Rejected in 1957 by some law firms because she was a woman, Mariana Pfaelzer, now 59, finally found a spot with the politically powerful firm of Wyman, Bautzer, Rothman and Kuchel--and wound up a partner. After serving on of the Los Angeles Police Commission for four years, Pfaelzer, a liberal Democrat, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 as the first female federal trial judge in California's history.
Q: What's the toughest part of being a judge? A: Dealing with the criminal cases. It's very difficult achieving an attitude that is fair on both sides. I'm a liberal, but I do not consider myself soft on crime. I have actually fought hand-to-hand with a burglar who came into my house, and I do not think I'm any better off for that experience. I turned out to be more of a fighter than I thought I was, but it was a terrifying experience. Q: You are thought of, nonetheless, as a moderate sentencer in an era of the so-called tough judge. Do you think sentences are becoming too harsh in the federal courts? A: I don't think there's too much emphasis on tough sentencing. I have a lot of confidence in the judgment of my brothers and sisters on this court. When you ask jurors these days if they have been the victim of a crime in the last few years, two-thirds of them will raise their hands. As you remain a judge over the years, you have a tendency to sentence longer. You don't believe in probation as much as when you came on because you see it fail so often. I try to be reasonable about what I do. The most difficult thing here is sentencing. We have no reliable data on who's coming back and who isn't. Q: When you were appointed to the bench, did you run into any of the discrimination you experienced in the late 1950s as a female lawyer? A: None at all. The other judges were wonderful to me. They had a dinner to welcome me to the court.