A speech by the late Judge Anne Workman
3:51 pm, September 7th, 2011
As the DeKalb County legal community remembers Judge Anne Workman, who died last week, veteran freelance reporter Ben Smith came upon a speech she gave in 2008 that gives a sense of what she was like. Ben’s obituary of Judge Workman appears in Thursday’s Daily Report, which will be online later this afternoon. (The story will be free on our web site.)
Here is the text of the speech:
A Curmudgeon’s View from the Last Century Forward
By Chief Judge Anne Workman, Dekalb Superior Court
(Keynote Speaker for the DeKalb Bar Association Bench and Bar Dinner March 2008)
When I was approached by Noah [Pines] and Mike [Hawkins] to speak tonight, I was told in no uncertain terms that this speaking opportunity was only being offered under the strict condition that the speech not last more than twenty minutes. I tell you this to allay any fears or flashbacks that you may harbor about being kept here into the night. I was somewhat surprised to be asked to speak as a reason to select me did not immediately come to mind and the topic was to be how the bar in DeKalb has evolved in the thirty five years that I have been a member.
Upon reflection, I realized that I must be the oldest living woman member of the DeKalb Bar. When I joined this organization in 1973, there were two women lawyers who were members - Sara Frances McDonald and Margaret Farleigh – both of whom have since passed away. There are those here tonight who have been members of this bar longer than I, but they are all men. The most striking evolution of this bar to which I have been witness is the sea change relative to the presence of and participation by women attorneys in the courtrooms and on the benches in our courthouse. It is this transformation that is the most personal and directly known to me, because along with other women from those times, I have lived it. And because I have lived it, I can speak to that journey.
The presence and acceptance of women in our profession today tends to make one overlook the lack of presence and the lack of acceptance of women in our profession thirty five years ago not only here but throughout the country. When I graduated from Emory Law School less than ten percent of the class of 1972 – one hundred in number – were women as were less than four per cent of all lawyers in the nation. The downtown law firms would come to the Emory campus for employment interviews with the male students, but they would not interview the women students at all. And Emory allowed that to occur, finally changing this practice a few years after my class graduated. The criminal law students at Emory had always been allowed to do a ‘ride-along’ with the DeKalb police as part of the course until my first year at Emory when we women students were told that we would not be allowed on the ‘ride-along’ ostensibly because the wives of the police officers did not want us in the patrol cars with their husbands for the eight hour shift. It was never made clear to us exactly what they thought we would or could be doing in a patrol car driving around on shift. It was just not suitable. I suppose that we put up with all these policies and others which were worse because we felt we had no other recourse. We were desperate to be there and to become attorneys; we were a only a handful in number; and so we just hunkered down and fought to graduate as high in the class as we could to demonstrate our worth and our commitment to the profession as well as our revenge served cold.
Once in practice, women lawyers found themselves considered by many in the profession as oddities. Our male colleagues were not certain what to do with us or even what to call us. If they were trying to be polite and courteous, they called us “little lady”; if they were not, they called us “lawyerette.” When the bar newsletter announcing this speech tonight crossed my desk, I must admit that in looking at the announcement my mind regressed to the early days. I thought, “not bad for a lawyerette.”
I have always loved criminal law and I wanted to be a prosecutor when I graduated from Emory. I approached the district attorney at the time about employment in his office. He told me in a very matter of fact manner that there were some places a woman did not belong and that a courtroom was one of them. But that was alright because I could have a baby and he couldn’t. It was not the reasoning I had hoped to hear; but in one way it was helpful as it provided a considerable amount of focus and direction to me to prove him wrong. You take motivation where you find it. It took twelve years, but in 1985 when I was sworn in as a state court judge, I saw him and reminded him of our long-ago conversation. I remarked that I must belong in a courtroom now because it had my name on it. By that time and place we had both evolved a fair distance as he was a justice on the Supreme Court, and he laughed about his earlier comments.
By great and good fortune I was hired to be the solicitor at the DeKalb Juvenile Court in 1973 by Chief Judge Dennis F. Jones. At that time the juvenile court’s solicitor’s office was not attached to the district attorney’s office; the prosecutors were hired by the court. Judge Jones became very much a mentor to me and patiently and doggedly taught me how to be a trial lawyer. He was to me what judge peeler was to many of you as a teacher of our craft. Much of all that I will ever know about being a trial lawyer I learned from Judge Jones. Much of what I know about being a trial judge I learned from his example. His was a major influence on my career. Years after my time at the juvenile court I asked Judge Jones why he hired me as solicitor, thinking he would tell me he was impressed by my potential or my resume or something quasi-complimentary. He told me that his first solicitor who was Tom Witcher had stayed at the court for eighteen months. He reasoned that a woman might stay longer than a man would, so he decided to hire a woman. I was highly insulted and told him that I could not believe that was his reason for hiring me. He then asked me how long I had stayed as solicitor to which I had to reply, “six years.” “I rest my case,” he said. He was right as he almost always was. I prefer to think the explanation may be that women employees tend to be more loyal.
The DeKalb police were not as thrilled with my employment as I was and were distressed to have to depend on a woman prosecutor for the first time. It was an uphill battle for a long time. In one memorable conversation with a twenty year police detective, when I was explaining how severe the evidentiary problems were for admission he loudly inquired as to whether I had a law degree. I responded by inquiring whether he had any police training, and the conversation went rapidly downhill from there. The command staff of the police department wanted me replaced by “someone they could relate to” (also known as a man). They asked Judge Jones to fire me.
Judge Jones refused and told them to get over it, which I am sure is not the response for which they had hoped. It took many months during which the police and I had to work together in bringing their cases to court before we quit circling each other in the ring. But eventually I think we all realized that I wanted to win their cases as much as they wanted to win them and that we were by necessity interdependent on each other to get that accomplished.
In time all of us grew up and learned something about the concept of teamwork. I suppose that in the process I may have changed some minds at the police department about my legal ability. When as a magistrate I was running for the State Court bench in 1984, I went to then Chief Bobby Burgess to ask for his support in the race. Although he politely told me that ‘they’ did not think it was time for an elected woman judge in DeKalb, if ‘they’ had to have one, ‘they’ wanted it to be me. I decided to take his remark in the spirit in which I think it was offered, and in thanking him told him that I hoped ‘they’ would have to have one. And ‘they’ did. In fact, ‘they’ had to have two of them because Carol Hunstein was elected to the Superior Court that same year.
Sometimes terrific career opportunities just come your way by sheer, blind luck. And sometimes being a woman attorney in the right place at the right time will get you the job. That is how I got my first judgeship. In 1982 there was an opening for a part time judge in the magistrate division of the DeKalb Recorder’s Court. This was back in the day when the part time slots were for the weekend and the shifts were twelve hours long, either twelve noon to twelve midnight or twelve midnight to twelve noon. The judge worked out of the tiny line-up room in the basement of the old police department building. There was no clerical staff, there was no staff at all, just the part time magistrate alone with a table, a chair and the warrant book. I was in private practice at the time and had not even heard about the opening. Another woman attorney in town called the chief judge of the recorder’s court and inquired about applying for the opening. The chief judge very courteously told her that women could not apply for the position due to the safety issues involved with being there alone for extended hours during the shift. He told her that it was the policy of DeKalb County not to hire women for this position. She asked if he would put that in writing which he agreed to do.
He sent her a letter on his official stationery confirming that it was the policy of DeKalb county not to hire women for this position. When she subsequently made inquiry to then County Commission Chairman Manuel Maloof as to the correctness of this statement of DeKalb county hiring policy, those of you who knew Manuel Maloof can guess his reaction. He called up the chief judge of the Recorder’s Court, whom he had appointed, and in no uncertain language he ordered the judge to write this applicant another official letter telling her that he had mis-spoken and that it was not the policy of the county to not hire women. The chief judge did as he was instructed and sent another letter in which he opined that he had mis-spoken. Furthermore, it was not the policy of DeKalb county to not hire women; however, it was the practice. Very soon thereafter the chief judge retired or was retired, no one knows for certain.
In retrospect I believe a command decision was made at the highest levels of county government that given the two official letters floating around out there about this position, a woman had to be appointed to this position whether they wanted to or had planned to or not. I did not even know about all this controversy or about the position and had not thought about applying. But Cal Leipold, my Emory classmate, called me up and asked if I would like to apply for this part time Recorder’s Court judgeship. He explained they were looking for women to apply. I jumped at the chance given that being a woman attorney had not in the past generally been an asset in obtaining employment. Cal Leipold, Mike Maloof, and other friends and classmates helped me through the political process and went to bat for me, and I was appointed to the Magistrate Division of the Recorder’s Court. It was my start on the bench and paved the way for my becoming a full-time magistrate, chief magistrate, and trial judge.
The landscape is so vastly different today in DeKalb. There are scores of women lawyers in the courtrooms and on the bench. We no longer stand out in lonely little clusters of women attorneys. Instead, we blend into the mosaic of all the attorneys in the profession. We belong in these law offices; we belong in these courtrooms. We belong in the practice of law. We have proved that to ourselves and to the profession. I have lived my life in the courtroom either as a trial lawyer or a trial judge. I do not have first hand experience as to the status of parity for women lawyers in law firms or in academia or in the overall practice of law. I leave that to people who have that experience from which to form a judgment. But I firmly believe that in the courtroom women lawyers have an equal footing with all other lawyers in the room. I see it every day. It is a wonderful thing to see and is an affirmation of years of collective hard work and mighty effort by all women in the profession to learn our craft throughout these past decades.
The other evolution in our profession that I have observed is not as positive. In days of old we knew each other better, we either worked with or opposed each other all the time in cases, and we shared a camaraderie that seems missing today. Of course, it was a kinder, gentler time. If your office was in DeKalb, you generally worked mostly in DeKalb with occasional forays to Fulton County or to federal court. We saw each other in court all the time at calendar calls, there were fewer judges in number and we knew them and they knew us in more depth than we seem to now. Today we practice all over the extended metropolitan area, roaming through multiple counties and circuits, and we are together in the same places less often than we once were.
Our word was our bond. If we told opposing counsel we would do something or would agree to something, we did it; there was no reason not to rely on that representation. Letters to counsel confirming conversations and agreements are a fairly recent development, but now are apparently necessary. Real discovery disputes were rare before. Now they are often epic battles that exhaust everyone who deals with them. We worked hard but there was also time for fun in the practice. There were real characters back then – lawyers who were always intriguing to watch – never too over the top – but very colorful: Rooster Armstead, Vickie Little, Mobley Childs, Reuben Garland, Edward Wheeler before he assumed the bench (and arguably after he took the bench) to name a few. We don’t see their ilk today. There were also judges who were very colorful and some who probably were too over the top. Great minds may differ at to whether or not their type is missed today.
In the past we were a profession. We were proud of our craft, and our clients believed we served their interests. We as a profession were admired by the general public. We had time to think, to reason, to keep up with the changing law, and to enjoy interaction with our comrades in the practice. We respected the lawyers opposing us on cases and we had a good working relationship with them.
Today sadly we seem to have become a trade. Our craftsmanship is not what it once was. Our clients do not routinely believe we serve their interest. We are not admired by the public in general. Management of our workload overwhelms us. We are beset by ever-increasing overhead, by an overload of technological devices that tether us to the office around the clock, by unhappy and at times unmanageable clients, by a surfeit of mind numbing work just to keep afloat, and by a general malaise brought about by the combination of all these factors. Our work is not judged by its intrinsic legal value, but by the value of its hourly rate.
We need to change this direction. We need to recoup the best of our past values in the profession and adapt them to the current realities we face in the practice. We need to become a profession again. We need to become craftsmen again. We need to associate socially in our professional organizations more often as we are doing tonight. We need to return to the concept of an attorney that made each of us want to become an attorney. For many of those in my generation the lawyer we most wanted to be was Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird. I still want to be Atticus Finch over forty years later.
We need to be proud of ourselves again. And we need to figure out among ourselves the answers to how we can accomplish this. I have no magic answers or solutions for these problems. We all have our individual thoughts about what has gone wrong and perhaps why it has gone wrong. But it will take our collective wisdom as to how we can take back our profession before we can find the answers and the solutions we must have. We just have to want to change our future enough. We have to summon the collective will to return to our profession’s core values and beliefs before we are beyond returning there.
In closing, please allow me a personal comment. This November I will have worked for DeKalb County for thirty-five years in four courts, including twenty-six years on the bench. I thank you for all the years of your support, encouragement, camaraderie, kindness, forbearance, and friendship during my sojourn through the profession both as an attorney and as a judge. I thank you for your votes which placed me in office and kept me there. I appreciate these things more than I can possibly say. After my first election, I promised that I would try to be worthy of your trust. I hope – I very much hope – I have fulfilled that promise.