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Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid
Eighth Interview
January 13,2010
This is the eighth 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 of the 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 Histprical Courthouse,430E Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Good morning Judge Reid.
Good morning.
Judge Reid, we’re in the home stretch. Indeed, we may conclude your interview
today. I’m not certain, but if not, we certainly will not have that much left. And I
want to thank you at the beginning of this interview for participating on behalf of
the D.C. Circuit Historical Society, and also for your patience, and want to ask
you to tell me now, or at least at the end of the interview, whether you would like
to have your transcrips sealed and, if so, for how many years you would like to
have them sealed. If you don’t want to answer that now, certainly we would like
that answer before the conclusion of the interview.
We concluded last time talking about your service on the bench, and I want to ask
you today at the beginning, from your perspective on the bench, what are the
qualities of a good judge?
Well, I think a good judge has to be one who is both a manager of a caseload and
someone who is willing to give deep reflection to some of the difficult issues that
come, particularly, to an appellate court. it requires not only reflection, but a
great deal of study and reflection and reading, research. All of those things, I
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think, go into making a good judge. In addition, I think a good judge is one who
is not satisfied with the first draft of an opinion, but puts it aside and then comes
back and does maybe five or six drafts of one opinion before the judge is satisfied.
But that’s my approach to the resolution of issues.
I know you have not served on trial courts, but how would you distinguish an
appellate judge from a trial judge in terms of what the qualities of a good judge
I look at atnaljudge as one who is constantly under fire, and has to make some
fairly rapid decisions. The appellate judge has much more time to reflect. In
addition, the trial judge absolutely needs to have very good temperament, very
good patience. An appellate judge is not tested in that same respect. The trial
judge has to interact repeatedly with counsel and with clients. Some of the cases
are very, very difficult. Some of the cases are very controversial, and I’m
speaking now of the trial judge. Some of them are fraught with family matters
and concerns, disputes among family members, husbands and wives who do not
get along together. So, the trial judge doesn’t just manage a caseload, but the trial
judge has to manage people more than an appellate court judge. So you need
someone on the trial bench who’s good at that, who is patient, who’s not going to
get hysterical, if you will, or bent out of shape, or biting atpeople. The person
just has to have wonderful judicial temperament and a balanced approach to the
resolution, not only of the issues that come before that judge, but also to the
handling of the people who come before the judge.
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Judge Reid:
You’ve seen many lawyers come before you, and over the course of your career
you have practiced with a wide variety of lawyers. What are the qualities of a
good lawyer?
I think, primarily, a good lawyer is one who’s willing to put in the time and
attention to the case that is necessary regardless of the fee that is being paid. An
attorney may earn maybe . . . well when I was in private practice $200 an hour
$250 an hour. But you can’t bill the client, at least from my perspective,.you
couldn’t bill the client for all of those hours that you put in on the case matter. So
the attorney, I think, has to be willing to swallow some of the costs of the
particular case. But even more important, I think the attorney has to be willing to
do the kind of research and analysis and reflection that’s necessary to figure out
the best strategy for the client. Half of the cases are won by preliminary thinking
about what the strategy ought to be to get a good resolution for the client. And
unless the attomey invests the time to think through the strategy before beginning
to embark on the representation, then there are things that might be missed, issues
that could have been brought, but were not because there was not the time that
was needed put in up front to determine how best to carry out this case. In our
adversarial system, it is essential for the attorney to be a step ahead, and to think
not only about his or her approach to the case – what his or her strategy will be –
but also what is the counterstrategy of the opposing counsel. If an attorney
doesn’t think about that counterstrategy of the opposing attorney, then surprises
may come the attorney’s way, unexpected developments that the attorney simply
is not prepared to address. So I think it’s not only figuring out the strategy for
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one’s own case, but also figuring out the strategy that the opposing counsel will
use, and then putting in the time and attention that’s necessary whether through
research or through writing or through analysis.
During one of our last interviews – I think it was, in fact the last one – you said,
“too many attorneys miss too many issues, and that the problem is with the law
schools.” And you also said that attorneys need to have CLE – continuing legal
education. Should the D.C. Bar require mandatory CLE, which is something this
Court could require?
From my perspective, continuing legal education is absolutely necessary. I don’t
care how bright you are or where you stood in your law school class, you have.to
keep up. And, from that perspective, I anra fan of mandatory CLE.
Pass that word on to the president of the D.C. Bar. Are there any attomeys who
appeared before you that you remember as being particularly well prepared, or
that you would consider a model of what a good attorney should be?
Most of the public defender attorneys and the attorneys representing the United
States Attorneys Office are exceptionally fine attorneys. The PDS, I guess I
would single out Samia Fam – I think her name is – who’s very, very good. And
there are a number of others on the PDS staff, including Corinne Beckwith, who
are very good. On the U.S. Attomey’s staff there is Ann Simon who is just an
exceptionally fine attorney. Florence Pan, who is now on the trial court, was also
an exceptionally fine attorney for the U.S. Attomey’s Office. In private practice,
also Richard Gilbert who was a CJA attomey. On the civil side – I’m blocking on
his name – used to be Corporation Counsel – Fred Cooke, surprisingly, plepales
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very well when he comes up to this appellate court, and he’s always on top of his
cases. So there are a number of very, very good attorneys who have argued cases
that have come before me.
Now, you said “surprisingly” when you said Fred Cooke. Was there any reason
for that?
Yeah, Fred jokes around a lot. And I think about Fred in the setting of the Giant
grocery store on Saturday morning when I often encounter him at the Giant. And
he has this playful personality when he stops to talk. And sometimes you don’t
think that Fred can be very, very serious. But he can be extremely serious.
From your time as Corporation Counsel, are there any attorneys who worked for
you that you would single out as being exceptional, if you can recall back that far?
George Valentine and William Earl are two names that stick in my mind. I think
many of the attomeys in the Civil Litigation Division were exceptionally fine
attorneys. In the Criminal Division there was Geoffrey Alprin, who is now on the
trial court, who was also a very good attomey. There were some outstanding
attorneys in the Corporation Counsel’s Offrce, but the main problem with the
attorneys in the Corporation Counsel’s Offrce was that they had to work
extremely hard and some of them suffered burnout very quickly.
You have served in the role as an administrator having had various positions,
including that of Corporation Counsel and, of course, you have served with others
who are administrat ors, i.e.,your Chief Judges. What would you say are the
qualities of a good administrator?
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I think in many respects a good administrator is one who is on top of the
workload, and who has the flexibility to respond to the needs as they come up.
For example, when I was with the Corporation Counsel’s Office there was the
regular work, but there were also unexpected things that would come up. So, one
who is a good manager has to have the flexibility to know how to tap the
resources to address those unexpected matters that may come up. In addition, a
good administrator or manager has to know how to interact with people, not just
the top people with the organrzation – for example, in the Corporation Counsel –
not just the attorneys. Or in the Inspector General’s Office, not just the criminal
investigators or the auditors, but to the last person within the organization. ln
other words, the administrative staff consisting of the secretaries, the paralegals,
the clerks. One just has to have a good relationship throughout that entire
organization, I think, to be a successful manager. Otherwise, things can really get
out ofhand.
Now Judge Reid, you spoke a few moments ago of the perception that one would
have of Fred, and I think it’s probably not just your perception. And, perceptions
are important. You are perceived by many as being quiet, demure, and very
easygoing. How did you meet the challenges as an administrator in the
Corporation Counsel to have your staff respect you and not take advantage of you.
Well there are two sides to my personality. I am very low key, soft spoken, but
there’s another side to my personality and that is, I’m very firm. And I am very
persistent in what I think is the right approach and the right way to go. And
sometimes you just have to take people aside and to make it known to them that
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there’s no way in the world that they’re going to get away with giving less than
what is required to accomplish the position. So along the way I have had to have
firm talks with people who’ve been under my supervision.
Were there any- Well, let me ask a different question. Are there any particular
challenges you faced as an administrator in the Corporation Counsel in which you
were tested that you would care to share with us, and how you dealt with them?
There are some, but I don’t think I’m ready to talk about them.
I said we could seal your transcript. [Laughter] Okay, I will respect your wishes
then. Judge Reid, let me ask the question, perhaps, a different way. How did you
motivate your staff, or how did you get the most from your staff? You mentioned
earlier having to sometimes take people aside and talk to them. Would that be
sufficient to deal with difficult employees who might challenge you on any
number of levels? )
Let me put it this way. During part of my tenure as Corporation Counsel, I had a
push back against me. By push back I mean, when I was demanding the very best
work from the attorneys – when I was demanding a full day’s work, and fulI
concentration on the workload- a segment of the office began to push back, and
began to float rurnors, began to take actions designed to undermine my leadership.
And then I had to develop a strategy to push back against them. The strategy was
actually, I guess, at least twofold. One was taking people aside to make it clear to
them that there was nothing that they could do to undermine my leadership, that I
was determined to continue on. And, the second was to back it up, if necessary,
with demotions or with placing people on probation, and just being very firm that
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less than your best simply would not be tolerated. There are instances when
males tried to test me in a different manner. One man determined that he was
going to get me in an interpersonal relationship – to understate it – and I had to
make it clear to him that I was not interested, that he had to do his work, and if he
was unable to do his work, he would just have to step aside. There were instances
in which some of the men pushed back against other women in the office who
came to me with their complaints, and I had to handle tlose types of complaints.
Some of it was nerye-wracking, but I insisted that I would demand the full
measurs of the attorney’s talent regardless of what the extent of that talent was.
Whatever the extent of it, that attomey, from my perspective, should give it. So
this is an illustration of how I had to push back against the push back against me.
And there was one African American woman in the office who insisted that she
was going to coms back at me by floating the rumor that I was practicing
genocide on Black people by not elevating more Black people within the structure
of the office. So I had to cope with her. And I had to design a different strategy
for her because, from my perspective, she was not very stable mentally. So there
were challenges, but you meet the chalienges that come along your way.
Have any of these people who challenged you unduly come to you since your
tenure there and offered an apology, or any type of rapprochement?
One of the interesting things is that one of the male attorneys who was involved
with the segment that pushed back against me is now a member of my church.
And we’ve worked very well together on the deacon board. We’ve never talked
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about that period of time, but it’s clear that mutual respect has evolved over time.
So some of these things get ironed out, and some don’t.
Did you have a particular confidant during your time as Corporation Counsel with
whom you could candidly share experiences and seek guidance?
There were two persons whom I will not name within the Corporation Counsel’s
Office during my tenure that I used as sounding boards in terms of what was the
best strategy.
Did you fre a lot of people?
Well I won’t say I fired a lot of people. I transferred some people to other
divisions and convinced some people to simply walk away.
Now, speaking of this Court, how have the demands on this Court changed since
you were appointed?
I think the demands have been fairly consistent. The one thing that I would say is
different is when new judges come onto the bench. There is a period of
adjustment where one has to work fairly diligently with those new judges until
they get the lay of the land. But, generally, things have not changed radically
since I was elevated to this position.
What would you say is the chief problem facing this Court at this time?
The chief problem actually since I’ve been on board has been the same, the
enonnous workload, and handling the enormous workload and cutting down on
the time it takes from when an appeal is filed to when the final disposition is
released. There have been a number of cases that have been heard at oral
argument, but the opinion has been slow to be written and to come out. That, I
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think, is the biggest challenge – is to reduce the backlog. And I think Chief Judge
Washington has done a tremendous job of reducing that backload. There’s still
some things to be done, but it’s not as bad as when I first came on the Court.
Judge Reid, as you can see, I’m just asking a number of sort of general questions
now that I consider wrap up, perhaps, in areas where I did not get to them when
we were in those particular areas. And so now I want to ask you another general
question. I’ve read somewhere that the legislatures and bureaucracies could not
function without informal contacts that cut across hierarchal chains of command.
Is that statement generally true with respect to a court, or at least with respect to
the District of Columbia Court of Appeals?
Let me reflect on it and ask you to repeat the question, I’ll reflect as you repeat it.
Well, it’s said that legislatures and bureaucracies could not function without
informal contacts that cut across formal hierarchal chains of command. Is that a
true statement with respect to courts in general or the District of Columbia Court
of Appeals in particular?
Well, I don’t think I’m totally out of school when I say that one of the ways in
which this court has operated over time has been through intermediaries. By
intermediaries I mean those who have contacts with either the legislature, federal
or District of Columbia, or contact with the administration, whether it’s federal or,
again, a District of Columbia administration. And those contacts have been used
generally. I, of course, have had informal contact with the District of Columbia’s
delegate. Rarely, but on occasion, I have used that contact to help out in a
squeeze. But there are intermediaries, particularly members of the Bar who
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interact with the court and then who interact with the legislative and executive
spheres of government.
Now when you said you had a contact with the District of Columbia’s delegate,
you mean Delegate Norton?
Yes. We grew up together, and so therefore that’s a natural contact for me.
I believe you said in one of your last two segments, perhaps the last one, that your
professional focus has primarily been working on the Access to Justice
Commission. Has that been your exclusive professional focus, or are there other
activities in which you are involved?
The D.C. Courts Standing Committee on Fairness and Access has demanded a
great deal of my time, and then the Access to Justice Commission since it was
created. Outside of that sphere, I was active in the American Lung Association of
the District of Columbia. The American Lung Association of D.C. was a part of
the national American Lung Association. And you might ask, oowell, why,
professionally, would you become involved with the American Lung
Association.” I became involved because of my interest in asthma and the asthma
epidemic that has existed in the District of Columbia over time. And I wanted to
address some of those issues, and also issues pertaining to things like ltrng cancer
or sarcoidosis. So I devoted a good bit of my time to those kinds of issues. Now
they were separate and apart from my work on the court but, nonetheless, are
professional issues. And then during part of my time on the court, of course,I
served as a trustee at Tufts University because of my interest in educational
issues. And I was on that board for 10 years as a trustee and got deeply involved
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in the affairs of the university, and also some of the issues that transcended the
university that were cofilmon to many universities.
What exactly did you do with respect to the lung association? You said that you
were actively involved. Could you be a bit more specific in terms of what you’ve
done? Have you written policy papers, or what exactly have you done?
One of the things we did was quietly mount a campaign against asthma in the
District of Columbi4 and we were able to get a major grant through one of the
major for:ndations, whose name is escaping me at the present moment. But it was
a grant that enabled us to work with Howard University’s medical school, and the
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor – one arm of that – to design a study and an
approach to eradicating asthma in the District of Columbia. And as part of that
grant we had to create a consortium of different nonprofit $oups who were all
interested in asthma to kind of develop a joint attack. And we had to work with
medical doctors, and health plans and schools in order to educate nurses and the
doctors to what needed to be done to get children to be able to manage their
asthma. So that required agreat deal of my time. At one time I headed the
American Lung Association in the District of Coh:rnbia, and it was during that
tenure as the head of the organtzation that I was able to work with the Dean of
Howard’s medical school and people at the University of Michigan to create this
consortium and campaign in the District of Columbia.
Do you remember what time period that was?
I want to say it had to be some time probably in the early 2000s.
Did you play a leadership roie as a trustee at Tufts?
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Yes, I did. I was on a number of the key committees, and I was also on the search
committee that had to go out and find a new president after Jean Mayer, who was
a noted educator and doctor and nutritionist, had to step aside for health reasons.
And then there were some internal issues within the university that related both to
race and to what was known as binge drinking on the weekend. And I got
involved in those issues too.
Judge Reid, I believe you also lectured, continued to lecture, atlaw schools while
serving on the bench?
Actually I served as an adjunct professor at American University, but in the
School of Public Affairs. I prefer to teach undergraduates, so I continued my
teaching career here in the District of Columbia as an adjunct professor at
American University. And I did that until I guess now two maybe three years ago
when I decided I had to devote full time to the court. But I’ve also lectured at
others, for instance, UDC’s School of Law and served on that law school’s Board
from the day of its affiliation with Antioch University (Antioch Law School) to its
days as the independent D.C. School of Law to its days as the UDC David A.
Clarke School of Law, UDC School of Law Foundation. I have lectured there.
And I know you’ve also served, I believe at least at one time, as chair of the
Arrangements Committee for the D.C. Court’s Judicial Conference, is that
I’ve served on two occasions as chair of the Arrangements Committee for our
Judicial Conference. Those were demanding times. Of course you had to
establish the committee to design the program and to get the speakers and all.
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One time we were able to get Johnnie Cochran and a number of people who had
high-profile cases. And that was the first time that I chaired the Committee on
Arangements. And it was very challenging and very rewarding. And the second
time I think we focused on juvenile gangs within this particular area. Mounting
that was also very challenging and time-consuming.
What would you consider the hardest part of your job as an appellate judge?
The hardestpart,I think, is once the opinion is drafted, getting the approval of the
other two panel members in order to get the opinion released. That shouldn’t be
the hardest part but it is sometimes the hardest part, partly because of delay on the
parl of some judges in getting back to you on yow opinion. And then there’s the
whole process of back and forth if one judge thinks that something should be
changed within the opinion. So my challenge through the years has been to try to
get a draft that was not going to be challenged or what I call nitpicked to death.
And as time has passed on, I think I have had less of a problem with getting the
other two members of the panel to approve the draft.
You decided to accept or pursue a judicial position, I think in your case more of
accept, after really having held a number of other very, very successful and
celebrated positions. Where in a lawyer’s career should a judgeship fall, if there
is any particular place?
I think it really depends upon the individual and what the individual wants to
aspire to in life and achieve in life. I contrast myself with my twin brother. My
twin brother decided early on that he wanted to be a judge. When he came out of
law school he spent a couple of years with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and I
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think he spent a year in the Beame administration – Mayor Beame’s
administration in New York City. And then he began to be the secretary for a
couple of the judges, one on the New York Supreme Court and one on the
New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, who actually groomed him to
become a judge. So he went on the bench at avery, very early age, and that was
his decision. My desire was to do everything I wanted to do before I would even
think about a judicial career, and so I came to the bench through a longer route
than my twin brother did. But I think it really depends upon the judge and what
the judge is comfortable with, or what an individual is comfortable with. Some
people want to go on early, some people want to go on late.
Of all the positions you have held, including your current position, which would
you consider the most satisffing or gratifying? I know that they are all different,
but this is a “most” question, if you had to say,
I have reflected on that very question because I’ve been asked it before. And I’m
unable to distinguish between the positions. One of the things that I have
thoroughly enjoyed about my career is that I have done what I wanted to do, and
what I enjoyed doing. When I was teaching, I thoroughly enjoyed that. When I
practiced law, I thoroughly enjoyed that except for the billable hours pressure.
When I’ve been ajudge, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that. When I was out directing
a community development foundation, I thoroughly enjoyed that. So I find it
difficult to say I’ve enjoyed or have been challenged more by one of my careers
than by the others.
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That’s quite unusual, but that in and of itself must be of satisfaction to you. I
mean, o’I’ve done it all, and I’ve benefitted from them all, and I’ve enjoyed them
a11.” Judge Reid, let’s move now to talking about your family and friends. I told
you that we would come back to that. Considering your workload, how would
you describe the quality of your family life.
The quality of my family life – the family is extremely important to me, and I find
time to interact with the family. I speak with both of my brothers every Sunday.
My twin brother I speak with in the morning, and my older brother I speak with in
the evening. And that way I can get the news, including the news that happened
on Sunday early morning, especially from my twin brother, and then the total day
from my older brother. In addition, I’ve interacted very closely with my nieces
and nephews and in terms of their children the interaction has been close. With
respect to the ones who are on the scene, particularly the children of my niece
Michelle, I have taken her sons to the Georgetown basketball games since they
were little boys. And one is now in college and one is about to graduate from
high school. And even their sister goes along, who’s the youngest in that family,
on occasion. So I do communicate quite often, and even those who are not in this
area- my niece Lisa – I communicate with often and her little girl, and even my
nephew who’s out in the Midwest, George, Jr,, I communicate with almost every
week. So family is very, very important.. And I had them . . . I hosted the
Christmas dinner this year and everyone who didn’t have to go to the in-laws
came and was present and we had a good Christrnas time together.
So, it’s a family tradition to rotate the Christmas celebration?
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Yes, it is. But usually – it’s the second generation that decided they were going to
take responsibility – and usually my nephew or my niece, both of whom are here
in the Washingtort area, or one of my nieces in Virginia – in Norfolk or in
Chesapeake – will take on Christmas. But this year my nephew had to go with his
wife to London to be with her sister, and one of my nieces in Virginia had to go to
her inJaws, and another niece had done Thanksgiving. So I stepped in to do
Now we talked earlier at some length about your parents and you’ve spoken about
your brothers earlier and just now, but I note that you were maraied at one time.
Will you tell me a bit about your ex-husband and his family and how you met
your husband? I just checked the tape and we still have a bit more on that side, so
that’s fine.
I actually met my husband when I was working in the Congo, then Leopoldville,
and now Congo, Kinshasa, and that was in the early 1960’s. I had gone out to
work with the Congolese Govemment and the Ford Foundation setting up the law
library at the National School of Law and Administration and also teaching
magistrates. And one day I actually got a knock at my apartment door, and there
was this gentleman standing there who wanted to introduce himself because he
knew that I had come to the Congo and he wanted to meet me. And that was the
man who turned out to be my husband, Frantz Reid. Itre actually was from Haiti,
and he had studied not only in Haiti but also in Paris. He studied law and
economics. And so that was my introduction to him. He was working in the
Congo too, teaching, and we had a good relationship, and then at the end of the
year, actually in September, we got married. His family is an interesting famity.
His parents actually divorced at an early age and his mother actually – as he tells
it and I don’t think it was just that literal – but as he tells it, one day she got up
and went to the airport and came to the United States and left him with his father
who had remarried. And he was raised from that point on by his father and his
father’s second wife. He had one other brother whose mother was the same; that
brother died several years ago. And then he has a host of brothers and sisters, half
brothers and sisters, who belong to his father and his stepmother. Frantz’s
grandfather on the mother’s side was actually an immigrant from Germany, and
he was a scientist – as he calls him, a savant, a highly educated, knowledgeable
man who interestingly enough married a woman who was a voodoo priestess, and
they had Frantz’s mother as their child. On his father’s side, his grandfather was
from Jamaica, and his father actually went to Haiti and met his mother and
married her in Haiti. But both sides of the family growing up were very well-off.
His father’s side of the family managed to spend their money rather rapidly, but
his father was very well-educated. His father was also educated in Paris in
addition to being educated in Haiti. I got to know many of the members of
Frantz’s family, especially his brother Gerald who’s now a surgeon, a cancer
surgeon in Massachusetts. Gerald was brought to this country by persons from
Yale Medical School. He passed his foreign medical boards and became board
certified and an established surgeon at a hospital in Massachusetts. One of
Frantz’s sisters also went to medical school, and she’s now practicing in New
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York. So, generally, the family has done extremely well, and they are either
nurses, teachers, or doctors.
And, of course, you knew some of his family history before you would even think
about ma:rying him considering your own family history?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And then, we had a very good
relationship. There were cultural differences that separated us, but we remain
friends to this day.
And where is your ex-husband?
He is now in Haiti. He retumed to Haiti – in fact, I encouraged him to return to
Haiti – because he just wasn’t really suited for fast-paced life in the United States,
and I was fearful that he would get into things that he should not get into. And
when he went back to Haiti, he established a successful law practice and business.
And he’s done extremely well there.
So you maintain contact with the family then?
Oh, absolutely. In fact,l talked with his brother last night, and I communicate
with Frantz on a regular basis.
And you talked with his brother after the devastating news that we heard about?
Yes, and no one has contact with him.
You and your husband did not have children, is that correct?
We did not have children. He has children now, but we did not have children.
But you have spoken very fondly of your nieces and nephews, all of whom, as far
as I know, are very accomplished. I believe there are at least two lawyers, a
doctor and a journalist. Talk a bit about what role you have played in raising and
helping to develop the nieces and nephews. You talked about getting together for
significant holidays and the basketball.
Judge Reid: One of my sisters-inJaw, the one who’s married to my older brother and with
whom I went to high school here in Washington, D.C., tells me – and I really
don’t remember this – but she told me that I once said to her if you will have the
children, I will help you raise the children. And I guess I kept that promise
because I was involved in the lives of my older brother’s children from the
earliest time, from the time they were born to this day, I’m still involved in their
lives. I’ve played a significant role, I guess, in terms of their education and their
formation, helping to send them through college. Sometimes it was easier for
them to come to me to discuss their problems than to go to their parents. I guess
you understand,
Ms. Curry: Judge Reid, I apologize that the tape clicked off. You were discussing being a
confidant for your nieces and nephews.
Judge Reid: Yes. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who’s not the mother or the father,
so I followed their careers. Lisa was first to go off to college, and she went to
Wesleyan in Connecticut. And we had close contact throughout those years.
Ms. Curry: Judge Reid, as you talk about them, tell me – tell the record – whose child. Lisa
is George’s?
Judge Reid: No, Lisa is my older brother’s daughter. She was the first born to my older
brother. As I said, she went on to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and
subsequently went on to law school at Rutgers, Newark, after working a year or
so. And we maintained that close contact as she went through law school and got
into the Bar. She was admitted to the Bar in New York and New Jersey. She
went into telecommunications and had avery successful legal career in
telecommunications, both in New York and here in Washington, D.C., working
for a cable company in New York and then the FTC and MCI here in Washington
before going off to Virginia with her husband. The next in line was Michelle.
Michelle is the second daughter of my older brother Sidney and, like her sister,
she went to a high school in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and then went on to
Radcliffe/Flarvard for her undergraduate degree. And we, of course, maintained
that contact, and then when people were discouraging her at Harvard from
applying to medical school, I encouraged her to strike out on her own and go
ahead and apply to medical school. She got into Yale’s medical school – finished
up at Yale – did her residency in Virginia (that’s tough) and then went to Johns
Hopkins to take a degree in public health. And she has two specialties now, one
in occupational medicine and one in internal medicine. The third person was
Sharon. Sharon is the third daughter of my older brother Sidney, and Sharon went
on to HarvardlRadcliffe also, following her sister. And then she had a choice
between going to Yale Law School and the University of Virginia Law School,
and I encouraged her to go to the University of Virginia because she was going to
get married to a gentleman who was at the University of Virginia Law School and
who had been with her at Harvard as an undergraduate. I’ll just go through my
oldest brother’s children frst. And the last child of my oldest brother Sidney is
Sidney III. He went to Yale as an undergraduate, and then to the University of
Virginia Law School. As you can imagine, he was rather spoiled because he was
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the only boy, and the fourth child with three sisters, all of whom wanted to tell
him what to do. So, interacting with him along the way has been very, very
interesting. For my twin brother, he has two children. The first-bom was
George Jr., and George Jr. went to Oberlin. All of the males, by the way,
including Sidney, my nephew, and George, my nephew, went to Andover as did
my twin brother, George. So that was the tradition that the boys would go to
Andover, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. George went from
Phillips Academy to Oberlin, had a successful college life there and, in fact,
became All-American in track. He was sitting on the basketball team, and one
day he just got tired of siuing on the bench because they weren’t playing him and
he rcalized that he was very fast at track and he broke Oberlin’s record in the 100
and200 and became All-American. And then he went on from Oberlin to
Columbia School of Journalism and studied journalism. And he’s now a
journalist. He’s done both print and television, television news and television
sports, and he now works for ESPN as an investigative joumalist, but he’s been
news anchor in places like Houston, Texas, and also in parts of Connecticut.
Then his sister, Beth. Beth also went to Wesleyan as an undergraduate, And then
she got a Masters from the New School for Social Research in New York, and
she’s now teaching at a community college in New York. So those are my nieces
and nephews, and they all have done extremely well and we’re proud of each and
every one of them.
Well, as well you should be. And I know that the accomplishments of the family
continues even for your grand nieces and nephews now. In describing your
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
upbringing, you said that you and your brothers led fairly sheltered lives and that
your friends were selected for you. To what extent did your brothers follow your
parents’ model in child rearing? Because I’m interested in knowing how you and
your brothers have raised successful children.
Well, let’s take my older brother first. My older brother’s approach to parenting
was balanced by my sister-in-1aw’s approach to parenting. So, while their
children were raised with some notions of selectivity, the balance came when they
were raised also with the notion that you associate with everybody. And they
have emerged as, I think, very balanced children, not as sheltered as we were. My
twin brother has had an open policy. Let the children do what they would like to
do, and they have emerged in a very balanced way. Now, at the same time, that
my twin brother has said, “let the children do what they want to do,” whenever he
thought they were not doing what they should be doing, he would step in. For
example, my nephew George Jr. was a playful child, and when he was at Phillips
Academy in Andover he got into some difficulty because he engaged in a prank
which was to go to the neighboring girls dorm and to climb up to the window and
get in. And, of course, he was disciplined for that. And my twin brother took it
upon himself to go up every other weekend and to bring his son down to
New York every other weekend to supervise his studies, to make sure that he
would get out of Phillips Academy and not be damaged in terms of getting into
college and his college ctreer. So George Jr. learned very early from that
experience at Andover that, yes, there was freedom, but there was discipline
within freedom.
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
And how did you get all of the children to embrace the search for excellence and
quest for high academic standards?
Well, we had a tradition. Every Christmas we would quiz the youngsters as to
what they wanted to do in life. And we would mix the qtizzingwith hints that
with the talent that you have, you ought to be considering X, Y, andZ. And then
as they grew up, when it came time for them to think about college, we would
again quiz them at Christmas time as to what colleges they were thinking about
and what the values were that they would aspire to, and what the careers were that
they would aspire to. And we also, I think, through time imposed upon them the
notion of a strong work ethic. We got some push back on that, but interestingly
enough everyone of thosp children who are now adults emerged with the same
work ethic, that you put in the time that it takes to do the job even if it means
working on weekends or working early in the morning or late at night. So it was
really through talking to them and being apart of them every step of the way, and
also directing their reading. One of the things that I’ve done throughout life is to
give books as gifts for birthdays and Christmas. And I’ve done that still with my
great nieces and nephews. And so through reading selected books – books that
we selected for them – they also had knowledge of how olher people rose through
adversity and achieved great things in society and made contributions.
So there was, within the family, you, your brothers and, I presume, your brothers’
spouses also, a shared vision. And everyone had the same values and aspirations
for this children.
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
That’s right. We grew up on the concept of noblesse oblige. I mean, you’ve got
this ability, you come from good roots, and there’s a social obligation – o’nobles
oblige” – to share your talents.
What are the careers of your brothers’ spouses, or did they work?
Oh yes. My oldest brother’s wife, Katherine, taught school for a number of years
in Ridgewood, New Jersey. And she aetually had to go back to college and finish
her college work because she married early and had not completed college. So
my brother made sure she got back to college and completed the work that she
needed to do to get her college degree and certification as a teacher. So she
taught as an elementary school teacher. And then George’s wife, Alene, went and
got her doctorate. She taught college. The last position she held before she
retired was at Hunter College.
Before we leave the discussion of your family, Judge Reid, is there anything else
you’d iike to share with us about yow family? I thank you for speaking so openly
about your family. Arc there other things you want to share?
Just that we’re continuing the traditions with the great nieces and nephews, and
they are doing well. The oldest great nephew has led the way under some
adversity because he has a learning disability. But he’s done very well at
William &Mary. He actually spent a post-high school year at Andover carrying
on the tradition of the males going to Andover. And he’s done very well at
William &Mary. Last semester he came out with a 3.3 average for that semester.
And so I told him, “Well, next semester has to be 3.5.” And so I think he’s now
getting very acclimated to college. And the next in line, Quinten, is a senior in
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
high school and he’s contemplating whether or not he’s going for postgraduate or
if he’s going directly to college. I’m encouraging him to go directly to college
because I don’t think he needs postgraduate. His sister, Courtney, has a world of
talent. She plays violin, she sings, dances. She’s at a magnet school in
Poolesville, and will either go on there or at apivate school.
Poolesville, Maryland?
Uh-huh. It’s an environmental, marine biology program. But she will either go
on next year to Andover or the Madeira School in Mclean, Virginia, because
she’s that talented. And then the little ones, seven and eight year olds, are doing
well also.
Good. Other than your church, what has been some of your activities and
affiliations outside of your professional life? Other than the church, which we
will talk about?
Well I think I spoke about the boards. I spoke about Tufts and the Lung
Association. I didn’t speak about Lancaster Theological Seminary. I was on the
Board of Lancaster’s Theological Seminary for, I think, 10 years also.
Where is that?
That’s in Pennsylvania.
So it is Lancaster, Pennsylvania,that you’re talking about?
Lancaster, right. It’s across the street from Franklin and Marshal, I think it is.
How is it that you came to be on the board of atheological seminary in
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
The theological seminary has a relationship with the national church to which I
belong, and I was tapped from the national church to go on the board.
You mentioned earlier that religion and church attendance, and church
involvement, not just attendance, were an integral part of your upbringing. And I
know that you are currently active in yow church which is Peoples
congregational church in D.c. Talk to me a bit about what it is you do at
Weli at Peoples I’m on the deacon board now, actually heasurer of the deacon ‘
board. And that means that we have a role of spiritual advisor to members of the
chwch, for sick and shut-in, we go and we serve them communion. we are
called upon to do the scriptures during the morning church service and, of course,
to serye the elements, the bread and the wine. In addition, I was called upon, I
guess about 6,7,8 years ago now, to lead a study group in preparation for the
transition from the minister who had been there for many, many yeaxs and who
retired after 39 years as the senior minister of the church. So I led the study group
for two years to study the church upside and downside in preparation for the
search that had to be launched for a new minister. And then I was called upon to
lead the search committee, which I did. And we spent two years looking for a
new minister, going across the country trying to find the right person, and finally
did. And then I was called upon to lead the installation committee preparing for
his installation as senior minister. So, I’ve done a number of things for the
How do you find the time to do all of these things?
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
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I mean you make time. For the search committee, we generally met 8:00 a.rn. on
saturday mornings. You just find the time to do it. So I would go to meetings
there, and then sometimes hop on down here to the courthouse and continue
working down here.
Who was your minister who just retired?
A. Knighton Stanley.
What role has your church played in the life ofthe District of Columbia?
Reverend Stanley was kind of informal advisor to two mayors. And every time
there was a major political campaign, of course, the candidates would find their
way to our church trying to get his support. But we don’t support candidates in
the church, but the minister was willing to give them that kind of exposure so that
they could be seen. They couldn’t speak in the church, but they could go outside
after the service and meet and greet the members of the congregation. So
informal advisor to mayors was a role that the minister served. And informally
there was a lot of interaction between members of the church and the government.
Some of the members of the church actually served in the government. Reverend
Stanley spent a number of years on the Judicial Nomination Commission here,
and he was instrumental in selecting people whose names would be sent to the
White House for consideration for judggships.
Was he on.when your name came up?
No. He would have had to recuse himself.
Yeah, that would have been a conflict?
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Now I know that there are many, many prominent citizens of the District of
Columbia, and of the Washington metropolitan area who are members of your
church. But, indeed, that’s not why you joined Peoples Congregation, or is it?
No, I grew up in the Congregational Church. I think I alluded to the fact that my
father was a congregational minister. And when I was born, he was a minister of
a Beecher Memorial Congregational Church down in New Orleans. And then
when my parents separated, we relocated here, the District of Columbia. My
mother’s people had been instrumental, historically, in one of the congregational
churches, so we grew up in that church, Plymouth Congregational here was my
childhood church. And then when I went away to college, and worked in
New York and came back to Washington, I decided that I wanted to join Peoples
because it appeared to have a more progressive interaction with the issues of the
Well, indeed, I knew of your connection to Plymouth and so that’s why I made
the statement or asked the question about your joining Peoples. Because some
people do join because of the other heavyweights. And I believe that
Judge Washington is a member of your church. Several prominent attorneys in
D.C. David Driskell, the artist, is a member of your church, isn’t he?
That’s correct.
And he, in fact, did the stained glass windows for your church?
Yes, he did. And he sits right behind me on Sunday morning when we both
attend the eleven o’clock service.
And Bernice Johnson Reagon at one time was a member of your church?
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Yes, she still is. In fact, we tasked her to sing for the minister’s installation. As
you know, she doesn’t really perform anymore, but she can be pressed into
seryice. And now Melody Barnes, of course, is a member of the church. She’s
now in the Obama administration as the Domestic & Economic Policy Advisor to
the President.
Are your nieces and nephews involved in any church, since we talked the
necessity of making sue they have the right foundation and development?
Yes. Lisa is very active in the Presbyterian Church in Norfolk. Her present
husband is a very, very active member of the church, and together they found this
Presbyterian church. He sings in the choir and she does other things around the
church. So that’s Lisa. Michelle is a devout Methodist, and she’s a member of
the Woodside Methodist Church up in Silver Spring. And all of her children have
been confirmed in that church. Lisa’s little girl, of cowse, is involved in the
Presbyterian Church. Sharon is a member of the Baptist Church. Her husband is
a deacon in the Baptist Church, so she went with him to the Baptist Church. Sid
is not an active church member, and George Jr. and Beth attend church
occasionally. George Jr. just ma:ried, and when he and his wife were here for
Christmas she made sure that he got up on Christmas morning and went to the
National Cathedral to the Episcopalian service. Beth goes when her father
prompts her to go.
What legacy do you hope to leave as a judge?
That’s a hard question for me, but I guess I would start by saying a legacy of one
who had a balanced view of the law, who took each case as each case came and
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
went through it trying to follow the lead of the law. And when there were policy
issues, trying to determine whether or not we could resolve the policy issues in
the legal case as one devoted to trying to achieve the right result in each case.
And it’s hard to determine what the right result in each case is. But a person who
works diligently to get the job done, who interacts with her colleagues, who was
not in competition with her colleagues, but rather in collaboration with her
colleagues on the bench. And who tried to help newjudges as they came onto the
court. But mainly to look at the case as each case came to her, and to try to
fashion a solution that was just and equitable under the circumstances.
Is there a particular judge or justice whom you have tried to emulate, or someone
whose service as a judge or a justice might have influenced how you have served
your tenure as ajudge?
Well, there are a number of people, and I guess I would single out two persons
who are not a member of my family – not my twin brother. One would be
Constance Baker Motley. When I was in law school, and the year, I guess, I
completed law school, I worked at the Legal Defense Fund during the summer,
and had good contact with Constance Baker Motley.
And let’s just be clear for the record because there are a number of legal defense
funds now. But we, of course, know you mean the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Right, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And we affectionately call it the Legal
Defense Fund and the lnc. Fund.
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Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
And as I worked and interacted with Judge Motley, I was just awed – if you wiil –
by her presence, by her dedication and devotion to the law and to the civil rights
movement, to getting persons educated in the South on an equitable footing
regardless of color. And the really hard and courageous work that she put in.
Then, I watched her career as she became borough president in Mantrattan and
then was elevated to the bench. And she always carried herself with great dignity,
always gave the best that she could to each and every one of her ef,[orts. So, she
is one that I would lift up. The other one is Judge Julia Cooper Mack, who was
on this bench as a Senior Judge when I first joined the court, and who stepped in
to mentor me and to guide me. Her opinions are exceptional. She writes
extremely well, and when you read her opinions she leaves no doubts about what
the issue is, how the issue is analyzed and how it is resolved. And you understand
the opinion. So she and I had developed a very good relationship, and even to this
day – although her memory has faded significantly and she is in the throes of
Alzheimer’s disease – we still maintain a relationship. I guess I saw her around
her birthday. I think the birthday was about the last time I sawher and just after
that, around Thanksgiving time.
You spoke a minute ago about the legacy you’d like to leave as a judge. What
legacy to you hope to leave as a human being, and as one of God’s creations, if
thatlegacy is, indeed, different from the legacy you’d like to leave as a judge?
Well, I’ve always aspired to treating people fairly and on an equitable plane
regardless of race, color, national origin, economic stafus or what have you. And
that’s one legacy I’d like to leave, that I treated people equally regardless of their
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
status in life, regardless of their ethnicity, their gender. It’s just something that I
think is commanded by the scriptures and by my own upbringing that one is not
greater than another individual.
Are you satisfied with the contributions you’ve made to your community and
society? In other words, have you lived up to the standards that you believe your
family had for you or that you had for yourself?
I’ve tried my best to live up to that standard. The poet Robert Browning said that
one could aspire to perfection, but never achieve it. That’s the message that’s
conveyed by some of his poetry. And I believe that that is true. One can aspire to
perfection and aspire to the greatest standards in life, but he or she somehow falls
short. And there are things that I wish that I could do that I couldn’t do, and you
can’t do everything. But, hopefully, I’ve made a difference in the society, at least
a portion of the society.
I believe this concludes your interview. It certainly concludes today. I would like
to, however, reserye the opporhrnity to recall you, if necessary. And by that I
mean I want to read agunthe transcripts and, particularly, once the last tapes are
transcribed, and if there are things that I think would enhance the record, I would
like the opporrunity to have those follow-up questions.
That’s fine, And let me thank you. I was pleased that you were chosen to do this
work because I’m not sure that I could have done it with anyone else. And I
really appreciate the time and effort you’ve put in and your preparation and the
questions that you have posed to me. And I think the Historical Society should be
pleased with your work product. You got me to talk about some things that I
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Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
Ms. Curry:
Judge Reid:
didn’t want to talk about, but that’s the nature of your excellence. And thank you
very, very much.
Well, it was my pleasure to do it. Thank you for your patience. Do you want
more time to think about whether you want it to be sealed after you have read the
transcripts, perhaps?
Yes, but I’m pretty sure I would want it to be sealed.
You just don’t know how long at this time?
That’s my thinking. I am thinking about 10 years at least, but I need to reflect on
that. And I’ll go back to everything and see.
Okay. Well, Judge Reid, thank you so, so very much. And again, thank you for
your patience as I’ve worked through several Bar committees that were supposed
to be short term and then, of course, personal crisis. And you’ve gotten a master’s
degree since we’ve started this. That was ar initial problem for us, but that was a
long time ago. So I certainly thank you for your patience with me.
Thank you.