When Romonda Belcher was appointed to the bench on Aug. 20, 2010, she made history as the first African American female judge in Iowa. Her passion for making a difference in the lives of others began early when she was growing up in North Carolina. 

“I wanted to be a judge before I even knew I had to go to law school to be one,” she said. “Growing up in the South, I believed judges were in a position to make a difference. I did not have an attorney or a judge in my life as an example, so I believe that I am really walking in my purpose.” 

The fact that most positions in the legal profession and judgeships were predominantly held by white males was not something that she really thought about at all, Belcher said. 

“My upbringing and the confidence that I learned to have in myself wouldn’t allow me to think of it as something that I could not attain because I was a Black female,” she said. “I cannot point to one instance where I felt like I was treated differently because of my race or because I was female. I can tell you, however, that I believe that there was more expected and required of me as a Black female to reach the goals that I’ve been able to attain.” 

When she first applied to become a judge, Belcher was told that she didn’t have enough criminal legal experience. Working at the time in the Polk County Attorney’s Office on primarily juvenile cases, she moved out of her comfort zone to get criminal trial experience. 

Nevertheless, as she began to interview for a judge position, she was told she was too young, didn’t have enough experience and that she needed more civil law experience. 

“So for me, it meant that I needed criminal experience, and that I needed civil experience, but that was not expected of everyone,” she said. “And I don’t imagine them telling a young white male that he was too young.” 

She often reflects on a quote shared with her by Drake Law School Dean Jerry Anderson from author James Baldwin: “If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the police, the judges or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those precisely who need the law’s protections the most — and listens to their testimony.”

“I think that even in 2020, that quote is still relevant when you think about the climate that we find ourselves in and the social justice that needs to evolve,” Belcher said. “As a judge, I see those who are most affected by the law on a daily basis, and I try to make sure I give them an opportunity to know they have been heard and they’ve been treated fairly, they’re treated with respect and that they’re treated with compassion, because that is where I believe I make the most difference.”


THREE AREAS OF INFLUENCE

1. She is the first Black woman to be appointed as a judge in Iowa. 

2. She is an adjunct professor of law at her alma mater, Drake University, and regularly mentors African American law students at Drake. 

3. She has served on numerous community boards and legal associations and has been active in a number of initiatives aimed at improving Iowa’s juvenile justice system.