Members of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, an LGBT bar association, gathered Thursday night to remember L. Julius Turman, a Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete partner and longtime community advocate who died in May. He was 52.
The memorial, held at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s San Francisco office, included a panel of LGBT lawyers of color who knew Turman. Panelists discussed their memories of Turman and his work for equality as an openly gay black lawyer. They also spoke about issues of diversity and intersectionality in the legal profession.
Former San Francisco District 9 Supervisor David Campos said of Turman, “He was not afraid to push the envelope and actually put people on the spot, [including] BALIF at times, making sure there was an African-American and POC [person of color] lens in the work we do, and that women were included in that work.”
Former Uber vice president and deputy general counsel, litigation, Angela Padilla said she and Turman worked to form a diversity committee for BALIF in the mid-1990s, before diversity and intersectionality became issues prominent on the general public’s radar.
She and Turman were also both Bar Association of San Francisco directors and pushed the organization to focus more on racial justice.
“He always spoke his truth,” she said. “That was the part of him that I loved.”
Susan Christian, an assistant district attorney in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, spoke about her experience with Turman. The two met through the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club as co-chairs, the first time the organization had two black co-chairs. Turman was the group’s first black co-chairman.
“We brought a perspective to it that I think was probably new, and we had fun,” Christian said.
She highlighted Turman’s work with the San Francisco Police Commission, where he worked to improve the relationship between the police and the public, especially with the LGBT community and communities of color.
Turman joined the commission in 2012 and became its president in 2016. He resigned as president in May 2018, less than a month before his death. During his time on the commission, he helped create rules around police body cameras and revised use-of-force policies.
“You cannot overestimate the work Julius did,” Christian said of his time on the commission. “Julius was human, but he was also fearless. … We need to help each other be fearless, strong and catch each other when we can’t stand up.”
Pillsbury partner David Tsai said Turman and his work inspired him to join BALIF’s board as a recent law school graduate. Tsai had been the only Asian-American on the board, he said, and Turman’s work showed him the importance of bringing diverse backgrounds into the discussion.
Panelists also discussed their own struggles as LGBT people of color in a predominantly straight and white legal industry.
“There have been many times when I wanted to quit, many times when it was so damn hard,” Padilla said. “You feel like you have to work twice as hard to stay in the same place.”
But Christian said being able to talk to people who understood that struggle, such as Turman, helped her get through those hard times. She and other panelists also said their work with young people also gave them hope for a more equitable future.
BALIF closed the night with a donation to the L. Julius M. Turman Diversity Legal Fund, a project from the Justice and Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco that aims to help people from diverse backgrounds enter the legal profession.