State’s First Iranian American Superior Court Judge Follows Law School Dreams to U.S.
Judge Shahla Shabet ’85 isn’t the first person in her family to preside over a courtroom, but she has made history as the first Iranian American judge appointed to the Superior Court of the State of California.
Her grandfather served as a justice on the Supreme Court in Iran, and she has cousins who have also been judges. So when Judge Shabet began her undergraduate studies at the University of Tehran, she had hoped to earn a bachelor’s degree in law, a requirement for those who desire to study law at the graduate level. However, the major was unavailable due to space constraints, so she opted to get her bachelor’s degree in public administration as an alternative.
Growing up, her father was as a hospital manager for the health department, and her mother did general office work at Tehran’s city hall.
To further her studies, Judge Shabet came to the United States, where she earned a master’s degree in public administration from UCLA in 1972 and a doctorate in public administration and political science from the Claremont Graduate School in 1977.
While pursuing her education, Judge Shabet held a variety of part-time jobs that included working as a student assistant at the Los Angeles County health department, teaching English as a second language at an adult school and teaching political science at the University of La Verne and the Claremont Colleges. She also worked as a professional photographer and started a management consulting business.
Faced with political upheaval in her native country during the late 1970s, Judge Shabet decided to remain in the United States permanently. She learned to speak English fluently and began the lengthy process of becoming a U.S. citizen. She also did a post-doctoral internship with the city of Claremont for a year.
Gratified to learn that she did not need an undergraduate degree in law to go to law school and unsatisfied with public administration as a career track, Judge Shabet enrolled at Southwestern in 1983. She graduated in two years from the law school’s accelerated program. After passing the State Bar in 1985, she began her career as a deputy district attorney in San Bernardino County.
In 1993, Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Judge Shabet to the California Superior Court, where she presided over criminal, civil, juvenile and family court cases. She has served on the faculty of the California Judges Center for Education and has taught several seminars for judges on topics of judicial ethics, fairness and equal access to the justice system. Judge Shabet also has led seminars at the Orientation Program and the New Judges College in Berkeley.
The California Assembly named her “Woman of the Year” in 1994. The Iranian American Council of Los Angeles honored her outstanding achievements in 1998, as did the Persian Heritage Society of London in 2000.
Judge Shabet retired from the bench in 2013. She sits on assignment as a retired judge made possible by an appointment order from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California.