Alumni & Friends
Opening the Doors to Justice
California's Center for Families, Children and the
Courts. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Rose Hough.
By age 22, Bonnie Rose Hough (M.P.A., '85) had acquired quite a resume. She'd been vice president of a statewide chapter of the National Organization for Women, a field manager for the U.S. Census and an intern for the ACLU in Mississippi, assisting on prison abuse and First Amendment cases.
But most people looking at the new co-director of the Marin, Calif. YWCA saw only a fresh-faced kid straight out of college. Leaders of other local agencies used to stare at her skeptically during meetings, she says.
Hough didn't let any of this deter her. In the evenings she headed to SF State's Master's of Public Administration program to hone her skills in human resources, grant writing and organizational assessment.
"I really wanted to understand how to do a better job running a non-profit, she says. "And I did. Her SF State experience went well beyond making Hough a better leader at the Y. It helped transform her into one of the nation's biggest advocates for opening the judicial courts to people unable to afford a lawyer.
At the time, the YWCA was besieged by calls for its Tuesday law clinic, which gave people 15 minutes with a local lawyer. The overflow demand inspired Hough to turn her master's thesis into a blueprint -- complete with grant proposals, articles of incorporation, and personnel policy -- for expanding the legal outreach to more clients in need.
Nearly 25 years later, the results still stand. Hough's thesis at SF State became the framework for the Family Law Center of Marin, which she co-founded while pursuing her next academic hurdle -- a law degree.
Hough directed the center for six years, the beginning of a lifelong mission to open courts to the thousands of people who fend for themselves in the complex world of divorces, evictions and other civil proceedings.
According to Hough, more than 70 percent of people head to family court without an attorney. In domestic violence restraint orders, it's more than 90 percent, she says. Now managing attorney for California's cutting-edge Center for Families, Children and the Courts, Hough's influence extends nationwide. She oversees the state's system of public self-help centers; trains judges, clerks and administrators how to deal with self-representing clients; and counsels legal professionals across the globe on making courts more open. "We are working really, really hard to make the court system work for people who can't afford attorneys, she says.
Hough has received numerous awards for her work including the Fay Stender Award from California Women Lawyers for her unwavering "representation of women, disadvantaged groups and unpopular causes. But more often, she says, the work is its own reward.
"I really do go home most days feeling like I have been able to make a contribution.
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