October may be Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but for Phoenix Municipal Court Judge Carol Scott Berry, it’s a year-round reality.
An Ahwatukee resident since 1992, Berry is the Domestic Violence Specialty Court judge.
”This is the biggest challenge I currently face as a judge,” she said, because “we are attempting to create a court that addresses victim safety, counseling services for both defendant and victims who desire it, and increase communication between law enforcement, victim advocates, prosecutors, defense counsel and the courts.
“The positive aspect is that all of the stakeholders are willing participants,” the Los Angeles native added.
Berry recently was honored with the 2017 Medgar Evers Award from the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice.
Calling her a “giant for justice,” the association hailed “her unselfish ideals of fair play, her devotion to developing policies, enforcing regulations and ensuring that all persons, including those who are institutionalized, (receive) equal justice under the law.”
It also praised “her dedication, unwavering service, servant leadership and outstanding achievements as a criminal justice professional committed to justice for all.”
The challenges posed by her current role are not the first in her career.
As an African-American woman in the criminal justice system, she’s had her share of others – and conquered them through her Christian faith.
“Being an African-American woman in a white male-dominated profession made my career challenges unique,” said Berry, who with her Realtor husband Virgil Berry Jr. have two children who attended Kyrene schools and Valley Christian High School.
“At the beginning of my career, I was reluctant to speak up or offer my opinion,” she recalled. “I began attending Bible Study Fellowship, an international, interdenominational Bible study. I developed confidence and courage through learning the Bible and God’s will for my life. It was this confidence that helped me focus on the task before me and not concern myself with anything else.”
Now, public speaking is part of her extracurricular activities. She speaks to elementary and high school students as well as those in college and law school.
The Berrys’ daughter Grace graduated from Arizona State University with two bachelor’s degrees and is a paralegal who has her sights on law school.
It’s a familiar career path for Berry, who attended ASU Law School after moving to Arizona 1982 with her bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.
“I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 12 years old,” she said, explaining:
“In sixth grade, our class did a play and I was assigned the role of a lawyer. I realized that a lawyer helped people and spoke for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. I decided that was what I wanted to do.”
After law school, Berry worked as a law clerk in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Arizona State Senate, then practiced criminal law for about 12 years at the Maricopa County Public Defender and in private practice before becoming a judge.
Becoming a judge was originally not in her career plan.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer but judge was not something I had ever considered,” she said. “Co-workers, friends and other colleagues encouraged me to apply to the bench. I worked as a part-time judge at Phoenix Municipal Court for about five years and really enjoyed the work.
“I enjoyed being in a position to help people. Several of the full-time judges encouraged me to apply” and so she did, becoming a full-time member of the bench in 2001.
Though the job is demanding, Berry said, she is bless with “a very supportive husband and close friends and family.”
“I have also been extremely fortunate to have had very supportive supervisors and presiding judges,” she added. “I always felt my knowledge was respected and my viewpoint heard. I balanced being a wife, mother, lawyer and judge with community and professional activities. My children were raised in a ‘village’ of our friends who are also professionals, and relatives who shared in raising our children.”
A member of the Arizona Black Bar Association – which, she said, “allowed me to meet other African-American lawyers and judges and share experiences” – Berry also has chaired the organization’s annual scholarship dinner the past three years.
Her award came as a surprise She was nominated by a former probation officer with whom she worked as a public defender nominated me for the award.
“During the time we worked together, the county attorney began charging many juveniles as adults,” she said. “We worked together to help so many young people navigate the system to productive lives.”
“I was so surprised when I received the news I had won,” she added. “It showed me the importance of relationships. You never know where a relationship will lead.”