Remembering Lucinda Sikes, who set legal precedents on government transparency

A wittily playful teacher of legal writing at Berkeley Law, Lucinda Sikes loved novels, dancing and lattes.

Lucinda Sikes. Credit: Bob Shireman

Lucinda Sikes died suddenly from a cardiac event while on a hike in Point Reyes on Sept. 19, 2021. She was wife to Bob Shireman; mom to Kirby, Camden, and McCoy Sikes; daughter to Ken and Sally Sikes; and sister to Melissa and Kendra Sikes. A law professor and consumer advocate, she loved lattes, hiking and Cheeseboard Pizza.  

Lucinda was born March 28, 1961, at the naval base in Alameda, California.  The eldest of three in a Navy family, Lucinda was the de facto family ambassador; as they moved from place to place, sampling different cultures and lifestyles, she was always the one who asserted herself and explored the social world, opening up the community for her parents and sisters. In Japan, where Lucinda lived from 1965 to 1968, from ages 4-7, she learned Japanese and translated for her parents in everyday life. In Georgia, where the family lived from 1968-70, she began her lifelong love of the outdoors as a Campfire Girl in a racially integrated troop run by Sally. In Tennessee (1973-75), Lucinda joined the majorettes and learned to twirl a baton. And in California (1968, 1970-73, 1975-79), she fell in love with the beauty of the Pacific Coast.

Known to her family as “Cindy,” Lucinda started going by her full first name in Marietta, Georgia, when she met another Cindy in her second grade class. As the family continued to move from place to place, Lucinda and her sisters were forced to start over and make new friends and learn new ways of life. “I think that’s why the girls were always so close,” her father, Ken, said.

Lucinda graduated from Los Alamitos High School in 1979. After two years at Pomona College, she transferred to UC Berkeley where she earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1983. While at Berkeley, she joined the grassroots organization CalPIRG (California Public Interest Research Group). There she met Bob and got involved in consumer and environmental advocacy. Working full time at CalPIRG after graduation inspired her to become a public interest lawyer. In 1989, she earned her degree from Harvard Law School, where she had served as the managing editor of the Harvard Women’s Law Journal, represented clients through the Legal Aid Bureau, and bonded over social justice with many classmates with whom she made lifelong friendships.

After graduation, Lucinda worked as a lawyer for USPIRG, lobbying for consumer safety legislation involving ATVs, toxic art supplies used by children, toys, and other consumer products. Her testimony in Congress about toy-related injuries was instrumental to the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 1990.

In 1993, Lucinda joined the Public Citizen Litigation Group, where she continued her public interest advocacy, now as an appellate litigator. Her work set important legal precedents on government transparency, including In re Craig (1997), which found that grand jury proceedings could be unsealed for their historical significance. Her substantial FOIA work led to an invitation from the Japan Civil Liberties Union to visit Tokyo to discuss potential freedom of information legislation in Japan. She eagerly accepted. A highlight of the trip was the chance to reunite with her first-grade teacher, thanks to her Japanese hosts.

While at Public Citizen, Lucinda also argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Doctors Associates v. Casarotto (1996), involved a challenge to the Federal Arbitration Act. The argument was a difficult one to make and Lucinda did not prevail. But during oral argument, Justice Breyer commended her for the quality of her written brief.

In 1999, Lucinda, Bob, and the kids returned to California. In 2001, Lucinda began her 20-year career teaching legal writing at Berkeley Law. As much as she had enjoyed high-pressure litigation, Lucinda relished the opportunity to train the next generation of social justice advocates and to spend more time with family.

A proud mom (although she didn’t like to brag), she was always enthusiastic about every one of her kids’ interests, even McCoy’s pet tarantula. Never a big fan of sports before her kids started playing, she’d still come to every soccer game, track meet, and bike race.  Bursting with pride and joy and waving her arms wildly from the sidelines, she would scream—“Go! Go! Go!”—until, when the kids were 13, 11, and 8 years old, she read an article that suggested she do otherwise. She sat her children down, and asked directly, “Do you like it when I cheer for you?”

“No,” Camden, 11, said. “It’s stressful and embarrassing.”

That’s how Lucinda was: caring, supportive, and actively intellectually engaged in how to be more caring and supportive. She would read, ask questions, and adjust her behavior accordingly. After the article, she still came to every event, but now she watched quietly, still proud, a silent source of strength on the sidelines.

And this other-oriented passion extended not just to her family, but to her students and colleagues, friends, and her broader community. “She loved to dance,” a friend and former PIRG colleague said, “and she danced in a way that invited everybody in.” Many of her friends will remember her dancing and singing along to the Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House. Her family will remember her sitting on the couch with a glass of Zinfandel, singing John Lennon songs (slightly out of tune) as Kirby strums chords on the guitar.

She brought with her everywhere an unselfconscious joy, an infectious enthusiasm and a witty playfulness. She shined as a teacher, with several of her students saying in their evaluations that she was the best teacher they’d ever had. “Law school can be very tedious,” Lucinda would say, and she wanted the first-year legal writing class, which she called her students’ “homeroom,” to be the one place where students could have fun. A lover of novels (on warm days she would lay out in the hammock in the backyard and read), she was imaginative, and she poured herself into writing legal problems for her students. Each problem was not only carefully crafted to be legally balanced but accented the often humorous strangeness of real Bay Area life: a worker’s compensation case for a Berkeley Police Department bicycle patrol officer who slipped on a banana slug; a Fair Housing Act case for a veteran whose emotional support dog misbehaved at a homeless shelter; and a celebrity image case involving a small online T-shirt shop selling shirts that criticize vaccine disinformation.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Lucinda’s honor to the East Bay Community Law Center or Planned Parenthood Action Fund.