Q: Where were you born and raised?
A: I grew up on a cattle ranch near Baker City in eastern Oregon.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to a one-room schoolhouse a few miles from the ranch through the eighth grade and then I attended the Baker junior high and high school from ninth through twelfth grade.
I went to undergraduate school at Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande, Oregon and to law school at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Willamette is the oldest university west of the Rockies and was initially founded by missionaries when it was part of the Northwest Territory.
Q: Why did you go to law school?
A: Because I always wanted to be a lawyer.
A: Ever since I can remember.
Q: I’m presuming it was more of a profession for men at the time.
A: Definitely it was.
Q: Was it difficult to go to law school as a woman?
A: No, it wasn’t. Only two women were in my class and, in fact, in the entire law school at the time. I’m amused because we didn’t think in terms of women’s rights. Law professors would come in and say, “Good morning, gentlemen,” to the class. It didn’t occur to us to be offended by that. It didn’t matter.
Q: After law school what did you do?
A: Initially I worked as a title insurance attorney for a year or two. Then I wanted to travel in Europe. My older brothers were aghast at that thought; so I decided to travel around the United States. For several years I traveled in the south and in the east. Then I ended up in California, worked as a legal secretary for a year to establish residency, and took the California bar.
Q: When you traveled around, did you travel by yourself?
A: Yes. I held a wide variety of jobs…from being a medical secretary to being a legal secretary. I had no trouble finding a job. I wasn’t interested in passing the bar and practicing in any place that I was. My intention was to go back to the west.
In California, after I passed the bar examination, I worked ten years in Melvin Belli’s office and we did nothing but plaintiffs’ personal injury work. That is where my husband, Harry, and I met each other.
Q: Do you have any good Belli stories to tell?
A: I have a lot of them. He was an interesting man, a great ego, and a very capable lawyer. At that time it was very unusual for women to be in trial work. Women lawyers were hired to be secretaries and to do research. I was the only woman in San Francisco doing any trial work. His attitude was: If you’re a lawyer, you’re a lawyer. It doesn’t matter who you are, man or woman. You’re a lawyer. I am certainly grateful to him for that.
I learned the personal injury business and a great deal about trial work from him. Despite his eccentricities, of which there were many, it was really good to work for him. One of his great eccentricities was that he would get off the elevator and fire everybody but me. But then he would staff up again. Young lawyers were very eager to work for him. I used to call them little carbon copies because they would dress like him.
Q: Did you and your husband go off on your own and practice together?
A: No. Harry became a partner in another firm after about eight months.
Q: Did you have a family?
A: I have one son, Max, who now lives in Virginia. When Max was born I continued to work for a year. We had a housekeeper we used as a nanny. You can’t raise a child and be a trial lawyer part time. So I didn’t. I left Belli’s office.
At about the same time Harry announced that he wanted to get his master’s degree and teach law. He had been doing a tremendous amount of criminal defense work and did not like to think about spending the rest of his life talking to clients. He applied to different schools and got a teaching fellowship at the University of Virginia, where he taught criminal law at the law school and a law course at the medical school. He received his masters degree there.
The University of Maine law school was just starting under the auspices of the university. They had had a night school that was not certified and hadn’t had a law school under the auspices of the university since after the first world war. The decision was made to start the law school again in Portland. And they hired Ed Godfrey as the first dean. Ed hired Harry as his first faculty member and hired a young faculty. Harry was thrilled with this because with a brand new law school he wouldn’t have to listen to, “We’ve always done it this way.” Of course the law school started out small. Back in those days if anybody gave a party, everybody came.
We came here in 1963. Max was a little boy and I did not practice until he was about fourteen. Before that, I was admitted to the bar and did a few court assigned cases on appeal. I didn’t really start a practice until the early seventies. In the interim I was involved in all kinds of nonprofit organizations.
I initially started practicing out of our home. I couldn’t handle it; it was growing so. Then I moved to a downtown office and formed a partnership with Rod Potter. His wife, Judy, was teaching at the law school and was the first woman the law school had hired. Rod had an office in their home in Saco and we kept both the Saco office and the Portland office. That partnership endured until about 1978 or so, when Rod decided to practice just in Saco.
When I moved to a downtown office, I had to know where Max was all the time. When he left school he had to call me. I had instructed my staff, regardless of what I was doing, even if I were trying a case, to get a message to me if he called and needed my attention.
Q: Did you find it difficult at all to go from a stay-at-home mom back to a full time career?
A: I was ready to go back to the practice of law. I certainly was glad to have spent those years with Max growing up because it was a once in a lifetime experience. It’s not something you can recapture. I recognize that perhaps my career would have taken a different course, but the trade-off was definitely worth it.
Sometime in the interim I had lectured at the law school, primarily in family law. Harry was subject to having coronaries, usually in February or March. I would take over the courses he was teaching: evidence, criminal law, and criminal procedure. I had kept up with the law and had found that Maine’s laws and procedures were very different from either California or Oregon’s laws and procedures. Harry had written the book on the Maine rules of criminal procedure and that was helpful to me in teaching criminal procedure.
Q: Did you concentrate in any particular area?
A: It was a general practice, including criminal defense work, family law, representation of small corporations, personal injury, probate law, and workers compensation. It’s a lot more difficult to have a general practice than a specialty. With a specialty it is very easy to keep up with the law. In general practice you can encounter law requiring a substantial amount of self-education.
Q: Do you want to tell about Harry?
A: He was a professor at the law school for approximately seven years, on the superior court six or seven years, and then was appointed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in the 1970’s. He had only been on the supreme court for twenty months when he died.
Q: Did you take his position on the supreme court?
A: No. I replaced Jean Carter when he was appointed to the federal district court. I believe Dan Wathen replaced Harry on the supreme court.
Q: What was the experience like?
A: It was a tremendously interesting experience because one is dealing with six other people, all of whom are of above average intelligence and come from varied backgrounds. It was a remarkably collegial court. We got into heated arguments, but it was never personalized. At a New York University program for appellate court judges, I was astounded and horrified to hear some of the stories of judges from other states ... how they would not speak to each other because they would get so upset over their discussions in conference and personalize it. One justice from a southern state had said that two of his colleagues had engaged in a fist fight in the court house. Maine did not indulge in those kinds of things.
I was on the court for fourteen years. I enjoyed being on the court, but I had no desire to be appointed as an active retired judge.
Q: You retired when?
A: I retired on September 1, 1997. I almost immediately went to Archangel, Russia with Judy Potter and George Burns.
To give some background, I had been in Russia in 1987 or 1988 with a group of appellate judges, state supreme court justices, and circuit court of appeal judges, lead by Maine’s Chief Justice McKusick. The purpose at that time was to study the judicial and legal system. The government owned everything. There was no private property other than personal possessions. There were no private telephones. People were taken care of from the cradle to the grave.
Their legal and judicial system was dominated by the prosecutors, who had the oversight of the courts. Their constitution provided that a person charged with a crime was entitled to counsel; but when counsel got into court, they knew nothing. There was no discovery. All they could do was to argue about the sentence that was being imposed. And that was it. The judges sat with two side judges, who were lay people, who could overrule the court and supposedly keep the common sense. Their law schools went five years after high school instead of our system of going four years to undergraduate school and three years to law school.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a new constitution was eventually adopted and the goal was to make an independent and credible judiciary. Our State Department began approaching states with the purpose of getting the states to work with regions in Russia because the new constitution had adopted the rule of law.
Initially seven northeastern states adopted regions in Russia and formed the Russian-American Rule of Law Commission. Recently Oregon and Alaska have joined the commission and have also adopted regions. With the forming of this nonprofit corporation, we have one central office and an exchange of information among States. We are volunteers. If we go to Russia to put on programs, our plane tickets are paid for and we are allowed a per diem for housing and food.
We in Portland were interested in Archangel because the city of Portland had been the sister city of Archangel, the capital of Archangel. There had been an exchange of teachers, social workers, dentists and nurses. But that exchange program had not become involved in the judicial or legal profession at all.
The whole purpose of this program was to get involved with their law school, their lawyers, and their judiciary. Judy Potter’s focus was on the law school and establishing a clinical program. George Burns, who has a corporate practice, was interested in the income tax laws that the Duma in Moscow had proposed. I was interested in the judiciary.
Q: How is the judiciary set up in Russia?
Their appellate courts are very different from ours. On what we would say is the state level, they have a constitutional court; an arbitrage court that handles bankruptcy and all sorts of business contracts; and the oblast court that handles everything else. Each of these courts has approximately thirty three judges and the courts sit in panels of three. Archangel does not have a constitutional court because of its small population. But it has the other two. The tendency of the courts and the lawyers in the Russian federation is if the constitution does not provide that you can do something, you can’t. Of course, we interpret ours differently. If it doesn’t specifically say you can’t, you can.
None of the panels knew what decisions had been made by the other panels. Nobody knew what the courts were doing except the litigants and the lawyers. In October 1997 I discussed with the arbitrage and oblast courts this issue and these two courts agreed to embark on the publication of their opinions.
I came home and requested grants. It was a couple years before I was able to get funding for this project. The courts had to sign contracts regarding what they would publish. Because the oblast court in Archangel is far busier than the arbitrage court, handling five or six thousand cases a year, it agreed to publish three hundred fifty of its landmark decisions each year. The arbitrage court, handling fewer cases, agreed to publish two hundred fifty of its landmark decisions each year. The courts agreed that published opinions would be made available to the judges, law schools, all lawyers, and to the public. They didn’t have much trouble with anything but to the public.
We advocated for full opinions so that the reader would know what law or regulation was being applied and why. A big selling point for annual publication of opinions was so that foreign investors would know how the courts construed the laws. Pursuant to their present constitution, it is a goal that the courts be credible, unbiased, and independent. The only way foreign investors would know what the courts were doing was if the appellate courts published opinions, applying the applicable law and why.
The courts have published their opinions and have continued to publish them annually in a hard bound copy. They have a desire to go on the internet, but not all judges have access to computers. In addition to making opinions available to judges, lawyers, and laws schools, copies of the opinions are placed in public libraries and in the library at the medical school. People are thrilled. At first they read the opinions like best sellers because it was the first time they had any insight into their courts at all. The courts are thrilled at the reaction.
The whole purpose for this appellate court project was with the hope it would spread across the entire Russian Federation. In October this year in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Moscow chief judge of the arbitrage court is meeting with representatives from our federal courts. The focus of that meeting is to advance the publication of all opinions of the Russian appellate courts and to allow public access to court records.
At the Moscow level of appellate courts, which is like the United States Supreme Court, the constitutional courts started publishing opinions. And some of the other regions have started. The idea seems to be spreading. Of course it is very desirable. They’re very concerned about the bribes in some of the courts and one way of eliminating that is to publish opinions.
Q: You would agree that some progress has been made?
I think they have made tremendous progress in the fourteen years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, particularly when you think we have been working on similar issues for approximately two hundred years.
I think what Russia is doing with its legal system and judicial system is very important. The Russian people, as we do, view the judicial system as the vanguard of democracy. In truth it is. You better have an independent judicial system.
Q: Do you plan to go back?
A: Yes. We put on a couple of programs a year in Archangel and plan to do so this fiscal year of 2005-2006.
In addition, there is a different program in which Maine participates. The head of the Library of Congress received a grant from the government to bring judges over from Russia to spend time in various states. This is called the Open World Program. From September 17 to September 24, 2005, Maine will host eight judges from Archangel who sit on the oblast and arbitrage courts, as well as justices of the peace, who are similar to our district court judges.
Q: What are your other interests?
A: I am on the board of directors of Cleaves Law Library and the Maine Law School Foundation and on the board of visitors for the law school. Once a week I read and record news from The Forecaster, a local newspaper, and send the recording to Brewer, where it is broadcast over the radio for the visually impaired.
Once a month I work in the soup kitchen in Portland. I believe that all judges and lawyers would benefit from working with underprivileged people, those who live in poverty and experience the handicap of feeling little control in their lives.
Q: What would be your advice for anyone wanting to enter the legal profession?
A: I would hope that one would enter the legal profession not just for the purpose of making money. One should be sure that is what she or he wants to do.