Shamieka Rhinehart, Camille Banks-Prince, and Keisha Wright Hill. They had each enrolled in law school at North Carolina Central University, and little did they know their paths were about to intersect in a way that would make them life-long friends. Affectionately calling themselves “The Golden Girls” after the popular 90s sitcom, these four women of color would endure break-ups, break downs and even death on a path that no one anticipated. That was 20 years ago. Today each is a judge.
They join Frank Stasio for a special joint interview to share the many moments of their personal and legal careers. Wright Hill left law school after her father’s death, but her desire to reach their collective dream kept her focused, and in 2014 she became a juvenile court judge pro tempore in Clayton County Georgia two years after being appointed as a magistrate court judge. Rhinehart was a new district attorney during the Duke Lacrosse trial, but she did not let the cloud of that scandal paint her future.
From passing the bar to being told they were not ready for office, they will talk about how family, faith, and friendship has carried them through life’s ups and downs. Shamieka Rhinehart is currently a first term district court judge in Durham County. Camille Banks-Prince is a district court judge in Forsyth County. Teresa Raquel Robinson Freeman is a district court judge for North Carolina’s 6th Judicial District in the northeastern part of the state. Freeman was first elected in 2009. Keisha Wright Hill is a juvenile court judge pro tempore in Clayton County Georgia.
Camille Banks-Prince on what inspired her to become a judge:
Something as trivial as a court tv show. It was “Divorce Court” ... I saw lawyers on there, and I saw themadvocating, and I knew inherently … By being a oldest child, I was that person who advocated for my younger siblings. I defended them. It’s just something I felt like I possessed innately.
Shamieka Rhinehart on the impact her uncle had on her career path:
I was between two professions. I wanted to be either a teacher [or a lawyer]. But when I saw my uncle [and] the way he was able to help people in the community — he was an attorney … People say I have the gift of gab, and so maybe I can help people as well.
Teresa Raquel Robinson Freeman on how she was recruited for law school:
I wanted to be a teacher … I happened to run across a random lawyer who was on campus who just said to me in passing: You should consider law school. You’re an English major. You speak well. You write well. Apply. And so I did.
Keisha Wright Hill on how she decided at 14 she wanted to be a judge:
In ninth grade, I was in honors English, and we had an assignment to do … My high school librarian, who I’m still in contact with, helped me pick Thurgood Marshall to do a report on. And it was through doing the research [for] that paper that I learned he was a champion of the poor — that he fought for justice. He was the first African-American supreme court justice.
Camille Banks-Prince on the power of their sisterhood:
Most of the support I had from my family was moral support. They were proud of me, but the biggest support I had was these ladies, because your family can’t relate … I can think of a situation I was in right before we graduated, and I was really upset by it to the point that I couldn’t sleep. And I didn’t say: Ladies I need you. But they just initiated and came into my room with me that night and slept with me the entire night. Nobody said a word, and just they stayed with me.
Teresa Raquel Robinson Freeman on elders discouraging her to run for judge:
I was only seven years into my legal career when the opportunity presented itself for me to become a judge … It was a lot of: “You’re not ready.” “It’s not your time.” … A small group of people who thought I wasn’t ready. I had not paid my dues. I can’t count the number of times I heard that.
Keisha Wright Hill on how she was appointed to the juvenile court system:
You cannot let fear paralyze you. I was at a Christmas bar party, and I saw the chief judge, and I had been meaning to speak to him about my aspirations and goals to become a juvenile court judge ... I saw him leaving the party, and I was having this internal tug of war … I literally ran after him … He said: You know you are the first person that has come to me and told me their career aspirations, and because of that this is how I’m going to help you.
Camille Banks-Prince on the impact she has on black children:
I was at an event on Friday and one of the lawyers approached me. She said: I was in court the other day with one of my clients and her daughter was awestruck when she looked up and saw you. It was a little black child, and she was like: She’s a judge? And she started asking all these questions.
Shamieka Rhinehart on why their job is about more than banging the gavel:
I look to every person who appears in front of me as a story and not a statistic. How did you get here? I think that the good judges are the judges that follow the law and get the evidence. The better judges are asking those questions so that we can be a part of crafting the resolution that will address the systemic issues and reasons that they are coming in front of you in the first place.