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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Women in Law Edition (part 2)

By Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian & College Archivist

Judge Joe Kegans, 1927-1997

Judge (Nettie) Joe Kegans, South Texas College of Law Class of 1957, pioneered the way for women in criminal law. Ignoring the fact that men wholly dominated the field, and that women lawyers weren’t allowed to go past the rail to enter the front of the courtroom, she became the first woman to handle appointments on capital murder cases in front of all-male jury panels. You see, when Joe Kegans got her law license women weren't allowed to sit on juries. A trailblazer who called herself “the first token woman lawyer,” Judge Kegans was one of 8 women in her graduating class at STCL. She previously received a degree in business administration from UT but was told by potential employers that while she was qualified, they wouldn't hire her because she was a woman. That’s when she decided to go to law school.
Judge Kegan practiced criminal law for 19 years before being appointed to the 230th Criminal District Court by Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe in 1977. She was the first woman criminal district judge in Texas. When speaking to the South Texas chapter of Women in Law in 1980, she said, “[i]n the private practice of law is the place where woman are probably least discriminated against.” In an interview with the Houston Chronicle in 1983, she said “I never thought I couldn't do anything because I was a woman, and I guess I was a feminist before that word was even coined.”
A proud Texan with a gruff style, Kegans was known for being meticulous, well-prepared, fair, and open-minded. “She walked the walk and talked the talk in a man’s world,” said former District Judge Jay Burnett (STCL class of ’73). Judge Kegans passed away in 1997 from bone cancer.