Dannette Meyers has just reached a hallmark in her career that few people will ever achieve, and the 50-year-old California resident is just getting started.
Meyers, was recently sworn in as the first African American woman president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, (LACBA), and only the third black person to serve in the post in the 130-year history of the organization. LACBA is the largest volunteer bar association in the nation.
She assumed the mantle of president to the enthusiastic cheers of friends, family and colleagues during a packed installation dinner at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel, and the Compton-raised lawyer said she was especially thrilled with that reaction because it means she has accomplished another of her goals–gaining the respect of colleagues on both sides of the legal fence.
“. . . You just don’t get that; you’ve got to earn it, and it’s very exciting,” said Meyers just days after her inauguration.
While the Regina Caeli High School grad did not really become interested in the law until she was a student at U.C. San Diego taking constitutional law with classmates like Anthony Filer, the stage was set early in her life by a friend of her mother’s. Robert Hall was the family lawyer and also a graduate of Lincoln University.
“He made a big impact on my life. He did a lot of things; we went to court, and he came to the house and talked to us about legal issues. My mom had a lot of friends like that–(fellow) graduates from Lincoln Unviersity . . . a circle of people from Lincoln who knew each other and were very accomplished.”
Initially Meyers said she intended to study constitutional law because she wanted to advocate for the rights of others.
“That was my focus when I entered law school. Then I took a criminal law class and got really interested,” added Meyers who liked the ability to both try cases and advocate.
After graduating from Howard University law school, Meyers ended up in the Los Angeles City District Attorney’s office, where she would encounter and learn from a woman, who had achieved a number of her own firsts–Judge Audrey Collins.
“She was always there for me,” said Meyers of one of her early mentors. “She was the first African American to reach grade five in the D.A.’s office, and she was the first African American assistant director in the early part of her legal career,” pointed out the new bar president of her fellow Howard law school alum, and the woman who gave her the oath of office during the swearing in ceremony at the Biltmore.
In the D.A.’s office, Meyers, who describes herself as extremely motivated and hard working thanks in large measure to her mother’s work ethic, advanced from prosecuting misdemeanor jury trials to trying more than 60 felony jury trials involving murder and attempted murder. These include several high-profile “Rolex” and “Follow-Home” robbery cases.
She continued gaining experience and moving up the ranks working in the Special Trials Division and the Crimes Against Peace Officers Unit until she was appointed deputy-in charge of the Bellflower office by then D.A. Gil Garcetti in 1999. While serving in these administrative positions, Meyers also continued to prosecute cases.
She is currently serving as a trial deputy at the Airport branch office but some day envisions herself running for political office, which she considers the ultimate form of advocacy.
Among the honors Meyers has garnered in her career are being named Prosecutor of the Year in 2000 by the Century City Bar Association, and earning that same honor in 2002 from the LACBA Criminal Justice Section.
Other firsts in her life include becoming the first African American to head the LACBA’s delegation to the State Bar annual meeting in 1997. Meyers was also part of the Webster Commission, which investigated the 1992 civil unrest.
In her new role as president, Meyers has several key goals.
“I want to increase funding for our projects and the foundation, and I want to try to get lawyers to give more pro bono hours. That’s a real big thing with me,” said Meyers, who counts being selected as president one of her major career triumphs. “Another problem that is paramount is to get the bar associaion as well as the community looking into the lack of diversity within the profession.”
Education is the key to increasing that pipeline, and getting lawyers as well as judges to begin mentoring young people from bottom to top will make a big difference. “If we don’t start at the bottom, we won’t get kids at the top.”
Diversity has long been a key issue for Meyers, who several years ago organized a diversity summit that people in the profession still talk about. The prosecutor also understands that increased diversity will change the dynamics of the profession and potentially eliminate some of the obstacles she has had to traverse in her career.
“People are afraid of what they don’t know. They’re also very leery of allowing you to do things. They believe in the old stereotypes, even though they try to force themselves not to,” explained Meyers, who has experienced having her opinion ignored, until a Caucasian colleague made the same point.
She puts this at the doorstep of ignorance and lack of experience with minorities.
As result, the prosecutor has sort of adopted the motto “anything you can do I can do better.”
“In my office, I try more cases than people at my grade (grade four), and I’m always available to try cases. I do twice as much. . . I don’t let my color interfere with anything,” said Meyers, who does admit that constantly being on her toes can be tiring. But she again credits watching her mother, and the people of her generation for inspiration. ” I watch my mom and her peers; I look at them struggling daily. They never stop, so it’s kind of difficult for me to say I’m tired.”