Jackie Lacey is a woman of many firsts. Before she was the first woman and the first African American to be named district attorney of Los Angeles County, Lacey was a first-generation college student who received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Irvine (class of ‘79) and a law degree from the University of Southern California.

She went on to become a deputy district attorney, where she earned national recognition for a 1998 case that was first successful prosecution of an LA County race-based hate crime murder. As she worked her way to the top, Lacey also established the first Animal Cruelty Prosecution Program in the United States.

Lacey is now in her second year as the Los Angeles County district attorney.

Q.How does it feel to be the first woman and first African American to hold the position of LA District Attorney?

A. It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility. I don’t want to mess up. I don’t want to ruin opportunities for others who may come behind me. Although it’s great to be known as a history maker and what that stands for, I also want to be known as a great D.A. and beyond.

Q.How did majoring in psychology fit into your career goals at the time?

A. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Elementary school teachers for African Americans in the South were the most educated people. Along with my father’s message of “go to college” was “and maybe you want to be a teacher.” So I started off thinking that’s what I wanted to do, but I soon discovered it wasn’t for me. I took this class that was the introduction to the study of law and it’s kind of like I fell in love. I found my calling.

Q.Who inspires you?

A. My parents inspire me a lot. My mother – she’s a very classy lady. She’s 77 years old and the way she carries herself is always with a certain degree of dignity. My father inspires me. He’s no longer alive but he was a very strong man. He didn’t say a lot, but when he did say something he meant it. He was a very principled guy.

Q.What do you do when you’re not working?

A. It’s really hard for me to unplug, but I’m active in my church and that seems to help relieve the stress. I love spending time with my family, just listening to them and talking to my adult children.

Q.Is there anything you wish you had known before you entered into the legal field?

A. I wish in the beginning I understood the politics about advancing in the workplace a little bit better. I really didn’t understand that as well as I do now. For example, when I came into the legal field I had very small children and if I needed to take time off to deal with the children, say if they were ill, I would just say I needed time off because I had a sick kid. If I had to do it again I would just ask for the time off and sort of keep my private life outside of the workplace. I think particularly as women, sometimes you can be stereotyped as not being career-oriented, not being motivated, not wanting to achieve. And I think that’s a mistake.

-courtesy of Anna Iliff, Orange County Register (online subscription required)


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