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Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid
Sixth fnterview
December 1612009
This is the sixth interview of the Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid, Associate Judge
of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, as part of the Oral History Project of The
Historical Society ofthe District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Devarieste Curry, now
of the law firm Mcleod Watkinson & Miller. The interview took place in Judge Reid’s
Chambers at The Historical Courthouse,43AL Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Ms. Curry: Good morning, Judge Reid. Since last we met, you have moved to new Chambers
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
in the new District of Columbia Court of Appeals building, and I must say that
they are really quite nice. Judge Reid, it’s been a long time since last we spoke,
and clearly I am largely responsible for the delays, and I apologize for the great
No need to apologize.
But I know that your mind is still sharp and your memory is intact, so the end
result of this interview will be just as compelling. Before beginning new areas of
inquiry, I want to follow up from the prior interview with a few questions. In the
second interview in talking about high school teachers who influenced you, you
mentioned Bertha McNeil, a Mrs. Brown, and a l\zlrs. Herbert, your homeroom
teacher. You mentioned that Mrs. Herbert was particularly patient during what
you described as a period of rebellion, and you mentioned that she brought in a
dead bird and asked you to take it home and stuffit, which you did, an experience
you described as challenging. What was the significance of that experience,
especially as it might relate to rebellion? Was it some type of corrective action?
I think, with the benefit of hindsight, that Ms. Herbert recognized that I was
rebelling, to use my word, because my mind was not filled with challenge, and I
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
think she made a concerted effort to try to give me something to do that would
bring out some of the creativity. There were no directions, how do you stuff this
bird. The direction was to go home and stuff it. I found it extremely challenging
because I had never done it before, I’m not one that likes dead animals around
me, but I found that I had to carry out that challenge and actually do the stufflrng
of the bird, and it was a calming influence because it made me realize that there
were probably hidden talents, and I just needed to calm down and find other ways
to fill the void that was in my brain at that time and that I didn’t need to reach out
in kind of destructive, rebellious activity. I wasn’t extremely rebellious or
destructive, I mean I didn’t go out and knife people or shoot people or anything
like that. I was probably disrespectful in the classroom, and I didn’t study some
things because there was no need to study because I knew I could get it on the fly.
For example, if I was in the Latin class and called upon to translate some phrase, I
was fairly confident that I could do it without having studied overnight. So I’m
very grateful to her for having extended that challenge to me because, as I say, it
was a calming influence.
I find it amazingwhat you would consider rebelling, you mentioned you were
getting A minuses instead of A’s, and I would say that many teachers would love
to have a rebellious student in their classroom now. A couple of other things, you
were to look for, and if you have not looked for them, that will be your
assignment after today. One was the caption under your photograph in your high
school senior book. This is just important, I think, for historical records because
you have excelled in so many various areas. Have you found it?
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Judge Reid: I looked for it, and I called my sister-in-law and wrote down what it said. Now
the challenge since we’ve moved is to find where I put it, but I will endeavor to
find it for the next time. I could just call her again and ask her to repeat it to me.
Ms. Curry: W’ere you ever able to locate the name of your college thesis?
Judge Reid: No I was not. The best I can recall, this may not be accurate, but I think it had
something to do with unions and also the civil rights movement, but I can’t recall
the details at this point.
Ms. Curry: You also told me atthe conclusion of one of the interviews to ask you why you
went directly from law school to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D., I believe it
Judge Reid: That’s correct. I don’t know if I went into detail about one of the associate deans
at the law school calling my twin brother and myself in our third year and
informing us that we would not be able to find jobs in law firms because law
firms were not going to hire, as he put it, “nigras.” He said to me that you can
probably find a job in the federal government. Well I interviewed for two
positions. One was here in the District of Columbia as law clerk to a juvenile
justice judge, and that judge said to me, “Well last year I had a woman and this
year I’m going to hire amara,” so in essence, “I’m sorr1z.” The other interview I
had was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the person who was
doing the interview said to me at the conclusion,ooYm really sorry, but we have
already hired a male from Howard Univerbity, and he needs the job more than you
do.” But fortunately I had not counted on just those two irons in the fire. I had a
third iron in the fire which was an application to the Ford Foundation for a foreign
Ms. Curry:
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area training fellowship, and what I was planning to do was to go out to UCLA to
take an intensive course in African Studies and brush up my French so that I
could speak French more fluently and then go to Senegal to conduct some
research in preparation for completing a Ph.D. upon my return from field activity.
I wanted to go to Senegal to do some on-the-spot research, but then, as I was
completing my studies at UCLA, I got a call from someone at Yale Law School
informing me about an opporhrnity to go out to the Congo to teach at the School
of Law and administration. So I decided I would forego the second year of the
Ford Foundation fellowship in Senegal, and I would go instead to the Congo. So
an arrangement was worked out between the Congolese government and the Ford
Foundation to supplement a salary for me while I worked in the Congo, andmy
assignment in the Congo was to set up a law library and also to teach magistrates
criminal law. So that’s how I got from law school to graduate school at UCLA.
And then when I returned from Africa, I got married and decided that I really did
want to complete the Ph.D. and that I would start teaching, and atthe same time
study at Columbia and finish up my graduate work. And essentially, I ended up
going to graduate school because of discrimination in the field of law at the time I
graduated, which foreclosed opportunities in law firms.
That was the missing piece of it because you had talked a bit about your travel
and work in Afric4 the Congo, before. Let’s talk a bit about professional
challenges you’ve had. You certainly just touched on a few, but I want to talk in
particular now about your interactions with other women and with males. You
said in a prior interview that as a woman professor, the group you had the most
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diffrculty with and that you have had the most difficulty with throughout your
career is white males. What did you mean by “and have throughout my career”?
Have white males resisted your supervision and authority in non-academic
Judge Reid: Oh yes, in non-academic positions, yes. That’s a clear yes. I recall my days
practicing law, for example, when I was with different law firms. On one
occasion when I was with Laxalt Washington, I took on representation of a
family, and the family had a number of real estate interests in New York, and to
make a long story short, the managing partrrer of those interests – these were
younger people whose father had set up these real estate limited parfirerships for
them – and there was a gentleman in New York who, in essence, garnered the real
. estate interests as his own. So, the family asked me to step in and 1o get those
real estate interests back and into the hands of the family. I started litigation in
the Supreme Court of New York, and I was making great progress, to the point of
having a judge who was on the verge of appointing a receiver for all of the
corporations, and atthatpoint, the person who was trying to snare all of the assets
of the family called on a law firm in New York, a very well-known law firm
whose name eludes me right now, so I got a message either by letter or by phone
instructing me to come to New York to negotiate a settlement but to bring a male
partner of my firm so that that male could negotiate. My response to the person
‘ who had contacted me was, ‘olf you want to settle this case, you have to deal with
me because I’m the one who’s going to make the decision.” So after arocky
beginning, he finally accepted that, and he turned out to be a very nice gentleman
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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who dealt with me at arm’s length and professional-to-professional, but that’s one
illustration of a white male who initially decided that I wasn’t the perpon to be
doing the negotiations. And he was not the client. He was the attomey for the
opposing pafi. And this was not just a few thousand dollars involved, this was a
multimillion dollar real estate asset that belonged to the family. We finally came
to a very good settlement for the family which resulted in their getting back all of
the assets that their father had created for them. But it just gives you an example,
and its examples like this that repeated themselves in law firms. Some of the
partners decided that I would be treated as an associate even though I was
of counsel in those law firms, and they would instruct me that I couldn’t go home
at a certain hour, that I would have to stay, and even if it was until 2:00 a.m. and
continue to work on a matter even though I completed the work on the
assignments that I had been given. But it was just things of that sort. And I don’t
think it was unusual for me as a woman to have that experience, as an African
American woman working with white males in power positions in partnerships.
You probably had credentials that equaled or exceeded those of some of the
people who wanted to supervise you and tell you what time to leave.
Yeah, but they probably . . . . In fact, I know they didn’t have the same academic
accomplishments that I had. Nonetheless, they believed that they were in
positions of authority and power and so I was to do what I was instructed to do.
It’s one of the reasons why I’m glad that I waited until – even though it was partly
due to circumstances of discrimination – waited until I was fairly accomplished
before going into a law firm. I could see some of the trials and tribulations that
Ms. Curry
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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African American associates went through in the law firms with which I was
It’s interesting that you make that point because at a hearing before the ABA
Commission on Women in 2003, there was a woman named Charisse Lillie who
testified before that commission about the difficulty she had experienced in law
frrms, although she said her mentors had been white males and Judge Leon
Higginbotham who were outside the firm but could, in a sense, tell people don’t
touch her.
And she mentioned, however, that it was easier for her having come from the
outside rather than coming up through the ranks because she had more
accomplishments at that time. So what you’re saying is similar to that factthat
having been out for a while, it facilitated your ability to negotiate the terrain of the
law firm.
Right. Exacfly.
You also said in an earlier interview that there was a female professor at Bamard
College, Columbia University, who refused to speak to you all during yourtenure
there. Now let me understand, did you speak to this woman and she iguored you.
I mean why did you mentioned that particular —
Oh no, I spoke to her every time I saw her, and I would try to look her directly in
the face – sometimes her eyes were averted – and say good moming, or how are
you, or something to that effect. And, nothing. Just absolutely no response.
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Judge Reid:
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Well given that your tenure at Barnard was during the time of heightened
emphasis on feminism and women’s liberation, and the thought of women
supporting each other, did you consider her action a strange phenomenon?
Well I thought it was bizarre, absolutely bizarre. And I just never understood it.
A, we were in New York City; B, we were at Barnard College; and C, as you say,
it was the height of activity in the civil rights movement and in the women’s
movement. So maybe it was some personality quirk that I didn’t know about, but
it was just real|y bizarre.
But that was a singular experience?
That was a singular experience.
Otheiwise your experience with others at Bamard was —
Very fruitful, very fruitful.
Now you talked about your involvement in the civil rights movement and, of
course, the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement
overlapped. Were you involved at all in the feminist movement?
I can honestly say that I was not involved in the women’s liberation movement,
although I did appear on panels and in discussions of women’s liberation and the
feminist movement, but I was not a feminist in that sense of the word. I was a
supporter of activities that were designed to improve working conditions for all
women – white women and women of color – but I was not what one might call a
feminist like Gloria Steinem.
Ms. Curry: Why not?
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Judge Reid: Why was I not? I think because I was just much more traditional. Remember, I
grew up with trvo brothers. And in that setting there was a degree of equality, but
it was equality within traditional notions: some things that women do, and some
things that women don’t do. And to me, as I was growing up, one of the most
important things in life would be the integrity of the family and watching out for
the children, making sure that they grew up. And I was chastised on a number of
occasions when I emphasized the traditional roles of women as being extremely
important. And I sincerely believe that. I was concerned as I watched some
professional women – and sacrifice may be too harsh a word, but it’s the word I
want to use right now — sacrifice the family side in favor of advancing on the
professional side. I’ll give you an illustration. In one law firm there was an
extremely hard working white female. No doubt about the fact that she was
dedicated and devoted to the task. No doubt about the fact that she wanted to do
well as a mother. But she would often talk about the problems she was having
with one of her children, and it was clear to me that the child needed some special
attention and that she needed to get a hold of him immediately and get the help
that the child needed. But she was not there on that scene. And then, as I recall,
eventually it became so severe that she simply had to pay more attention to the
child. But I just use that as an illustration of my traditional views in terms of the
family and in terms of the role of the woman. Now you might say, well, what
about the husband. Why couldn’t he have paid some more affention to the child.
Fair enough. That would be a fair observation. But I just think that there are
some traditional things that women, professional women, really have to pay more
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
attention to. And if the male is not going to do it, then I believe the task falls to
the woman
Do you see a dichotomy in your view, perhaps, in how you just expressed it with
respect to the woman’s role. Because I’m thinking – and I will get to questions
later about your family – but you have two very accomplished nieces who are
mothers with children?
Yes. And at critical points, each of them realized the necessity of stepping back
from the professional career. One of my nieces decided that because of some of
the developments in her children that she did not appreciate that she had to step
aside from a partnership track in the law firm and go to a part-time track, which
she did. And to this day she still works with the firm, but on a part-time basis.
And it’s now at a high status, but it’s not as a partner in the firm. The other niece,
at some point in time, had a child when she was older and then ultimately saw that
in order to properly develop that child she really had to step away altogether from
her professional career, which she did. But to her credit, she spent years and
years in a professional career before she decided that she’d have this child.
So, let me be clear, you do support equality for women?
Oh, absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. And if she’s going to assume apart-time
position, as I always told my niece, make sure they do not take advantage of you
and expect you to work full time for part-time wages, and make sure that you get
the increments that are due to you as you move through your career. The firm has
been very good to her.
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
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Ms. Curry:
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Now I don’t think anyone would debate that the feminist movement was the
catalyst for a lot of societal and professional changes that have benefited women
in general. Do you think African American women have benefited as much from
the movement as have white women?
On balance, and on the whole, I don’t think so. But I think that there were
pockets in the women’s movement – and I intentionally omitted liberation
movement – just in the women’s movement, that were concerned about economic
issues, employment issues, and professional issues. And they sought to bring
along African American women and to include them in those efforts, including
economic, and the financial and employment status of women. But, those are few
and far beyond. And I don’t think, as atotal movement, that the women’s
movement was really concerned about the fufure of African American women –
women of color – Hispanic, Asian, etc. But there were pockets that were devoted
to equality for all women regardless of color and national origin, and that’s the
part of the movement that I deeply appreciated.
I want to follow-up with why you think that that has not been true, but I believe I
heard you make a distinction between the women’s movement and the women’s
liberation movement in your answer.
Yes. Yes I did.
Expand on that. And I believe you did it a bit more when you were talking about
women and the job, but is it something beyond that when you make that
distinction between the women’s movement and the women’s liberation
Judge Reid:
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I think the women’s movement that I admired was the much quieter movement.
A methodical movement. A movement with specific goals to achieve in the
economic and professional arena. I think the women’s liberation movement was
not as methodical. It was much louder. It was much more intense, and much
more rhetorical, if you will. And that’s the part with which I did not really wish
to associate myself.
Why do you think the women’s movement was not designed to benefrt African
Americans and Hispanics, as I believe you said in your answer?
I think that white women, as a whole, did not have the same historical context of
African American women. For example, African American women have had the
history of being in the employment arena, whether as domestics, whether as
accountants, or whether as lawyers or doctors. So there’s all of that history there.
I think that there was a greater hunger on the part of white women who did not
have that historical context, but who had extraordinary ability – academic abilities
– achieved well in college, may have gone on for a Masters or even alaw degree
and then settled down at home. So when people like Gloria Steinem and the lady
from New York – whose name I’m blocking on – began to speak out, then the
hunger, I think, intensified. And they were ready to jump into the employment
market and to the professional market, and they were more strident about it, more
intense about it. Whereas African American women who had had this historical
context —
Because they’ve had to work because of economics?
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Judge Reid: Because they had to. They didn’t have any choice. So they were not in that same
box with those women who have not had that historical context.
Ms. Curry: You have written a book called Together Black Womenwhich was published in
1972. AnLd you actually explore in that book some of the issues you are talking
about, especially with respect to African American women. And you talk about
the process of writing that book, including some threats and some of your concern
as you were conducting the research about even protecting your work product.
Do you want to talk a little bit about that book and putting it together before I go
through some specific questions relating to your book.
Judge Reid: Yeah. The book was commissioned by the Black Women’s Community
Development Foundation. And the idea was to fan out across the country and to
obtain the views of Black women on a variety of subjects. And so I designed an
interview questionnaire and I worked with a number of my Barnard College
students to conduct some of these interviews. And some of the questions were on
sensitive topics. If you put it in the historical context of the day – the political and
historical context in the mid-7Os – in which we still had a lot of movement in the
civil rights movement and the women’s movement, political activity and people
feeling threatened. So it became apparent to me, and I had a sense that there were
people looking over my shoulder as I conducted these interviews. And I recall
one time in which I went to San Francisco to begin – not to begin but to continue
– to transcribe some of the tapes and also to begin to put together the book. And I
was in ahotel-I had ahotelroom- and I had gone out. And whenl gotback on
this particular day, there was a man in my room. And my first thought was not
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that this man is here to try to molest me, but he is here to look at my work. And
you might think that that’s strange, but that’s the context in which I was operating
because a number of people really wanted to see what were these women – these
women of color – across the country saying about political subjects, the women’s
movement, general liberation, Stokely Carmichael, things of this sort.
How was it publicized that you were doing that research.
As the interviews were being conducted, word began to filter out. Keep in mind
thatl was also doing discussions – panel discussions – and things of this nature.
And I probably was talking about the research and the book along the way. But it
may have just been that I was totally paranoid because of the context and because
of the feeling that people were watching developments and the research.
Well and also just because of that time. There were dangers around every corner.
But back to the man in your room. What did it turn out to be? Who was he?
To this day I have no idea who he was. He just apologized and left. My only
thought was, Are my records still intact?
He was not a hotel employee?
No. No, he was not an employee. No. That was the strange part of it.
And how did you get your subjects?
How did I get the subjects? You know at this point I can’t recall. It was some
degree of random nature.
Well you talk a bit about it in the book. I thought you might want to expound on
that. But through your college connections, you had college students, you had a
broad segment of people across the country, and you used the network, as I recall.
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
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Yeah, that’s probably right.
What struck me about the book was how broad the subject is. You interviewed
college women, you interviewed women who were blue collar workers . . . .
Just a broad range of people to get their views. It was not just, I’m interviewing
college educated women only.
That’s right. And as I recall now, the Black Women’s Co***ity Development
Foundation had a whole network of women – cross section of women – and we
tapped into that segment also.
Now in this book wherein you explored Black women’s attitudes towards the
women’s liberation movement and the role of Black women in the civil rights
movement, let me ask you in particular about a quote from Pauli Murray. She
was then a professor at Brandeis University and you quoted her as saying,
“[D]espite the common interest of the Negro and white women, the dichotomy of
the segregated society has prevented them from cementing a natural alliance.” Do
you agree with that conclusion of Professor Murray?
Generally, yes. If you go back to the days in which Negroes at that time, or
Colored people, were trying to get the vote and white women were also trying to
get the right to vote, there was tension between these two movements as to who
would get the vote first, white women or African Americans. And I think from
that day some of the tensions survived and some of the tensions may be traceable
solely to historical context and upbringing. But, ye*, there has been dichotomy
and I don’t think the two movements ever integrated, although I think each of the
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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movements in some way benefited from the activities of the other. And
particularly the women’s liberation movement and the women’s movement, I
think, benefited from activities in the civil rights movement
My next question was as segregation began to break down, did the white and
Black women begin to cement a natural alliance. But you just said you don’t
think the two groups ever formed that much of an alliance.
No,Ithinkthere’s still ahealthytension. Ithinkthere’s arecognitionby… .
How is it healthy?
Healthy in the sense that there are some things that the white movement – the
women’s movement – some things that they have done that have benefited
African American women. Now let me give you an example here at home. The
efforts of people like Marsha Greenberger and Judy Lichtman in the area of
domestic violence and intra-family conflict I think benefited a host of African
American women in this city. And what do I mean by that? I think they were
instrumental not only in seeing that the intra-family law was on the books in the
District, but also of making sure that when amendments were necessary, those
amendments were made. And I think today when women go down to try and get
a CPO or TPO – a Temporary Protective Order or a Civil Protective Order – that
they do so as a result of people like Judy Lichtman and Marsha Greenberger.
Now in your book, you also say that one of the things you wanted to test was
whether the women’s liberation movement – and you said women’s liberation
movement – was only using the Black struggle as a means of highlighting its own
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
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struggle without any serious intent to pave the way for the demise of racial
Uh huh.
What did you find in examining that issue?
I think the perception is that that’s accurate. That the white women tried to take
the best of the Black movement and use it without necessarily a concem about
assisting in the goals and objectives of the African American people.
Now in the two professions where you’ve spent most of your time – in academia
and in the legal profession – have you found that white women have helped to
facilitate your advancement in particular or the advancement of Black women in
general? And break those down please as you respond.
Okay, give it to me again.
I’m going to break it down for you as I give it to you then. In the two professions
where you’ve spent most of your time – in academia and in the legal profession –
have you found that white women have helped facilitate yow advancement?
Well, let’s talk about academia. And I’m going back in my mind through the
various academic positions that I have held before I make this general statement.
I’m discussing in my mind whether or not the general statement will be true..
Now on the academic side, as I think through all of the academic positions that I
have held, I think it’s accurate to say that I advanced in those positions not due to
a single white woman, with one exception. And that is that when I was offered a
distinguished professorship at the University of West Virginia College of Law the
person who pushed me for that distinguished professorship after I left the
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Corporation Counsel’s OfiFrce was a white woman who was a former Barnard
College student of mine. And without the role that she played in that position, I
don’t think that I would have been picked to be the visiting distinguished
professor of law at the University of West Virginia College of Law. But all the
other academic positions, as I think about it, the people who pushed me were
either African American men or – and this is usually the case – white men. For
example, at Brooklyn Co1lege, the person who pushed me to go and teach, to
accept the position at Brooklyn was Ben Rivlin who was a professor at Brooklyn
College, City University ofNew York. And I guess I met him as a result of my
study at Columbia. He taught one course that I took, and he tapped me and asked
me to consider coming down to Brooklyn College. But that’s how I usually got
these positions. For the Hunter College position, I literally walked across the
street looking for a position at Hunter and the gentleman who was the chair of the
department at the time was a white male, but he actually embraced my candidacy,
And in short order I was selected for that position. And then at Barnard,
Columbia the chair of the political science department was the person who pushed
me, a white male. And then when I came to Washington, the person who pushed
me was the then-chair of the department, and also was a white male.
Chair of the Department of Political Science?
Actually the School of Public Affairs, Department of Government at American.
Now whether someone actually facilitated your getting a position is, of course,
very distinct from whether anyone tried to derail you or put impediments in your
way. At the ABA Commission on Women in 2003, there was testimony that
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white women, in fact, not only had not facilitated the advancement of African
American women but, in fact, had sometimes raised the bar and put impedirnents
in their way. What has been your experience in that realrn with respect to . . . .
On the academic side, I don’t think I experienced that atall. Within the
department, my relationships across the board – regardless of the institution *
tended to be fairly collegial. Now at American University, I was an Adjunct
Professor so I really didn’t have an integral role in the Deparfrnent of Govemment
at American. I was like kind of a solo. But in the institutional positions that I had
– the academic positions – where I was full time, the relationship within the
department was collegial. And I don’t think that there was a single person, white
or Black, who stepped into my path and said, “I’m going to block you from
getting tenure.” Now, of course, at Bamard, I walked into Bamard with tenure so
I didn’t have that problem at all. But at Brooklyn I went up through the ranks to
get my tenure, and I didn’t have anyone hyrng to block me.
Now you were going to also address that same question with respect to the legal
Yeah. On the legal profession, generally the first – I’m talking now about the
private sector. I spent nine-and-a-half years in law firms in the private sector.
The persons who were most helpfrrl to me in getting into the law firm and then
continuing atthe law firm were either Black men or white men. The first
position, two Black men and, actually, one white person. And the white person
was someone with whom I was a college classmate, and he and I had enjoyed a
good relationship through the years. Second firm I was actually taken over to that
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Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
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firm by one of the white members of a previous law firm. And then the third law
firm – of course it was an African American firm – and I was accepted and
pushed by all of the males. Now, I hasten to say that in most of the law firms in
which I entered there were few females. So there were no white females for me
to have good relationship with.
Now you may or may not have an opinion on this, but I want to ask the same
question with respect to the advancement of Black women in general, if you have
any observations. Have you found that white women have either facilitated or
tried to derail the advancement of Black women in the legal profession or in
Other than anecdotal information, no I don’t know. Sometimes I’ve been told that
within a particular setting X white woman was not helpful to X Black woman in
advancing. But I can’t substantiate any of that.
That’s fine. Now you’ve been a keen observer of racial dynamics and the
evolution of race relations in this country for many decades. Since we last sat for
an interview, we’ve witnessed, as a country, an historical campaign for President
of the United States, and that a white woman was pitted against an African
American man to become the Democratic candidate. And we had the election of
the first African American president. Given some of the comments you’ve made
earlier today even about white women and their movement and the civil rights
movement, do you have comments you would like to share about either the
campaign or the election of President Obama as the first African American
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Judge Reid: Well let me just say this, I thought it was an exciting election. And I have a
colleague – a friend – and we maintained a relationship through the years. She’s a
white female who lives in New Hampshire. And we often had discussions about
the campaign and what was going on in New Hampshire – how the Clinton
campaign was fairing in New Hampshire and how the Obama campaign was
fairing in New Hampshire. But the race for me was exciting because on the one
hand there was a fairly sensitive woman, and on the other hand there was a Black
male, not as well known as the white female, both vying to become president of
the United States. And the challenge was trying to figure out which of these
candidates one would like to support. As a judge I mean, of course, there’s
nothing I can do on the front lines, but I still have my own individual vote. And
so thinking through that was arcal challenge as to which of those two candidates
to support. I think probably in the history of the United States, and the history of
the Democratic Party, we probably haven’t before seen two candidates that were
so prepared to become president. And when I say so prepared . . . .
Ms. Curry: The tape ended. This is side B. It is December 16, 2009, and this is the
continuation of the interview for Judge Inez Smith Reid.
Judge Reid: I was about to say at the early stages of the campaign within the Democratic Party
I probably would have given the edge to Hillary Clinton as the person that I
would want to see become president, but then as the campaign developed, there
were considerations, new information about, now-President Obamathatkind of
had me shifting back and forth before making a final decision as to which one I
would vote for.
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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Did you see played out during this campaigr any of the issues that surfaced
during the civil rights movemerit and the women’s liberation . . . that tension that
you spoke of earlier concerning the advancement of women vis-d-vis the
advancement of African Americans?
There was clear tension, and some of the white women, I think, believed that
African Americans should have been loyal to Hillary Clinton because not only of
her legacy but also because of the legacy of Bill Clinton when he was president,
and the kinds of things that he attempted to put in place to improve the situation
of African American people. On the other hand, there were some African
Americans who were saying, “Oh, wow. Now maybe we should support this
person of color over here, but what’s his track record? What has he really done?”
So I think there were tensions in both camps. White women who didn’t want to
go over to the Obama camp, and African Americans who didn’t want to go over
to the Clinton camp. And I think those tensions began to play out in terms of is it
better to have this white v/oman in, would she really look out for our interests, or
is it better to have this African American man in who really may not have looked
out for our interests previously, but who might look after them now. So I think
the tensions continued to play themselves out. And I think that they exist today.
Judge, you are a judge so I’m not going to get you too deep into political
I appreciate that, but I still like to think about it in my head from an intellectual
perspective but, of course, I’m not out there on the campaign trail.
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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Let’s talk a bit about your work on the bench. We ended the last session having
discussed your investiture and talking about how special that was for you and the
people who participated. Now before you actually began hearing cases, did you
attend any type of hearing of how to be an appellate . . . I mean any type of
training on how to be an appellate judge?
The answer is no. I wanted to sign up for the New York University Institute for
new judges, but they wanted you to have a track record before you actually came
to the beginning program of the Institute for Appellate Judges. So it was not until
the following year that I was able to go to the New York program – the summer
of 1996. Now what I did get when I came in was there were two judges on this
bench – Willie Krg, Judge Warren King, and Judge John Steadman- who came
to me and they were assigned to give me orientation as to some basic things that I
needed to know to be an appellate judge. And I think we spent about maybe an
hour together, and that was the extent of it. And so you got thrown in and what I
had to do was watch my colleagues, do a lot of reading. And I did an
extraordinary amount of reading for the first year that I was a judge – the
standards of review, applicable principles of law, and just orienting myself
especially in the criminal law field, the substantive criminal law field which I
didn’t know at all -things like malicious destruction of property, what do you
need to prove to establish that? Or second -degree murder. What are the
elements of second-degree murder? Now all of this I had gone through in
preparation for the Bar and, of course, for law school, but I had been away from
that for years and years and years. So it was like a new process. And, of course,
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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because my law firm practice was concentrated on the civil side, I had a heavy,
heavy, heavy calendar of criminal cases the first year.
Am I understanding that once you were swom in you basically . . . you’d better be
ready to go?
You’d better be ready to go in this court, yes. I think that Superior Court has
more of an orientation – planned orientation – but on this court it’s, you know,
“alright, you were appointed, the Senators approved you, now let’s get to work.”
What was your experience with appellate advocacy before you became a judge?
I had argued at least two cases here, before this Court, one in the U.S. Court of
Appeals, and one in New York in theappellate division. I think that was the
extent of it. And, of course, I had done a lot of reading. Now fortunately on this
Court there were two people who were very, very helpflrl to me. One was, of
course, the then Chief Judge Annice Wagner, who was my high school classmate,
and Judge Julia Cooper Mack. And Judge Mack, bless her heart, kind of took me
under her wings and helped me to understand a lot of the dynamics. Even little
things that I should do like, ‘oYou go down there to the dining room and sit and
listen to your colleagues as they are eating lunch because you can pick up some
pointers from that.” So her advice was always extremely, extremely helpful.
Of course you are known – and you spoke a bit about it in your last interview –
for your thorough preparation. And you talked, in particular, during one of your
interviews about Judge Richey calling you as the Corporation Counsel and that
your in-depth preparation included your actually Shepardizing yow own cases
Judge Reid;
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
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and reading every single case. So you were no stranger to how to prepare for
No. No, that’s true. That’s true. And I wanted to make sure before I even
considered coming on the bench that I had done all of these things – the college
teaching, the research and the writing in the academic arena, and law, not just at
the private sector level, but the public sector too. And my role as Coqporation
Counsel was very, very valuable to my preparation for this position.
Now you just identified a number of things that I’m sure collectively they all
prepared you well. Is there any ore thing in your background that you think best
prepared you to serve as an appellate judge on this Court?
That’s a good question. Well, in addition to the research and the writing,
probably just the upbringing. The value-laden upbringing, if I can put it that way.
But there are just certain traditional values that you have to adhere to. And you
are strong enough not to be upended by people who may oppose you, either for
the sake of opposing you or for good reasons. And that you stick to your guns
and, if necessary, you operate independently – come to your own independent
conclusions – and then be in a position to advocate the conclusions that you have
reached. I thfuk all of that was important in the molding and the nurture that I got
as a youngster, in addition to the research and the writing that I did and the
experiences that I had before coming on the bench.
Well, as you said, you had abroad range of experience – from the private sector;
the Corporation Counsel; you worked in New York for Peter Edelman; for IIEW;
and for EPA.
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Do you remember your first case that you heard? What can you tell me about it?
Judge Schwelb never lets me forget it. But even before the September calendar
began, I was on motions. And I got assigned to this case involving the Board of
Elections and one of the elections. I forget which election it was. So Judge
Schwelb kept saying to me, “I think you should write this opinion. I think you
should write this opinion.” And I said, “Judge Schwelb, I’m not going to write
the opinion. It was not assigned to me as the writing judge.” That was my first
case, and he never let me forget that case.
Well, dwing your fust case or your first few cases, did you . . . you’re one of
three, right? Apanel ofthree?
Yes, one of three. Right.
And so during your first few cases did you play a role of more of an observer or
were you an active participant, firing questions to the lawyers?
Oh, no. I’ve always been an active participant in the oral argument. And I
prepared well for the oral argument . . .
How do you prepare for oral argument?
When I frst came on the bench, my preparation was to take those calendar sets.
And the calendar sets consisted of what’s called the record. And if I was the
assigned judge to the case we would have transcripts, and I would just read
Ms. Curry: You read everything yourself?
-235 –
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Oh, yeah. I also had clerks reading. But, yeah, I read everything. And in
addition, I did my own research. After I got the bench memos from my law clerk,
I would go and read all of those cases so that when I took the bench I had a preffy
good command of the case. But I found that that was necessary as a new judge.
You couldn’t let things go undone. And then ultimately I was told I’m doing too
much preparation.
By whom were you told that?
My colleagues.
And how would they know that?
Because of the questions I was asking from the bench, and the demonstration of
the knowledge of the record.
How can one do too much preparation?
I don’t know. But to me you can’t ever do too much preparation. But as things
moved on, I was told, the workload will get heavier, and heavier, and heavier. So
to this day I still try to read about everything and sometimes, I should admit, I
don’t get to the last transcript or the last record entry.
How do you use your clerk. You have two clerks, correct?
I have two clerks, yes. And it depends upon the skills of the clerk. But generally
I start them off the same way. They write the bench memos. And then I start
them off doing drafts of the opinions that are not going to be published. That is to
say the MoJs – what we call the MoJs – Memorandum opinion and Judgment.
And then as we go through the term if I see that a clerk is evidencing good writing
skills, is evidencing good analytical skills, and is chomping at the bit to draft
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
opinions to be published, then along anywhere between April and May I begin to
try them out on drafting opinions that arc going to be published. And a lot
depends upon the background. One year I had a clerk who had a Ph.D. in one of
the sciences – I believe it was physiology – and she had taught at Duke Medical
A little mini you in a way?
And she decided that she was going to go to law school. I mean she was insecure,
but exceptionally good. Yes, she was very insecure and I didn’t know this but
after her term ended I had had a good relationship with the other clerk also and he
said to me, “You know she used to close the door and cry.” And I was astounded
by that. That somebody with all that skill and talent. But at any rate,I got her to
begin drafting at an earlier point in time than most of the other clerks because she
was just that skillful.
Describe what you found to be the most satisffing and what was least satisfring
during your first few months on the bench.
I think what was most satisffing were the challenging cases. The different kinds
of issues that would come up in the cases. And it was a good learning curve for
me in terms of those issues. That was most satisffing, dealing with those types of
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry: Give some examples of what you’re talking about when you say different kinds of
Judge Reid: Well we had all kinds of criminal cases. They were giving me this load of
criminal cases from things like prosecutors’ rebuttals and whether or not the
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
-237 –
prosecutor had said something which required, perhaps, characterization as
improper. Improper rebuttal, improper comment. And some of the judges called
it misconduct. And then the challenge was determining whether or not it was so
severe that we had to reverse a conviction just based upon the words that were
uttered. But some of these cases, like first-degree murder cases, just weaving
through the evidence, understanding the subcultures out there, all of that was
extremely challenging. And then I did have a smattering of administrative law
cases, and also disciplinary cases – attorney discipline cases – which were
extremely interesting in terms of the issues because most of these issues were
totalty new to me. Those were not my fields of concentration. So the issues were
very challenging. Now what was a little bit vexing was trying to get your draft
through the other two panel members. And keep in mind that when you come in,
of course, the other judges are sitting around watching you and watching your
work product, and tryrng to be helpful, but at the same time not hesitant to be very
critical of things you were doing. And so working through that process I think
was extremely challenging, but at times, vexing.
What do you mean when you say “not hesitant to be critical?” Describe how the
panel works. You go to an argument – I mean I have a sense of it having clerked
on this Court, but I want it for the record. Describe how that works.
You go to the argument, you listen to the argument, you conference and a
preliminary decision is made as to how everybody comes out in the case. If
you’re the assigned judge and you get at least one other judge to take your
position, then you go. It’s your opinion. You have to write the draft opinion.
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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And then after you are satisfied with your first draft you farm it out to the other
two members of the panel, and they read it and give you comments – feedback.
Now, I always liked the substantive feedback. But what I found particularly
vexing were what we called the nits or the editorial comments. I think you should
put a period here instead of a semicolon, things of that sort. That’s what I found
very, very vexing. Or, ‘oI wouldn’t say it that way. I would say it this way.” And
they would rewrite a sentence for you which in essence said the same thing that
you already had written.
Did you get many substantive comments, given your level of preparation?
Not that many. I would say that the – what I call the old hands from the
prosecutor’s office, the US Attorney’s Office – would give more of the
substantive comments on criminal law, And some of those I really appreciated
because of their experience, and I think both Judge Terry and Judge Farrell were
very good in making sure that I thoroughly understood the substantive criminal
law. And that was very helpful. But you know you had people who would spend
time editing drafts and things of that sort. But that was the part that I didn’t
appreciate that much.
And cases are assigned by the Chief Judge? He assigns who writes . . .
No, there’s a random system that is controlled by the Clerk’s Offrce.
Yes. Yes. It’s random. Now, having said that it’s random, the iast word goes to
the Chief and the Chief can make adjustments in the calendar.
Ms. Curry: How can the Clerk’s Office decide which judge is going to write opinions?
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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I have never understood the random process that the Clerk’s Office goes through.
I can’t answer that question.
What has been your most memorable case that you’ve heard during your tenure
on this Court?
Most memorable. I’ll probably give you two examples, one from civil and one
from criminal. The civil was probably Ltvely v. Flexible Packagtng. It was a case
involving allegations of sex discrimination on the part of a white woman against
the men with whom she worked. And she actually got a verdict and went to trial,
and the verdict was reversed. I was on the panel assigned to that case and I guess
I was astonished when my colleagues announced that the case should be reversed.
That the case should have been decided in favor of the employer and not the
employee. Well I ended up writing a dissent in that case. Then there was a
petition for a rehearing en banc that was filed, and the petition was granted. And
then we heard the case en banc. And so the question became what’s going to be
the outcome? And so I played a role in the conference after the en banc hearing.
And at the end of the day we had a majority to reverse the panel, to go back to
reinstitute the jury’s verdict. And I was assigned to write the opinion for the en
banc cottrt.
Based on your dissent in part?
Yes. Now that was an extraordiriary challenge. It’s probably the most
challenging assignment that I’ve had on this Court. Now keep in mind that the
person who wrote the majority opinion still believed that he was correct. And we
went through several drafts of the en banc opinion, and gradually and gradually
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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we came out to everybody but this one judge now favoring my position. And the
interesting thing . . . the interesting dynamic then was that my colleagues began to
talk to the gentleman who had written the original majority decision and to try to
persuade him that he was wrong, that he had to come over. So at the end of the
day, we came out with a unanimous decision which focused on the hostile work
environment. And this is in the aftermath of the National Ratlroad case. So, I’11
always remember that experience, and going from a dissenter to writing the en
banc opinion, and then ending up with a unanimous decision on the hostile work
environment. So that was satisfying. Now the other case on the criminal side is
the Sykes case. And this involved a great issue of whether or not the U.S.
Attorney should have handed over information . . . disclosed information to the
defense before the trial. And the information that was important was grand jury
testimony by two witnesses. And so I studied that record, and studied that record,
and studied that record, and read and read and read cases. And after my research
and study of the record, I concluded that the conviction would have to be
reversed. And this was a murder case, and it had intemational implications
because it was the murder of – I think the Bulgarian, someone at the Bulgarian
Embassy. But at the end of the day we reversed.
Thepanel, notenbanc.
The panel. The panel reversed the conviction and sent it back for a new trial.
And the interesting part is the U.S. Afiorney’s Office did not file a petition for
rehearing en banc. And the case got some play and, in fact, the Legal Timeshad
called and wanted some pictures . . . put my picture on the front page of the Legal
Times. Now, I drew the line there. And I said, o’No, why don’t you go out and
get the picture of the attomey who actually prevailed in the case.” And that’s
what they did. But the case was discussed . . . it provoked some discussion within
the community and also began to emphasize again and again the need for the U.S.
Attorney to disclose Brady information and also Jencl<s information. And also
Rule 16 information. That was the satisffing criminal case.
Ms. Curry: I think you’ve talked a bit about this, but is there any further elaboration on how
you decide your cases. I didn’t ask that question, but in your answers to some of
the others, I think you worked in your process for deciding cases.
Judge Reid: Right. Now one thing I probably didn’t work in is the law clerk input. And
through the years I’ve had some interesting law clerks. I remember one year I had
a?aw clerk who didn’t see a criminal.conviction that he didn’t think should not be
reversed. So it was delightfi.rl to work with him, and he’s now over at PDS. So
getting the views . . . the input from the law clerk was interesting . . . has been
interesting through the years.
Ms. Curry: Well I actually had a question to ask you. How do you interface with your clerks?
I mean, what specific roles? You talked about assigning them to write the MOJs
aurtd, at some point, the decisions, but talk a bit more about how you interface with
Judge Reid: Well I prepare an assignment sheet every month, and each clerk has definite
assignments to complete. And then the person who’s given my writing
assignments has double-duty to do because that person knows I’m going to do the
draft opinion if there’s going to be a published opinion. But after all of the oral
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
arguments and the conference that we do with the judges, I come in and I
conference with the clerks and get their views of what happened, and then use it
also as a teaching moment as to what not to do when you become involved in
private practice. And then I ask the clerks to give me their views and talk to the
other judges’ clerks and let me know what the other clerks are thinking. So it’s
good to have that kind of bouncing off and feedback from the clerks.
Have you generally been pleased with your clerks?
Yes. I think I can count on less than one hand the clerks about whom I thought I
made a mistake in hiring them. But generally, they’ve been very, very good.
What’s your process for selecting clerks?
I like to get references. I like to get calls from a law school saying, “I want you to
look at so and so.” That person has a good record, is very good. So that’s one
thing. I listen to the professors and then bring in the applicant. Other people
across the city may call and say, “I’ve got a good candidate for you.” Even
family members have called and said, “I’ve got a good candidate for you.” But
basically, I study the resume, the writing assignment, and the references and the
academic transcript of grades. And then I do my own interview. And when I
interview I go all the way back to when the applicant was born and go through
their family history, and come up to reasons for going to law school. Traditional
What kinds of careers have your clerks followed after leaving? You mentioned
PDS for one.
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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Yeah, PDS. In the federal government, one has done an outstanding job with the
Department of Education. And then he was detailed over to the White House
Counsel’s Offrce when President Obama came in. His role with the Department of
Education was ethics, so he was brought in to do a lot of the vetting of the
Yeah. So he’s very good. So federal government, PDS, and law firms.
U.S. Attorney’s Office?
I’ve not had – I’ve had two come close to the U,S. Attorney’s Office, but did not
get hired. One of my last clerks went the second round, and then another one
went farther. I think he stills hopes to get interviewed for the U.S. Attorney’s
Office. But he’s probably making too much money to make the transition.
Once you’re in a law firm?
I intended to ask, and don’t want to close this session without asking. You’ve
mentioned – and I think it was almost as a given as though everyone would know
– the Institute for Advocacy in New or something you mentioned. What exactly,
for the record, is . . . .
The Summer Institute for Appellate Judges. It’s held at NYU. The law
professors at NYU conduct the training, and then sometimes they have visiting
professors come in and they run a course for a whole week for new judges. And
then there’s a second course for advancedjudges, advanced appellatejudges.
And they go through dverything from writing to substantive law. And the beauty
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
of it is that there are judges from all across the country that you get to meet and
associate with them and learn what their experiences are. So I found the NYU
Institute to be very, very helpful. But even more than the New York program,
was the Virginia program.
I was about to say, you also got a Masters at Virginia since you became a judge.
A Masters of Law, right?
Right, in the judicial process. And that involved two srunmers of intensive course
work, graded exams and papers. All of the traditional academic work, and then
you had to write a thesis. And there were, again, judges from across the country
that gathered. And it was quite intense.
Well I understand that because actually we were doing this interview when you
1* to go and do it. But did you actually feel that you needed that Masters, Judge
Reid, to be a good judge on this bench?
I didn’t think I needed the Masters. I could have done without the Masters. But I
wanted refresher work in the law, and I wanted to be exposed to some of these
outstanding professors. And also Virginia was challenging simply because when
I was coming along I couldn’t have gone to Virginia School of Law, the
University of Virginia Law Sehool.
But you went to Yale?
Yeah, I went to Yale but the point is the doors were closed to me at Virginia. So
the doors opened up, and why would I pass up an opportunity to walk in the door?
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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Judge Reid, we’ve talked about your tenure here and we’ll talk some more about
it. But apart of that tenure, of course, is your relationship with your colleagues. I
want to ask you now, in particular, to describe your relationship with the prior
Chief Judge.
W’e11, the prior Chief Judge, Annice Robinson McBryde Wagner and I, of course,
were high school classmates. Not only were we high school classmates, but we
were oratorical contest competitors. And I developed a fairly deep admiration for
Annice way back in high school. Annice was an individual who came from a
large family. The family worked hard. She was not in the category that I would
describe as snobbish people with good family backgrounds and good economic
situations. She was comfortable, but as I said, I began to develop an admiration
for her in high school and her accomplishments. And then, of course, after high
school our paths diverged. And then when I came back to Washington in the – I
guess it was around 1976,’77 – tojoin the Carter administration, I began to read
about Annice again andrealized that she was in the judicial system. So when it
came tirne for me to try to become a judge, and my name was sent over to the
White House the last time, I met with Chief Judge Wagner just to get the lay of
the land, to get her views on a number of things. And then when I began my
tenure at the Court, we had a natural relationship. And we worked pretty closely
together outside of the traditional work of a judge. And what I mean by that, she
indicated that she wanted to appoint me as the first judge to chair the . . . what
was going to be created as the Standing Committee on Fairness and Access to the
Court. The Committee would make sure that people had good access to the court,
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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that there were no barriers, that discrimination was non-existent in the D.C.
Courts or that it was curtailed. And this came out of the task forces on racial,
ethnic and gender bias in the D.C. Courts. So on that plain, outside of the
courtroom, we had avery, very good relationship and we worked in tandem to
achieve certain results to.improve the D.C. Courts. Now, of course, we sat on
cases together and I enjoyed that experience except for one thing. And what I did
not enjoy was the Chief was so busy that it took her a long time to respond to
drafts. And I suppose because of our relationship, and because I knew what her
workload was, I was reluctant to press her too hard sometimes. But then, I didn’t
want those papers to be sitting for weeks and months, and even as long as ayear –
my drafts. And so I had to develop away of trying to get the draft out of her.
And so I would send her the emails as diplomatic as I could, prefacing it with
something like, “I know your plate is full, but we need to get this case out.” And,
“Have you had a chance to look at the draft?’ So, that’s the part that I did not
enjoy – pressing to get the drafts approved.
What is your opinion of her as a jurist and as an administrator?
I think that, on balance, Annice is a very good jurist. Now, what do I mean by
that? I began watching her from-her days as a trial judge, particularly, when I was
in the Corporation Counsel’s Office. And I remember, in particular, her work on
the homeless initiative . . . her legal work on that. And I think she took too long
to decide, but her work on that issue was solid. And when I came up here the way
the Chief approached the cases was, she would read the briefs and she would go
out and have her clerks Xerox every case cited in each of the briefs. And then she
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would endeavor to read those cases before coming into oral argument. So her
preparation was fairly thorough, and I respected that. I didn’t always agree with
her analysis. I think as an appellate judge with experience on the trial bench,
there were certain things that the Chief leamed in the trial court that she brought
to the appellate court. Positions that she wanted to adhere to. And what do I
mean by that? I think, particularly in the area of child abuse and neglect, tlle
Chief had a certain approach. And the approach was, if it is at all possible we
keep the biological family intact. Now, at times, in my view, it was impossible to
keep the biological family intact because the biological family, in many respects,
was responsible for the abuse and the neglect. And so I found myself being a
little impatient at that end – inwardly impatient. Not outwardly impatient, but
inwardly impatient. If there’s a track record of abuse and neglect, and you want
to tell me that maybe this charge was made in error in terminating parental rights,
I have to say inwardly, “Huh, how can that be? And so then it takes time to work
through that issue. So I think I had a healthy respect and admiration for the skills
that the Chief brought to the job, but less admiration for the time and some of the
thought processes that were put into resolving the cases.
So your admiration – you spoke about her as a jurist, but you also – then that
extends to her as an administrator also?
As an administrator, I divide administration into two parts. One part is the
administration required to interface with the Bar and the legal commr.rnity out
there. I don’t think I know of any Chief that attended as many events as Chief
Judge Wagner and sought to accept all of the invitations extended to her. I mean,
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that alone is a backbreaking assignment. To go to event, after event , afrer event.
But I think she did it in the sense of trying to develop the Bar and the
relationships with the Bar that ultimately might prove helpful one day in getting
the objectives and goals of the court achieved. so I think administration . . .
outward administration, I think, was very effective from my perspective. Inward
administration I think also generally was good. If I had to fault the Chief in one
area, it would be in the area of getting the cases out and cleaning up the backlog.
I think the backlog was too high in the days in which she was the Chief. And it
was hard to address the backlog when, due to her press of work, she had a backlog
of her own. So that was difficult, and if I had to fault her in one area, it would be
in that area of administration inward.
Do you think there was poor judgment in properly apportioning the amount of
time to focus on what you call the outward administration, the wine and dine with
the Bar, and the amount of time that was necessary to focus on the operation of
the Court – the inward administration?
Yeah. Let me say it wasn’t all wining and dining with the Bar. In her days there
were some pressing issues. I mean I spoke briefly about the fairness and access
within the Court. I mean she presided over the Court as those task forces were in
play and winding down their work and finding out some things that were not
favorable to the D.C. Courts that did not instill public trust and confidence. So I
think she spent a great deal of time with lawyers working through some of those
issues and trying to resolve them within the D.C. Courts. And I think that was
valuable work – the output from the lawyers inward into the Court in trying to
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resolve those particular issues. So it wasn’t all wining and dining. Now as to the
balance, the Chief had a plate which involved both courts, the local Bar, and
Chief Justices across the country. And ultimately she became the head of the
Conference of Chief Justices, which meant an additional plate, if you will, that
she had to address, because the Conference of Chief Justices had its own
objectives and goals and, if you’re playing a major role in that Conference, then
that’s going to limit the time that you have to do the other things . . . to satisfy the
other plates that you have.
Would her serving as the head of that organization advance this Court in any
Yes, and let me tell you how. To give you one illustration, in the area of fairness
and access to justice, this Court in the District of Columbia has been recogruzed
across the country as putting into place some things which are very valuable in
restoring public trust and confidence. So in that sense, yes. Now you asked
earlier about the judgment call. I mean, how do you balance all of these things?
Did the Chief use the best judgment in coming to the balance? Well I can’t speak
for her on that issue. I think she recognizedthat she had these plates and she
made her own judgment calls as to which of these plates were important to her.
And then I’ll just add my perspective to this in another sense. I have great
admiration for then Chief Judge Wagner and now Judge Wagner. I think she
suffers from, in part, something that many of us suffer from and that is not being
able to let the product go. After you’ve done the best that you can with the
product, you let it go. After you’ve done the best that you can with another
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Judge Reid:
person’s product, you let it go. But I think in her there’s a gnawing sense, “f
haven’t achieved perfection on this product. And so I’m going to have to achieve
it. Let me put it aside, and I’ll come back.” And then the time to come back
begins to stretch, and then you have a backlog. And then you have people who
are anxious about getting their own work out.
So Judge Reid let’s end with that for today and we will continue our discussion
the next time with your relationship with Chief Judge Wagner and your other
colleagues on the bench.
Verygood. Thankyou.