Noted attorney credits basketball for her winning edge

LOIS ELFMAN | 6/25/2020, midnight
Over the last 30 years criminal defense attorney Juliette Robinson has made headlines for standing up for her clients.
At the "Women of Troy" premiere at USC, (l-r) Rhonda Windham, Cheryl Miller, Pamela McGee, Cynthia Cooper, Juliette Robinson and Dr. Paula McGee Jeff Kravitz/Film Mcagic for HBO photo

Over the last 30 years criminal defense attorney Juliette Robinson has made headlines for standing up for her clients. In 2013, she uncovered video evidence exonerating a 19-year-old charged with a double homicide just hours before it was scheduled to be erased. Few realized where Robinson gained her grit and tenacity, but her incredible history as a collegiate basketball player came to light earlier this year with the HBO documentary “Women of Troy.”

Robinson grew up in Southern California, the youngest of 21 children. She played collegiate basketball at the University of Southern California, winning National Championships in 1983 and ’84 alongside hoops legends Cheryl Miller, Pamela McGee and Cynthia Cooper. Despite complications due to the college recruiting scandal that rocked USC’s athletic department, Robinson succeeded in bringing the premiere of “Women of Troy” to the USC campus.

“This team, we were the children of USC. Through this documentary, I wanted us to come back home to help USC,” said Robinson. “Most of us were from the streets. We busted our behinds and we all have been doing wonderful things in the community. This is probably the most educated collective team of any women’s basketball team.”

Shortly after graduating USC in 1984, Robinson headed to law school. She frequently encounters judges who are fellow USC alums, but many of her peers knew little of her basketball history before the film. “Now, they’re getting an understanding of how I deal in the courts,” she said. “We carried that championship perspective and attitude through to our careers.”

Being a Black woman in law school in the mid-1980s didn’t faze Robinson. Preparation for an exam was conditioning and the exam itself was game day. She put on a USC shirt under her clothes. The California state bar exam was the national championship.

“I did exactly what I would do preparing for a championship in basketball and preparing for the state bar of California and becoming a lawyer,” Robinson said. “Then, when I became a lawyer, I had the same attitude. I went into court to win.”

The notion of putting in work to get a certain result in basketball carried into how she has approached the law for the past three decades. “I didn’t have fear and that’s from the athletic experience,” she said.

As an attorney, she witnessed firsthand the systemic racism her clients faced. “That’s why I had to do my own thing, so I’d never lose who I was,” Robinson said.

She has bad knees, but every now and then she’ll shoot around a little bit. Robinson is looking to transition from the courtroom to mentoring young attorneys and doing some television legal commentary. “It will be something that involves creativity,” she said. “I worked hard in the system, but it’s time for me to go in another direction.”