ORAL HISTORY OF
HONORABLE JOYCE HENS GREEN
Second Interview – September 16, 1999
MS. PORTER: We are resuming the interview with Judge Joyce Hens Green.
We started on September 1. It’s now September 16, 1999.
JUDGE GREEN: I must say, Jenny, you have picked some day to conduct this
interview, because this is the second worst hurricane we have ever encountered in the history of
keeping records, Hurricane Floyd, which is battering our area as I speak. And, of course, three
years ago we had the blizzard of the century upon us and I’m sure we did something amazing that
day also. But at least we are diligent and finally, finally moving on our mission here.
MS. PORTER: That’s true. We are trying to overcome our failures today, I
guess. When we concluded on September 1 , you had just started at law school in Baltimore and st
you decided that you weren’t going to live alone in your second floor walk-up. How did you find
yourself a roommate?
JUDGE GREEN: By posting notices in each of the professional schools of the
University of Maryland, all of which were located in Baltimore, and I received a response from a
third year student, then Dorris Pencheff, now Dorris Harris, a third year medical student interested
in sharing my modest $54 a month furnished efficiency. And so we shared forces, which included
dividing the rent right down the middle. She remains one of my best friends today and we share
our children’s experiences now as well as travel together often.
MS. PORTER: Was this apartment within walking distance of the law school,
or did you have to have transportation as well?
JUDGE GREEN: It wasn’t within walking distance. I was fortunate to have a
fellow law student who wanted to come by and pick me up every day to take me to school. I
accepted with enthusiasm and Dorris took public transportation.
MS. PORTER: Well, you started law school with the first year subjects, the
same way as we do today?
JUDGE GREEN: The same basic subjects that we do today, but all were together
in the same room – it was a sizeable auditorium – for each of our classes the first year. There
were no electives, so it was an intense, regimented time. I loved the law immediately and realized
it was what I had been searching for a long time; I was being fulfilled very rapidly.
MS. PORTER: How many people in your class?
JUDGE GREEN: It’s difficult to remember, I struggle to do so. I think there
were about 120 in our class, that’s my memory at this time, and of the 120 there were three
women, including me.
MS. PORTER: Were you divided up into sections? Not the women, I mean
JUDGE GREEN: No, not divided into sections. We were divided alphabetically,
so whoever’s name would alphabetically adjoin my maiden name, Hens, was someone that I
would join forces with in discussing the law.
MS. PORTER: This wasn’t 120 people in one class – when you went to
contracts were there 120 people in the class?
JUDGE GREEN: Yes.
MS. PORTER: That sounds intimate, doesn’t it?
JUDGE GREEN: (laughter)
MS. PORTER: So you took to law school like a duck to water. What other
sort of things happened in the first year?
JUDGE GREEN: Well, within two weeks of starting law school I came down
with a serious, but unknown, central nervous system ailment at the time. I was suddenly partially
paralyzed, after having, most unusually, felt odd and tired for days. I left for home immediately,
was hospitalized, and shortly thereafter diagnosed with atypical polio. In those days the only real
solution was the iron lung. The Salk vaccine was not yet in use. I was filled with all sorts of
medications, including penicillin, and treated to several spinal taps. I was paralyzed from the
waist down and fed intravenously. I was not placed in an iron lung, but the possibility loomed. I
was 20 years old, my family was terrified, I was equally so. I was most concerned that having
been such a short period of time in law school and having heard of the rigors of professional
school, that to be out for the three weeks that I was, they might not take me back. But to the
contrary, my professors were wonderful and had saved their notes for me and the students had
saved their notes for me as well. Everybody helped enormously, and, miracle of miracles, I had
absolutely no vestige of that illness after I returned to school. I was one of those very, very
fortunate people who survived polio without any lasting problems.
MS. PORTER: And how long were you out?
JUDGE GREEN: I was in G.W. University Hospital for two weeks, told not to
go back to school for the third week,and then the doctor would see me; but because of the concern
I just mentioned, I stealthily returned to Baltimore and law school immediately after discharge,
later going to my neurologist for my appointment, whereupon I confessed and he banished me
from his office, but forgave after a few moments, expressing his amazement at the rapidity of my
bounce back to health.
MS. PORTER: You said you were paralyzed from the waist down. Did you
have therapy for that or did it come back?
JUDGE GREEN: It came back to normal. They tried all sorts of things. Because
my dad was a well respected, beloved doctor, and because I was such an oddity, people came from
NIH and elsewhere to examine me, to use whatever experimental matters that they had. They
were focused on stopping the process, and bit by bit everything came back and I didn’t have to
continue any particular physical therapy. I was given a little bit of therapy, but none after I left the
MS. PORTER: Was this a time when there was an epidemic of polio?
JUDGE GREEN: Yes, there was an epidemic of polio. I wasn’t aware of it at the
time. The doctors told me of the danger I was in. I just knew something very serious had
happened and was confident the doctors would find out whatever it was, but whatever it was it
was acutely serious and needed immediate attention.
MS. PORTER: So you went back and finished up the first year. Now I, in my
knowledge of you, Joyce, you graduated from G.W. Can you explain this transformation to us?
JUDGE GREEN: Maryland Law School did not have a summer school session at
that time. I’ve always been in a hurry and thought it would be a plus if I could save half a year by
going to a school that had a summer school session. We lived in the area of Washington, D.C., so
it was appropriate to go to G.W. Also, G.W. had a couple of courses that I was interested in
taking that Maryland, at least at that point, was not providing to a law student who had just had
one year. So I applied to G.W. G.W. took me as a special student because they, and I, expected
me to return to Maryland. The dean of the G.W. Law School, Dean Oswald Colclough, called me
aside early on and suggested that I remain at G.W. Law School, that he was very pleased with my
performance, and if I went through the following summer, as eventually I did, I could actually
graduate from law school in two years, rather than in the normal three, or two and a half had I just
used my acceleration of that 1950 summer. And so, by going through double summer sessions for
two summers, I did graduate from law school in less than two years.
MS. PORTER: This is giving me the impression, Joyce, that you are fairly
JUDGE GREEN: In a hurry, only in a hurry. That kind of driven.
MS. PORTER: When you were in law school, were there courses in particular
that interested you?
JUDGE GREEN: I was interested in evidence, in criminal law, in antitrust, and
in constitutional law. I enjoyed other subjects almost equally well. There was a rare subject,
negotiable instruments, that was not my favorite subject, but interestingly enough, my professor,
Professor Orentlicher, was a remarkably wonderful person whose doctor son, many years later,
became one of my interns on the federal court.
MS. PORTER: What electives did you take?
JUDGE GREEN: You are putting me to memory task – what electives did I
take? I took trusts, taxation, philosophy of the law, literature in the law, creditors rights, conflicts
of law, and others.
(TAPE 2 B)
MS. PORTER: This is a continuation of the interview being conducted on
behalf of the Oral History Project of the District of Columbia Circuit on September 16, 1999.
Joyce, you were saying you finished law school in two years. That’s pretty quick.
JUDGE GREEN: It is quick. And as I indicated, at the suggestion of the dean of
the law school, I did go through the two double summer sessions. I completed law school in May
1951, with the necessary credits for graduation.
MS. PORTER: That’s what, 18 months after starting?
JUDGE GREEN: Well, I started in September of 049, so if I do the calculations,
about 20 months. At that point I had asked and received special permission to take the bar early,
before graduation, in June 1951, because I had completed the necessary credits for graduation and
because my mother was dying then of cancer. I hoped that I would have some good news for her
about my profession before she passed away. G.W. has graduation ceremonies three times yearly,
around or on important holidays: George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans
Day. I wanted to graduate at the November ceremony, since the bar results would be announced
by August or September. But, although I was then awaiting the results of the bar, G.W. said no,
not so quickly. I had gone so fast through law school, in 5 l/2 semesters, and G.W.’s
regulations required six semesters, so I still had half a semester to go. All I had to do was to pay
the tuition, take a course that I hadn’t taken before, it made no difference if I attended the class or
passed or failed the course, as long as the tuition was paid, so that is what I did. I took a course
that my memory tells me was called something like alternative remedies. I passed, but it was
forgettable. I just recalled another elective taken – a writing course. Today people are taught to
write in law school and have such special courses, but in my day that was not considered as
important, or even an important element of the law school curriculum. It was assumed this was
picked up afterwards, appropriate to whatever you were going to do in the profession.
MS. PORTER: It’s hard to imagine that you would have had time to do any
extracurricular activities, but I feel I should ask because I’m sure that you’ve got some tucked
JUDGE GREEN: There were two main ones. I was the manager/secretary of the
G.W. Law Review, for which I was paid $75 a month, in those days a very handsome sum of
money, and I was responsible to see that the others who were on the law review, as I, performed
each of the tasks that they were supposed to do and assured that whatever mailings had to go out
were accomplished. So, it was a multifaceted job, wonderful because of my academic standing,
not only had I been elected to be on the law review, I was the only one who got paid for my
services there. The other matter that I did and spent a great deal of time doing was trying to find
positions for people who were going to graduate from law school. We did not have a career
development office then, nor any administration office that found positions for law students. This
was volunteer work done by law students. So I was appointed to this committee and became the
chair of it. It was a delight to contact law firms to ascertain interest in interviewing any of our
students, posting those notices on the boards, advising the students of what was available or what
could become available, matching one interest to the other.
MS. PORTER: Did this give you an insight into what you were interested in
doing with the opportunities?
JUDGE GREEN: It gave me the opportunities. I didn’t take advantage of the
opportunities, but there was one tantalizing job that I will always remember. I was not
disinterested, but did not apply, although many actively pursued it. That was a job in Alaska for
$5,000 a year. Bread in that state costs one dollar. You have to understand that in those days
bread might have cost 15 to 25 cents here in the continental United States. One of the students
did take that position.
MS. PORTER: Did G.W. at that time have clinics as part of its curriculum?
JUDGE GREEN: No, what a disappointment. It did not have any clinics. It was
something that I thought then it should have had. Today it does have a number of substantial
clinics that do really excellent work. I think it’s a superb way for a young person to learn what
public service is about, to try and start honing the ethics and academics of their education, and at
the same time help people who need these services. What we did in my student time was to go to
the courts, the local courts of Washington, and the federal court (then a combination local/federal
court) and just sit and listen to whatever was going on, and when you had enough, to walk to
another courtroom and listen to what was going on in that courtroom. The fact is, fellow students
and I didn’t know whether the matters illuminated were correctly done or decided, but it was
helpful to get this sense of it, the atmosphere. Once again, the experience helped push me in a
direction that I eventually became a litigator.
MS. PORTER: You mentioned when you started at Baltimore that there were
three women in your class. How many women were there in your G.W. classes?
JUDGE GREEN: At the top, meaning at the highest number of women, there
were six in the entire day and night school at G.W., during the very brief time I was there.
Remember I was a day student there approximately a year, a little bit over a year, from one
summer to the end of the next summer, so during that racing through law school, those are the
numbers that I was advised were present at the school. Several were women I met when I joined a
professional sorority, Kappa Beta Phi.
MS. PORTER: Let me tax your memory. Do you remember who the three
women were in Maryland?
JUDGE GREEN: The other two were May Green, who, a number of years after
she married, became a public defender in Baltimore, and there was Elsbeth Levy, who became
Elsbeth Levy Bothe in subsequent years, and she was a practitioner, also a public defender,
member of the Maryland Constitutional Reform Committee, and then, subsequently, a renowned
judge of Baltimore City, where she served for many years until her recent retirement.
MS. PORTER: And after your first year experience did you remain friends?
JUDGE GREEN: Oh, we have remained good friends. I have seen May Green
only briefly through the years, but not nearly with the frequency that I have seen Judge Bothe.
You will recall that the judge sat directly behind me with the alphabetization in the class: her
surname began with “L” in those days and mine with “H,” so we would constantly talk to each
MS. PORTER: How about G.W.? Did you share classes with any women or
were the six spread out through other classes?
JUDGE GREEN: I did. The ones I remember most particularly were Catherine
Kelly, who subsequently became a judge at the D.C. Court of Appeals, with a sterling reputation,
Jeanne Dobres, who became one of the chiefs of Internal Revenue, Kitty Frank, who went into
practice in the State of Maryland, and Frances Nunn, who practiced briefly, among others.
MS. PORTER: There were so few of you, did you have a sense of camaraderie
or did you stick together?
JUDGE GREEN: We did stick together to a great extent. We shared class
experiences, subsequently other experiences in taking the bar examination, which immediately
followed the May graduation ceremony for the other students, and before I graduated. I took my
bar examination before I graduated from law school, and subsequently was admitted to the bar one
day before I formally graduated from law school.
MS. PORTER: Joyce, with so few women in law school you must all have
stood out rather like sore thumbs.
JUDGE GREEN: Well I hope that we weren’t sore thumbs, but we certainly
MS. PORTER: How did the professors deal with that? I know that when I was
in law school some professors made a special point of calling on women more frequently or for
particular issues. There were so few of you in the class, did you have any experiences like that?
JUDGE GREEN: I did. When women of my generation talk about their times in
professional schools and in law schools different from the ones I attended, their recitation is so
very similar to mine. There was a professor at Maryland who always called upon one of the
women in class to recite page 100 of the criminal law book. Page 100 dealt with a particularly
salacious situation involving a rapist, graphic detail about that person’s activities and the defense
that he raised; I knew before I went to the first class in law school that when page 100 was
reached, one of the three of us would be chosen to stand and recite. And if she was able to get
through that session without fainting, without blushing or stammering, without embarrassing
herself, that professor would never call upon her again. That’s exactly what happened. Guess
who was the chosen one my year? I managed to get through it without doing anything horrible
and I was thereafter ignored by our learned professor for the rest of the course. In G.W. I had a
professor who called upon me every day to stand and recite/analyze daily, he did not call on any
male students daily. I had this professor for a variety of courses, including trusts and estates,
among others. There was a time I was running for a class officer position (the entire slate lost)
and he came up and said he assumed I wouldn’t be prepared for the next several weeks because I
would be engaged otherwise. When I told him, truthfully, I was prepared for the next several
weeks, that was the only time he didn’t call upon me daily. Just about three weeks ago, I received
a letter from him. He has written to me periodically through the years about my professional
career. He had just read a rather lengthy and complicated decision of mine that was profiled in the
newspapers and he wrote me this long letter to tell me how he had always been so very proud of
me from the earliest date. That is enormously heartwarming to me after all these years, but he
certainly did not share those thoughts at the time.
MS. PORTER: Probably figures he trained you well, Joyce. How about your
fellow students? I recall a conversation with one of your law clerks and she was recalling her
experience in law school and various times her male colleagues gave their view that she was
taking a seat that should have been occupied by a male.
JUDGE GREEN: Happily enough, my fellow students were as completely
accepting of me as they were of their male counterparts. They reflected no difference or
distinction, certainly no discrimination. I had a really great time in law school, in both of the law
schools, and that contributed to my love of the law and the desire to learn more and more. I
relished my time in law school. I know that other people have had unfortunate experiences, but I
was not among that group.
MS. PORTER: You’ve talked about your doing the bar exam and graduating
quickly from law school. What happened next?
JUDGE GREEN: I hung out my shingle in early December, after being admitted
to the bar. For the first couple of months afterwards, though, I was needed at home to help care
for my mother, and after her death, to care for her last matters. So I started from home a very
small private practice. Private it was, much of the time. My mother died in January. Shortly
thereafter, I got an office; did all of my own secretarial work, did all of my messenger work, used
an answering service, and didn’t have a carpet for the first few months. Initially I shared this
office and services with another lawyer. Later I was on my own. I was fortunate enough to be
sufficiently successful (although still partially subsidized by my family) to afford a half carpet,
and then a full carpet, and then a part-time secretary, and then a full-time secretary. A few years
later I joined forces with one of the most esteemed and admired female practitioners in
Washington at that time.
MS. PORTER: Who was?
JUDGE GREEN: June Green. She is my colleague now on the federal court; at
that time she was the premier female litigator in both Maryland and in the District of Columbia,
absolutely respected. She asked me to share office space with her. I did, and we became “sisters,”
and the very best of friends
MS. PORTER: What was the decision process in which you just decided to
hang out your own shingle? This is a tough way to make a living.
JUDGE GREEN: It is a tough way to make a living and, again, you have to relate
to the period of time in which this was happening. Had I my druthers, I would have been an
assistant United States attorney. I knew that there was remarkable training. You were taught how
to be a litigator and it was an area that fascinated me – the criminal law – and of course, the office
also did extensive civil law for the government. I thought that this would be a wonderful career of
public service and learning at the same time. That was not to be. There were no women invited
to become assistant United States attorneys. My second choice was to be a law clerk, but I had no
idea how one went about securing such a position. I had read in the newspaper about a former
governor of the State of Minnesota, Luther Youngdahl, who had just been appointed to be a
federal district judge in Washington. It struck me that he would need a law clerk, so I made an
application. Of course, I did not know that he had never granted an interview to a woman, much
less hired one. But, wonder of wonders, he granted me an interview and told me that he never had
hired, nor would he ever hire, a woman lawyer. He candidly said he just wanted to see this
unusual creature. When I became a federal judge, decades later, I inherited his chambers, in
which I am today.
MS. PORTER: That seems to be satisfying revenge.
JUDGE GREEN: Oh, it’s not revenge, it’s fate. I think things generally work out
for the best. Perhaps what happened here demonstrates that. A very short time after I hung out
my shingle I was asked by a friend of mine, who had secured a summer position, if I would take
that position for her since she was about to have a baby. I agreed I would take this three-week
summer position, part-time, with a large law firm.
MS. PORTER: What sort of work were you doing with a large law firm?
JUDGE GREEN: Two of us would go over prior records, since this case had
been twice to the Supreme Court of the United States. We were reading all of the transcripts, all
of the prior pleadings and depositions, in order to make another try. It involved all of the railroads
in America versus all of the trucking associations in America. We represented the then second
largest trucking corporation, Riss Corporation, and the issue was which group (trucks or railroads)
was the appropriate/safest to carry explosives.
MS. PORTER: Do you recall what the law firm was?
JUDGE GREEN: This was the predecessor of the present law firm that bears
some of the same names of the partners. In my day it was called Berge, Fox, Arent and Layne. I
worked directly with Alvis Layne and his associate, Charles Ephraim.
MS. PORTER: And its current day incarnation is Arent, Fox?
JUDGE GREEN: Exactly.
MS. PORTER: How long were you working on this case?
JUDGE GREEN: Well, the three-week, half-day job became 20 hours a day,
literally, every day for four months, at which time I was asked if I would become their first
woman associate – an enormous compliment. I said no because I had that law practice. I laugh
now because the practice was so small then, and I wonder what would have happened had I
become an associate there. But, through the years, a good friendship was retained with some
members; I absolutely relish that brief time. Lots of fun things happened, enormous growth
occurred, and Earl Kintner, senior partner of the firm, antitrust expert and the former chairman of
the Federal Trade Commission, at the time I was invested in the federal district court, was the first
in the ceremonial courtroom more than one hour before the ceremony took place, so that he could
exercise his pride in that youngster of long ago now becoming a federal judge.
MS. PORTER: What happened with that case?
JUDGE GREEN: What happened with the Riss case? I don’t know. (laughter)
Isn’t that terrible. I don’t know. (laughter) It took years and years for these cases to fully develop,
and at that point I was off doing other things, but probably should have followed through.
MS. PORTER: So after four months you’re now back to dusting off your
JUDGE GREEN: Right, and doing my domestic relations practice as well as
personal injury litigation, civil practice, estate work, probate work, those areas in which I
concentrated the most. I took court appointments; the system learned of my availability, and once
you were found to take a court appointment you are asked constantly to take like cases. As
example, I was appointed to represent a defendant who had stolen 12 cars in a short period of
time, including a deceased judge’s, and then claimed that he had been brutalized by the police.
We developed that case, actually, with the F.B.I. working on it also. We weren’t able to prove he
had been brutalized. While we believed this man, the actions could not be proved, despite
physical signs supporting the allegations of being hit with a large telephone book. The judge’s
sentence was compassionate and understanding, that this defendant, with low I.Q. and illiteracy,
had spent most of his adult years in prison and actually wanted to go back to prison again. He had
security there, he only longed to be taught a trade and to read and write. He kept in touch with me
through many years, as he floated in and out of prisons.
MS. PORTER: You basically were taking anything that came across your
JUDGE GREEN: Exactly. Another example of a “good” court appointment
would be a person committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (a hospital for mentally ill persons and
for criminal defendants who had, by reason of insanity, been placed there). Such a defendant was
entitled to a hearing each six months, to ask for freedom. A bit disconcerting that as you argued
for his release, the defendant would shout at the judge that he heard sounds coming from the air
conditioning vents and the judge should stop the noise. The judge did not release him and the
decision was not appealed.
MS. PORTER: One of the issues I suppose is of interest to every lawyer is
how you go about finding clients. They just don’t walk across your doorstep. Some do, I suppose,
but how did you go about developing your client base?
JUDGE GREEN: I think my friends, and my parents’ friends, really helped me.
Three were of special assistance. A physician friend of the family asked me to represent him and
his family in a variety of cases, including purchases of commercial real estate, wills, estates of his
relatives. When his patients asked him to recommend a lawyer, he would tell them about his
lawyer. The new clients came for a will or an adoption or an estate proceeding or a personal
injury suit or contract matter. If satisfied with my professional services, they often recommended
me to others, and that’s exactly what happened – by word of mouth – the clients and cases came
on a regular basis. Then there was a vice president at Riggs Bank, who was also the manager of
the local branch of that bank, where I had placed my personal and business accounts. This banker,
who merely saw me deposit monies, asked one day if I would be interested in handling actions the
bank was unable to develop, such as drawing wills, estate probating and representing bank clients
in court. Of course I was interested, and he referred a large number of clients. Lt. Colonel Lily
Gridley, a lawyer, then the highest ranking woman in the Marine Corps and in charge of the
Corps’ legal assistance office for Marines and their dependants, telephoned one day to advise she
had heard of me and wanted to refer Marine clients on a regular basis for those civilian matters
her office could not handle. Those three persons were most instrumental in the development of
my practice, and the referrals continued for years thereafter. The banker made me his personal
attorney. There were a variety of complex problems that he, his wife, and his young daughter had
through the years. When this good man died suddenly in an automobile accident, his wife leaned
very heavily on me while we completed the estate proceedings, and subsequently. While I did not
take her as a client, as a friend I taught her to write a check (imagine a banker’s wife who didn’t
know how to write a check) and pay the bills and helped her to find part-time work. She wanted
to be the nanny for our baby, but I thought otherwise. The Lt. Colonel and her husband, a retired
Rear Admiral, also became lifelong friends.
MS. PORTER: I don’t imagine there were many women in private practice at
JUDGE GREEN: Only a few women were regular litigators in the court, trying
cases before judges and/or juries. While others practiced law and argued an issue occasionally,
most specialized in real estate or probate. One female lawyer worked for a book publishing firm
as a journalist. One married and did not practice law afterwards. Another went to Internal
Revenue. Several became government lawyers at Justice, Labor or the FCC.
MS. PORTER: Tell me about the early cases.
JUDGE GREEN: The first case was an elderly African-American woman who
was a housekeeper. She visited her son in northeast Washington regularly. In order to reach his
apartment she had to walk up an outside stairway. The stairway had a very rickety railing and one
day it broke off and she was hurt. She sustained a fracture, pain and suffering, was hospitalized,
lost a modest amount of income. We sued the owner of the building and the maintenance people.
This case taught me several lessons. We were successful, eventually, in receiving a small amount
of money for her. This was a co-counsel case, before a jury.
MS. PORTER: A co-counsel case?
JUDGE GREEN: Yes, Jeanne Dobres, one of the people in my classes at G.W.
Law School, in the early stages of her career, before she went to Internal Revenue Service, where
she spent her professional career in a leading position in the Chief Counsel’s Office, needed some
litigation experience and joined me in this case. I did most of the litigation part, but she prepared
pleadings and prompted me to do the necessary things at the appropriate times.
MS. PORTER: Were there other occasions where you joined with colleagues
on doing cases or were you mostly doing these solo?
JUDGE GREEN: Mostly solo. Can I go back for just one brief moment to say
that this early case in my career also taught me a profound lesson. It was recognized that when a
complaint was filed, it included a sum of money prayed for. I had no one to ask, no one to inform,
and we didn’t have any courses teaching us how to fill out complaints and prepare for this. So I
put down $45,000 – that I thought was fair and reasonable compensation for this individual who
had been hurt. In 1952 this was sizeable.
(TAPE 3 A)
MS. PORTER: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral
History Project of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is Judge Joyce Hens Green,
the interviewer is Jennifer Porter, and it is taking place in the judge’s chambers on September 16,
1999. This is the continuation of the interview on tape two.
Judge Green, you were talking about some aspect of the case in which you had
Jeanne Dobres as your co-counsel and you were talking, I think, about settlement.
JUDGE GREEN: The senior partner of the firm defending the action asked if I
would come to his office to discuss settlement. I have never forgotten the lesson learned and have
shared it with others. What would the plaintiff accept to settle the case? I had absolutely no
experience and was clearly naive because I told him that on her behalf I would take the amount
requested in the complaint, $45,000. He shook his head in exasperation saying, “Young lady, you
give me absolutely no choice, we have nowhere to go but to trial.” And so we went to trial
because I was not sophisticated enough to know that you go back and forth on these matters, and
you never ask for the stated ultimate when trying to settle a case.
MS. PORTER: What happened at trial?
JUDGE GREEN: We did win, but we certainly didn’t win $45,000; it was more
like $7,500 or so, but this, too, seemed huge to us at the time. My client was happy.
MS. PORTER: This was one of your first cases?
JUDGE GREEN: This was my first case in federal court, but federal court in
those days was a combination of both local and federal. I should explain that quickly. A federal
court in the District of Columbia then, long before the 1970s Reform Act, was the court for
virtually all matters except local, municipal cases under $3,000 in value, misdemeanors, and
traffic. Almost everything else was in the federal court, the only court in America that handled
both local and federal criminal and civil matters; all criminal cases of consequence were in the
federal court. Any personal injury in which the request was for over $3,000 damages was in the
federal court. The federal court handled probate matters and all local taxation cases. In short,
virtually everything was in the federal court. That’s where the court appointments came from, and
that’s where I spent 98 percent of my time.
MS. PORTER: Did you practice in other States as well?
JUDGE GREEN: Subsequently. Five years later I was admitted to the bar in the
State of Virginia and then practiced in that state, as well as in D.C. Those were my two places of
MS. PORTER: So you never practiced in Maryland?
JUDGE GREEN: No. I did think of something that I neglected to mention
during the course of time that I worked with Berge, Fox, Arent & Layne, though many years ago.
May I mention it now?
MS. PORTER: Please do.
JUDGE GREEN: I understand that the purpose of the oral histories is to develop
an understanding of the judges as human beings and to see how and why we each function today.
What was it in our past that made us the people we are now? And so, this again was another
lesson along the way. I said earlier that in that firm the days were long, sometimes 20-hour days.
It was on one of those occasions, two o’clock in the morning, when I was working –
MS. PORTER: This is when you were doing your four-month stint with the
JUDGE GREEN: Exactly. I worked with a partner, Alvis Layne, an incredibly
wonderful man, gentle and brilliant, and also with his young associate, a recent graduate of the
University of Chicago. All of a sudden, at this wee hour of the morning, the associate had a
brilliant idea: completely revamp the theory on which we had been proceeding for weeks. He
asked me if I knew how to type. I sensed this as a moment of moments and told him, untruthfully,
that I did not know how to type, even though I was happy to make a cup of coffee for all of us
right then and there. I recognized that had I acknowledged my secretarial skills, I would be a
typist for the remainder of my days with this firm, something I did not want to do. Years later I
confessed what I had done; he had suspected it and his partner thought this dialogue was hilarious.
The very next day Al and Chuck brought an evening secretary who stayed with us for the duration.
We were a wonderful team, working remarkably well together. I look upon that very short stint as
momentum in my career.
MS. PORTER: You’ve raised the issue of being a lawyer in an almost
exclusively male environment.
JUDGE GREEN: Exclusively, except for the secretaries. No female lawyers.
MS. PORTER: How was it in court? You hung out your shingle –
JUDGE GREEN: There were five women who practiced actively in the courts,
and by actively that meant that they were there with great regularity. When I graduated and
commenced my practice, women lawyers constituted but three percent of the profession.
MS. PORTER: Are there particular experiences that you remember with
judges or juries or opposing counsel?
JUDGE GREEN: Many, but let me recount only one. My colleagues treated me
really very favorably, although, understandably, were a bit tentative about my lack of experience.
I thought I had an advantage as a woman. If I had a good argument, people would listen if only
because I was an oddity (and, to juries, certainly I was that), but listening was the important thing.
That’s three quarters of the battle; the rest of the battle is to get acceptance of your argument. An
experience that I recall (and I don’t know whether it would have happened to two male lawyers,
but I doubt it) was a situation where my male opponent was much more experienced than I. We
were lawyers in a personal injury case. The judge put us in a room in chambers, took a key,
locked the door, and said, “You are going to settle this case.” I recall turning to counsel and
asking, “Is this customary?” He said, “Absolutely no.” We did settle the case after hours of
detention. What we settled for or the details of the case, I do not recall. I certainly recall that
judge. He is no longer on the bench.
MS. PORTER: Do you use this yourself as a settlement tactic?
JUDGE GREEN: I do not. Again, the tale I just related was another good lesson.
Be gracious to people, do not press too hard, be logical and fair. If they don’t want to settle, fine;
if they do, then help them to do so. You are there to make it possible. A judge can aid a situation
and encourage reality recognition, can place people in an attitude disposed to resolve, but never,
ever, to lock people in a room, saying, “No bread, no water, don’t come out until this case is
MS. PORTER: While you were hanging out your shingle and learning to
practice law, were you also involved in other community and professional activities?
JUDGE GREEN: Yes. Without giving specific dates, I can note that I was a
trustee of the American Cancer Society, the D.C. division, for about eight years. Also, I was
very active in the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, which was then the general bar
association. It was powerful. It was only, I believe, in the latter 1940s that the bar
association accepted women as members. The Federal Bar Association existed for government
attorneys and the Women’s Bar Association, for women attorneys. The D.C. Bar Association was
a voluntary association; you paid dues and you participated to whatever extent you wanted. After
appointment as a member of the Public Information Committee, and designated six months later
as vice chair, the following year I was selected as chair, and served as such for eight more. While
not the first woman who chaired a bar association committee, I was one of the first (very few
women were active members). The committee was responsible for the weekly radio program,
“District Roundtable.” Any subject or participant could be used since the program was public
time in the public interest, without commercials or sponsors.
MS. PORTER: This was for eight years that this radio program went on?
JUDGE GREEN: Well, the program went on for longer, it’s still on today, I
believe, but I was the chair for eight years and responsible to see that each of the 52 weeks a year
we produced a radio program for one half hour. The committee was sizeable. Interestingly, my
husband to be (although I certainly didn’t know we would marry some day) was a member of my
committee. I would assign a week to the members. Ironically, something always happened. We
tape recorded on Fridays and often on Thursday I would hear from the committee member that he
was tied up in trial and could not put on a program. I would rush in and either do it live or quickly
tape it, or even create a subject and/or participants in a hurry.
MS. PORTER: What sort of programs, what sort of topics, did you cover?
JUDGE GREEN: Well, since we had carte blanche as to any kind of subject we
would want to do, it was anything that interested the individual who was going to act as
moderator, one of the committee, and what topic we thought would interest the public, and then
put it together in a balanced fashion for expression of diverse viewpoints. As example, I was very
much interested in seeing that the District of Columbia had a public defender. We did not at that
time. Recognizing the skills of the assistants in the United States Attorney’s Office, I thought it
only fair that the defense be equally skilled. After considerable research, I learned that only three
large cities had public defenders at that time: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and after
receiving information, I moderated two programs with proponents and opponents of the public
defender system. Another occasion: When the baseball team (“Senators”) left the District of
Columbia, there was a grand program with two panelists. One was Morrie Seigel, a famous
sportswriter on the local paper—disheveled, unshaven, rumpled, an absolute caricature out of
Damon Runyon, and his mate on that program, was Shirley Povich, the legendary sportswriter
who died in the 1990s, who arrived in spats to the taping of the program at eight o’clock in the
morning. Incredible! They had different ideas, and it was one of our most celebrated programs.
We produced programs on civil defense, that is, methods to defend the citizens in the event of
invasion and war. There were programs about war powers, not yet legislatively proposed, search
and seizure, civil contracts, landlord/tenant matters, anything that was of moment. The FTC was
very interested in making sure that there was a fair presentation of advertising concerning
children’s toys and articles like cribs and strollers. We now have the Consumer Protection
Agency, but the FTC took that responsibility in its day, and this was worthy of a program.
MS. PORTER: Who were some of the other co-workers? Who helped you
with some of these programs?
JUDGE GREEN: We had perhaps 50 or 60 people who constituted the
committee. Certainly enough members that if each wanted to take a program one week, we would
have been able to cover all members in a year. Our lawyer members came from private practice,
academia, or government: Sam Green, and there was Bob Dimont, Bill Cairn, Ed Gaskins, Neil
Kabatchnick, Gilbert Hahn, Jr. (who subsequently chaired the City Council in the District of
Columbia), Gilbert Giordano, Dorothea Baker (who was a very fine woman attorney), Frank
Crowley, Ed Skeens, Edwin Neil, Agnes Neil (who later married Edward Bennett Williams), Ray
Posten, Jr., Jimmy Vacarro, Charlotte Murphy (who was very active in ABA matters), Marty
McNamara, Jake Levine, Harry Wood (who eventually became a Court of Claims judge), among a
few; there were many more.
MS. PORTER: Were you involved in any other activities for the bar
association or was this enough?
JUDGE GREEN: Chaired the Lawyer Referral Committee for several years –
this was a matching committee. If a potential client called the bar association to request the name
of a lawyer, and if, after inquiry, it was discerned that the lawyer should have proficiency in a
particular area of law (e.g., probate or criminal), the committee would draw several names from
the roster of attorneys skilled in those fields to match them with the applicant. The applicant paid
a minimal sum of money for this introduction; it was up to the lawyer and the client to see if they
could work out a financial arrangement for the agreed services. Were there any questions,
subsequently, about that financial arrangement, the committee would resolve the problem.
Essentially, the committee referred lawyers for a reasonable sum. That was the goal: to provide
the client, whether rich or poor, the professional services of a reliable and skilled lawyer for
MS. PORTER: Do you remember major issues of the day that the bar
JUDGE GREEN: Probably the major issue of the day was whether it would open
its ranks to minorities. There were no minority members at that time, other than women. The bar
association had never endorsed or sponsored any minority person for membership.
MS. PORTER: It was specifically written in its bylaws?
JUDGE GREEN: For the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, it required
a change in the bylaws, and Charlie Ryan (who eventually became president of the American Bar
Association) spearheaded the effort to change. I was among the many who joined the process.
MS. PORTER: What’s the time frame?
JUDGE GREEN: I’m not sure. It was in the early 060s probably. The very early
060s or the latter 050s.
MS. PORTER: Can you talk somewhat about how the change came about in
JUDGE GREEN: There was a great deal of advocacy. I can remember the day
that the reform bylaws had been shaped; it was a proposal that was put squarely before the
association to stand up and vote. You had to be there at the meeting – it wasn’t a written ballot
kind of thing – you had to stand up and show how you felt. And I remember a group of people,
myself included, standing up to signify that we were in favor of admitting black persons into the
association as full participating members. You not only had to stand up, you had to walk, for
whatever reason, around the room. I don’t recall why that was done, but I know it was done in a
room that we used for the monthly meeting at the Mayflower Hotel. The vote was affirmative, but
it had taken years to get to that point. It was discussed, it was shelved, it was tabled, it was
brought up again, subsequently, in another year, another generation of people, and finally passed.
MS. PORTER: You mentioned that you were active in the Women’s Bar
Association as well. How did that come about and in what sort of things were you and the
Women’s Bar involved?
JUDGE GREEN: I thought it important that I identify with those women who
had either been practitioners or members of the profession for some time, as well as the new ones,
and so as soon as I had an opportunity to do so, I joined the Women’s Bar Association of the
District of Columbia. In those days the Women’s Bar numbered perhaps 300 and it was not nearly
as active an organization as was the D.C. Bar Association, which is why I joined the other one
also – so I could belong to both. The Women’s Bar was asked by Congress to testify in certain
matters believed to be of importance to women and to the public, such as juvenile justice and
domestic relations, criminal law and taxation. There was a D.C. city government in those days
that operated with three commissioners appointed by the President. The Women’s Bar president
would appear not just before the United States Congress, but also before the boards and the
advisory groups of the District of Columbia Government, to promote the interests of women and
children, and also the interests of men, depending on the subject. That association became more
and more engaged in community affairs. I am particularly proud of a matter that began during the
time that I was the combination vice president and acting president of the association, and
completed at the time that I was president of the Women’s Bar. To assist the problem of crime,
particularly because one of our senior members had been mugged on the streets of Washington,
we were alerted, as an organization, to do something to prevent recurrence of such action as best
we could. We notified the police department that there was a very active unit of police dogs in
Scotland Yard, London, England, and suggested we could assist our police to begin a police dog
unit or canine corps. We were told that if we could raise money for this purpose, the police would
seriously consider doing it. So we did, they did, and we have been given credit for being
instrumental in seeing that the first police dog unit/canine corps of the Metropolitan Police
Department was established. Indeed, the Women’s Bar communicated with the individuals
forming this small unit in the District of Columbia and then with the one individual who was sent
to Scotland Yard to learn how to train dogs and to go for graduate training in St. Louis, I think it
was. He would come back and report to us. So this began with a very small unit, but was
absolutely inspired by and founded by and subsidized by, initially, the Women’s Bar Association
of the District of Columbia.
MS. PORTER: Where did the Women’s Bar get the money?
JUDGE GREEN: We raised the money. We went to the members of the Bar
Association of the District of Columbia because those were the men with the money, and we also
raised money among our members. We asked them in turn to see if money could be raised from
commercial establishments, because a canine corps would help them, too. We raised the money,
sizeable thousands of dollars. It is part of our proud history and an absolute immersion in
community affairs, which I always felt was part of the activity that we do, even though we were a
professional organization and our prime object was to promote professional skills and obligations
and goals and interests of our members.
MS. PORTER: Just to place things into perspective, when you came into the
Women’s Bar, were you active on a committee, were you a committee chair?
JUDGE GREEN: I chaired more committees than I can remember, just like I did
in the D.C. Bar, you know nomination committees, committees to create ideas, committees to
arrange for meetings, committees to have a small conference or a seminar, to which we’d invite
other people, committees for speeches, you name it, it seems somehow I found myself involved in
it. I don’t know how I did all this. I had an enormous amount of energy. I still do, but not quite
as enormous as I did when I was in my twenties, and it was just that the more that I got in my cup,
the more I enjoyed doing. While all this was going on, I was also the dean, which meant I was the
chair, the leader of the alumni entity, Eta Alumnae of Kappa Beta Pi Legal Sorority International,
the professional sorority I had belonged to in law school.
MS. PORTER: And you never cease to amaze me. Before we go and talk
about a sorority –
JUDGE GREEN: That’s all I want to say about the sorority.
MS. PORTER: As a former Women’s Bar president myself, I’m interested in
bits and pieces of Women’s Bar history. When were you the president?
JUDGE GREEN: I was voted president for two successive terms: 1960 to 1961,
1961 to 1962.
MS. PORTER: Now, are there particular people that you worked with there
that you remember? Still have as friends?
JUDGE GREEN: To some extent, the same people I knew from law school.
Catherine Kelly, who was very active in the bar association; June Green, this is where I met her,
through the Women’s Bar; Jeanne Dobres; Kay Staley–all of us were very active. I’m going to
later lament on not being able to think of all the names. Mary Garner, an outstanding lawyer at
the Department of Agriculture; Clarice Felder Hens, my sister-in-law who worked as counsel with
the Judge Advocate General’s Office (Navy); Edwina Avery, also in government service, as most
of our women were. The government was, and is, a natural for women. Women were accepted,
although in that era they did not get promoted to leadership positions as promptly as men. But,
there was a steady income coming in and substantial responsibilities; and it was special public
MS. PORTER: Do you recall what some of the major issues were that you
JUDGE GREEN: We were primarily interested in legislation, which I’ve already
discussed. A minority of us, unlike the bar association, felt very strongly that we should have
minority members. The Women’s Bar did not. Unlike the bar association, our bylaws were
absolutely silent; there was no reason why we couldn’t have a minority member, but, in reality, the
minority members were not applying because it was believed, and probably correct, that a
minority person could not get the requisite two sponsors (members of the association) to sign her
application. So it wasn’t a matter of rejecting applications, the few minority women did not apply.
(TAPE 3 B)
MS. PORTER: This is a continuation of the interview being conducted on
behalf of the Oral History Project of the District of Columbia Circuit, on September 16, 1999.
JUDGE GREEN: This, of course, is a time in the early 1960s, just before the
1964 Civil Rights Act; there were very few African-Americans practicing law in the District of
Columbia and, of those few, there were still fewer women minority members practicing law. The
most prominent was Dovey Roundtree; she and I were good friends. I discussed this matter with
her and she said simply that she had never been able to get the sponsorship, so had not formally
applied. I advised I would sponsor her, I would find another to sponsor her, and I did so. I told
my board of directors we now had a new member. The board, comprised of the leaders of the
association, and, in particular, the person who then chaired President Kennedy’s Commission on
Women, vehemently protested this decision. I found this absolutely shocking, but she certainly
wasn’t alone in her opposition. This application, I insisted, would remain. The board of directors
then voted to present this application to the entire membership for its vote. A unique situation.
MS. PORTER: When you say unique, what do you mean? Because there was a
split on the board and you had the casting vote or required some action because it was unique in
some other way.
JUDGE GREEN: It was unique because it was a minority applicant. That is why
the board insisted it go to the membership at large. As far as my memory goes, we had never
presented an application to the entire membership for up or down vote. The meeting was
scheduled for the next day. At 9:00 p.m. that evening I received a phone call at home from a
Washington Post reporter who had heard of this acrimonious board of directors meeting. She
knew we were going to vote on taking in the first minority member of the association the next
day. She was going to write about it; this was newsworthy. While I had never before asked any
member of the press to stay their hand from writing, I told this reporter that I would put it to her
this way: If she did write, I knew enough about our membership to recognize that this applicant
would lose the necessary votes at the forthcoming meeting. If she did not write anything, we had
a chance that we would succeed in getting Dovey Roundtree to be a member of our Women’s Bar
Association, breaking the barrier for persons of color. This remarkable reporter did not write
anything until after the vote, which was successful, and Dovey Roundtree became a full member
of the Women’s Bar Association. Despite the loss of many of our members, who left in protest,
that began an inclusive membership of the Women’s Bar Association. The next day the reporter
wrote something about this moment in history.
MS. PORTER: During this time when the Women’s Bar was opening up its
membership to minorities, the rest of the community was in the beginning of turmoil, and
Washington, D.C. I guess was, what, a segregated city? What was it like practicing when you
were segregated? How did you meet minority lawyers? How did it happen? What was it like?
JUDGE GREEN: We did meet minority lawyers, but minority lawyers were
generally uncomfortable, so they said, and understandably, to be active in associations like the
D.C. bar associations, which had to be dragged screaming into opening its membership to all. The
African-Americans had their own bar association, the Washington Bar Association, and that is
where members who practiced actively in the courts largely chose to be active. Among
outstanding African-Americans were: Bill Bryant, prosecutor, defense counsel, now judge;
Joseph Waddy, local, and later, federal judge; William S. Thompson, absolutely charming,
puckish, sometimes stretching the bounds a bit. We knew him as Turk or Bill Thompson. Turk
subsequently became a judge of the Superior Court, a wonderful man, fascinating litigator, with a
lot of courage, which he demonstrated with his cases and the skill he applied to those cases. He
had a substantial law firm that dealt not only with criminal law but also with defense of personal
injury cases. There was another person, Margaret Haywood, a practicing attorney at the time we
met, who later became one of the most skilled and beloved judges of the Superior Court. Now in
senior status, she returns to the court several times yearly, even though she lives in California. A
wonderful human being. And, indeed, when she and I were in practice she would ask me to file
litigation for her in the State of Virginia, because she knew I practiced there and she felt that
because of the segregation that Virginia so stridently avowed through its United States Senator,
the senior Harry Byrd, she thought it was unwise for her as a minority to file that litigation herself.
So I did for her in Manassas, Virginia, I remember. When I went there it had segregated
restrooms for whites only, it had segregated drinking fountains for whites only. This was the
courthouse to which I asked to be admitted, in order that I could file her papers, and the
Commonwealth Attorney agreed to perform that service. Again, emblematic of the time that we
were in, the Commonwealth Attorney reluctantly got into his suit jacket, he kept chewing on his
cigar and whatever else he was chewing on, and when we walked into the courtroom, one of my
strong memories is when he binged whatever he had in his mouth into the spittoon that was sitting
in the courtroom and moved my admission before the judge of that court. I had to have that
performance accomplished so I could file pleadings there. There was also Wesley Williams,
eventually president of the school board in the District of Columbia, who was a fine litigator, and
ever so impish, also African-American. In D.C., leaders of the school system were appointed and
supervised by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Judge Skelley Wright, in particular, performed that
function. He had come to that court during the civil rights days from Louisiana, having to leave
when crosses were burned on his lawn. I say this to demonstrate that we lived then in an
atmosphere so different from today’s. Then so settled in attitude and so emotional, so biased.
We’re not there yet, progress has been made, but there is a way to go to equality. So this was the
city of Washington as I knew it, as I practiced law here, and as I learned through clients of mine
and others how really segregated this city was, and how the races were so divided in their abilities
to move in the world of the 050s, 060s, and 070s.