Oral History Project
The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit

Oral History Project United States Courts
The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
District of Columbia Circuit
Interviews conducted by William R. Weaver, Esq.
October 1 and November 30, 2018
February 11, April 29, July 22 and November 5, 2019

Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. i
Preface ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… iii
Oral History Agreements
June M. Jeffries, Esq. ……………………………………………………………………………………..v
William R. Weaver, Esq. …………………………………………………………………………….. vii
Oral History Transcripts of Interviews
October 1, 2018 ……………………………………………………………………………………………..1
November 30, 2018 ………………………………………………………………………………………82
February 11, 2019 ………………………………………………………………………………………132
April 29, 2019 ……………………………………………………………………………………………209
July 22, 2019 ……………………………………………………………………………………………..258
November 5, 2019 ………………………………………………………………………………………301
Index …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. A-1
Table of Cases and Statutes …………………………………………………………………………………B-1
Biographical Sketches
June M. Jeffries, Esq ………………………………………………………………………………..C-1
William R. Weaver, Esq …………………………………………………………………………. D-1
The following pages record interviews conducted on the dates indicated. The interviews were
recorded digitally or on cassette tape, and the interviewee and the interviewer have been afforded
an opportunity to review and edit the transcript.
The contents hereof and all literary rights pertaining hereto are governed by, and are subject to,
the Oral History Agreements included herewith.
© 2022 Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit.
All rights reserved.
The goal of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia
Circuit is to preserve the recollections of the judges of the Courts of the District of Columbia
Circuit and lawyers, court staff, and others who played important roles in the history of the
Circuit. The Project began in 1991. Oral history interviews are conducted by volunteer attorneys
who are trained by the Society. Before donating the oral history to the Society, both the subject
of the history and the interviewer have had an opportunity to review and edit the transcripts.
Indexed transcripts of the oral histories and related documents are available in the
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N.W., Washington, D.C., the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, and the library of
the Historical Society of the District of Columbia
With the permission of the person being interviewed, oral histories are also available on
the Internet through the Society’s Web site, www.dcchs.org. Audio recordings of most
interviews, as well as electronic versions of the transcripts, are in the custody of the Society.



Oral History of June Jeffries
First Interview
October 1, 2018
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Monday, October 1, 2018. This is the first interview.
MR. WEAVER: To get started, we’re going to kick it off talking about your early life. Tell
me about your parents. Where were they from? What did they do?
MS. JEFFRIES: I will say this. I’m going to tell you my full name. My full name is June
Marie Jeffries Parker, but I commonly go by June M. Jeffries or June
Jeffries. With that, I will say that I am an only child. My mother’s name
was Bettie Wade Jeffries, and my father was Malcolm Sylvester Jeffries.
My mother hails from the Mississippi Delta. She was actually born in the
hills of Lexington. By the time she was around 6 or 7, they had moved to
the Delta to the area of Belzoni, Mississippi. They pronounce it
“Belzona,” but it’s spelled Belzoni, which is the heart of the Delta. It is
the county seat of Humphreys County, about 55 minutes north of Jackson.
My father was born in Farrah in Jasper County, Georgia, in 1914.
My mother was born in 1924. He was the fourth of five children, and I do
believe that in Georgia, my grandparents were sharecroppers, but some
incident occurred in Georgia where the family had to up and move, and
they ended up in West Virginia in coal mining, southern West Virginia,
where my grandfather then became a coal miner. My father worked in the
coal mines for some period of time, and he moved to Detroit in 1934. My
mother moved to Detroit in 1944. Those are my parents.
My father never worked in the auto factories, although when I was
born, he worked for a company, an auto parts supplier, called Timken
Axle, and I know before I started elementary school, he was laid off from
that job, and I believe ultimately they moved to Ohio, and he got like a
payout. Thereafter, my father went to the Post Office. But I’m skipping
My father had some relatives in Detroit. I don’t know who first
came to Detroit, but significantly there were my great uncle and aunt, my
Uncle Pat and his wife, Aunt Lessie, and they owned some properties and
rooming houses which my father lived in, and he was joined in the
rooming house with my mother.
My mother was one of eleven children. She was the seventh child.
The third of four girls. All the girls are born six years apart, so the oldest
child, the oldest of eleven, was my Aunt Fredericka, then Aunt Sadie, then
my mother, then Aunt Ruth. As I said, the family, they were
sharecroppers, and they lived outside of Belzoni, sharecropping at a place
called Four Mile, which I think Four Mile is only like a mile or two
outside of Belzoni, but the land was owned by the Simmons family, which
would include Mr. Mark Simmons, as we would call him, and that would
be Mark Simmons, Sr. And then subsequently after he died, I recently
found out he died in 1939, his son, Mark Simmons, Jr., and I believe
Mark Jr. had a brother and sister, Mr. Rory and Ms. Louise. All of them
are Simmons. So my granddaddy was a sharecropper there. For reasons
that my son and I never could get my mother to fully explain to us was
when she was around 8 years old, she moved into town just a few miles
away to live with her great-aunt because she said her great-aunt told her
parents let that girl come go to school in town. Why she got to go to
school like that and the other ten didn’t, we never could get a handle on
that. But for reasons are pretty clear, my mother seemed to have been
treated I’ll say differently and maybe specially, and not in the way that
made anybody unhappy or dislike her, but I don’t know why she didn’t do
the things like they did, like pick cotton and stuff. She may have said she
picked cotton, but I don’t think my mother picked too much cotton ever at
any point in her life. So she went to school in Belzoni living with her
aunt, and she said that if she wanted to go home, this brings up
Mr. Simmons, and I’m going to talk about the Simmons people too, she
said if she wanted to go home, she could go up to I guess the town square
and Mr. Simmons would be up there doing whatever he did in town, and
she’d say, “Mr. Mark, I want to go home.” My mother back then was
called Pig, and he would say to her, “Well, Pig, you know where my car
is. Be there at 5:00.” So she said at 5:00 she’d go get in Mr. Mark’s big
Black car and he’d come and drive her home, and the next day, he would
let my granddaddy use the car to drive her back into town.
She went to school in Belzoni through 11th grade, but the high
school in Belzoni wasn’t accredited, or only went to 11th grade, or both,
and so she then went to live with a family friend in Greenwood, which is
maybe 30 to 40 miles away, and she graduated there from Greenwood
Colored High School in 1944.
In adulthood, probably in my 40’s if not 50’s, I heard about these
Rosenwald Schools, and I had never heard about that before, but my
mother knew all about them because Julius Rosenwald was connected to
Sears Roebuck and was a millionaire, and he had money available to
communities in the south for the purpose of building schools for the Black
children or maybe they were called “colored” or something else back then.
Apparently, to do that, the local community would have to kick in some
money. My mother said the white people in Belzoni would not kick in the
money for them to have a Rosenwald School in Belzoni. She also said
that with regard to her going to school, somebody told my grandmother
that the white people, the school board, had money available to be used
like she went to Greenwood for education, but I don’t think my
granddaddy went over there and asked because that would probably have
caused problems if you did. So she went to Greenwood.
She finished Greenwood in 1944, and she said she was supposed to
go to cosmetology school in Mississippi, but she had an aunt by marriage,
my Aunt Phyllis, who used to spend time between Detroit and Mississippi,
and when my mother was up in Belzoni or in Greenwood finishing high
school, Aunt Phyllis would write her and tell her that she should come to
Detroit and get a job because Detroit was a good place for a colored girl
with a high school diploma. What happened that summer is my mother
was to go visit Aunt Phyllis for three weeks in Detroit and then she was
going to go see a friend they knew, a lady she called Ms. Sally Ann, that’s
all I knew, in Chicago for a while and then return to Mississippi. But as
my mother said when we sold our house in 2008, she said her three-week
vacation in Detroit turned into 64 years until we sold the house on
Valentine’s Day of 2008. So she got to Detroit, and of course World
War II was going on, and Detroit is or everybody knows what Detroit used
to be, it was this huge industrial place, and there were jobs. She worked at
a few jobs before landing her career in grocery stores. I know she had a
job working at one of the tire company factories during the war where she
said she put a red dot on tires. She had a job first at a laundry, but she was
not cut out for laundry work, so that job didn’t last too long. Of course the
factory jobs for the women ended when the war ended and the men started
coming back home because the men got their jobs back and replaced them.
She ended up working at the grocery stores, and back then, before I was
born, there was I think it was a chain of local grocery stores, C.L. Smith,
and somehow somebody put her in touch with some union people, and
they were trying to get Black women hired to work in grocery stores, and
she ended up being the first Black women to get a job working in a
grocery store as a cashier, and that has meaning to me. But she worked in
a grocery store as a cashier on the east side of Detroit. I think they called
that area Black Bottom. I never really saw it to have any memories of it,
but that’s where we were back then, and that’s how she met my father
because he was a customer, and he would come in and talk to her. He
lived, as I said, in my uncle and aunt’s house, and we had other family
members in the area. My father had a cousin, a woman, and she said the
cousin would come and say somebody said to tell you hello and stuff, so
my mother and father met through her working at the grocery store.
They lived in the rooming house as I said, over on the east side.
We lived on Rivard Street. They lived there, I was born in 1954, in
January, until they bought our house in October of 1955. My mother said
that my father said they had to get June, that’s me, out of the rooming
house and into a house of their own. We moved from there to the west
side of Detroit to our house at 3311 Glynn Court, which was off of Dexter,
between Dexter and Wildemere. When we moved to that neighborhood, it
was a very Jewish neighborhood, and we were the second Black family to
move in, buying our house from the Rubensteins. When we did that, I
think my parents bought a lot of the Rubenstein’s stuff, so we bought a lot
of their furniture and their china and crystal and silver, and so the china
and crystal and silver that we always had at my parents’ house was
originally the Rubensteins’, and when we moved my mother out here, I
packed up the china and crystal and silver, and I have it because I like it.
It’s my plan to pull it out and use it this Thanksgiving.
We moved onto this block in 1955. I started kindergarten in 1959
in January because my birthday is in January, and back then, children
could start school either in September or in January, depending upon when
their birthdays were. January classes were always smaller than the people
who would graduate school in June because if you started in January, you
graduated in January too. People who started in September would
graduate in June. January people are always the smaller group. By the
time I started elementary school, the Jewish people had pretty much
moved out of the area. It didn’t take long. They pretty much moved out
of the area, and on our block, our block was single-family homes, except
that on the end where Dexter is, right on the corner, I guess on the north
side, there was a commercial building but it had apartments on the side
and above, and then at the other end, there was maybe a four-family flat
apartment building, so the only Jewish people and therefore white people
remaining in our neighborhood after 1959 were in that apartment building
down by Dexter on our block. Those people, they’d sit outside, like you
know, you’d have a folding chair, they’d sit outside in the summer, and
they were older. We didn’t really interact with one another, but they all
had their accents, and they were from Eastern Europe, and I’m sure they
had come over because of the war and things that had happened there.
When I was a kid in Detroit, you had a lot of Polish people, and the older
Polish women, they wore babushkas and other things. We had those
people on our block, probably even after the riots, into the early 1970s and
eventually they were gone. What happened with the Jewish people in
Detroit, if I lived on Glynn off of Dexter, you could say they moved out
towards Six Mile, and when the Black people got close out there, they
moved toward Seven Mile, and then when the Black people got out there,
then they just went out to Southfield and places, so — following the
Jewish people as they moved through Detroit.
We had a Jewish bakery on our corner, Epstein’s Bakery. They
had very good brownies. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but they had really
good brownies, and they had the best onion buns. If I could have one
today. And down Dexter, we had Esquire. They had the world’s best
corned beef sandwiches, and everybody knows that. I wish I could have
one today. I don’t eat a lot of that, but I would eat that.
I should say something else though because my daddy worked for
Timken Axle. Thereafter, my father got a job with the post office, and he
started working nights at the post office. My mother was working at the
grocery store, which was generally daytime or early evening, and in
particular, my father worked nights from the moment he started work at
the post office until he died in 1972 because my parents wanted somebody
home with me. I ended up being an only child. My mother had a
miscarriage a year after I was born, and then when I was six, she had a
full-term stillborn boy, so I was the only child. My daddy would go to
work. I think the routine was he’d wake up about five or ten minutes after
9:00 p.m. He’d come downstairs, and we’d eat dinner, and then he had a
co-worker who would pick him up and ride him to work, and then he’d get
home around 7:00 in the morning. We would eat breakfast, and my father
would take me to school, and then he’d sleep until maybe around 11:15
and be up until around 5:00 or 5:15. So one of the points I’m making is
that I spent a lot of time with my father. In addition to spending a lot of
time with my father, my father had, while he was the fourth of five
children, by the time I was born, it was only him and his youngest brother,
my Uncle Richard, because in the 1930s, back in West Virginia, the older
three children had died of tuberculosis. My grandmother died in the
1930s, so then it was really my grandfather, who we called Doc, and my
father and my uncle, and they functioned as a unit, and they were all very
self-sufficient men, which is one reason why I’m very strong in my
feelings that I don’t like people who don’t have life skills, and that
includes men, and I don’t like men who don’t use their life skills around
the house. So cooking, cleaning, taking care of your own children, doing
laundry, I like men who can do all of that because my father and my uncle
did. My mother did her work too, but it was never that my mother worked
full-time and then had to come home and do everything. Life wasn’t like
that, and in fact, my father, I would call him the better cook of the two
only because my father was a more patient cook than my mother. My
mother might be more rushed, but it was good. My daddy was the more
patient cook. The only thing he didn’t like doing was ironing.
So anyway, Uncle Richard lived with us until I was six years old,
and even my mother said that my father had said that if he ever got a
house of his own, he would get Doc and bring Doc to live with us. So
Doc lived with us, and I have some memories of Doc, but he died when I
was three. Like I said, Uncle Richard was with us until I was six. He also
lived at that boarding house and took care of me, so those first six years of
my life, I was cared for by men a lot, as much as my mother, and she
would be at work.
One of the things I liked about my mother’s job was she got an
hour for lunch, and by car, if she had the car, she could be home in five to
ten minutes, so in the middle of her shift during the day, I would be at
home, like if it’s summer time or not in school, I would be at home, and
I’d get to see my mother in the middle of the day and maybe eat lunch
with her, and then she’d go back to work. That was a good thing. That
was a very good thing. My mother in working at the grocery store, I guess
things were kind of different than they are now, she also got to know a lot
of her customers and became friends with a lot of her customers, and they
had good relations, and then I got to know some of her customers and
some good things happened to me because of customers my mother had at
the store. C.L. Smith had been bought by National Foods, so she worked
at National Foods on the Boulevard, as we call it, but it’s West Grand
Boulevard, right off of Linwood. West Grand Boulevard, I’ll call it a
main street. Maybe six blocks down the way was Motown Hitsville, and a
little past there was Henry Ford Hospital, a major hospital. We lived right
off of Dexter, and part of the Dexter bus rode on West Grand Boulevard.
Later, in my high school days, I would ride the Dexter bus some going to
or from school, so I could be on the bus and ride past my mother’s job,
ride past Motown. Sometimes if I was coming home from school, I’d get
off the bus and just go to the store and wait for her to get off work and just
walk around the store.
My mother and I, I never grew up grocery shopping like people do
grocery shopping now, you make a list and you go and buy stuff for a
week or two weeks because my mother worked at a grocery store, she
could bring food home every day, or if we were at the store, we might get
what we needed, but we weren’t just buying like people go grocery
shopping. I learned about the grocery store business with my mother,
listening to her about the customers, about the way they did things, about
the unions, about the jobs, all kinds of things I learned about grocery
stores. My mother was always very particular, even when she lived with
me, about how they rung up her groceries and how they bagged her
groceries, and always checking to make sure they were ringing up the
right price, even when it was my groceries and I was paying we would
have to go through that.
I was there in Detroit going to school, so my father would take me
to school, my father would pick me up from school. That continued into
high school, although in junior high school, I rode the bus home a few
times, and in high school, I would ride the bus home probably a lot, but he
might pick me up too. I rarely rode the bus to school in the morning,
although I did do that sometimes. So sometimes along the way, we’d see
some of my friends and we might stop and give them a ride. Daddy would
take me to school, and Daddy would bring me home, and he would feed
me and whatever, and I’d have to do homework or whatever. Then my
mother would come home. Her shifts varied from I think the earliest was
maybe 7:00 to 4:00, 8:00 to 5:00, 9:00 to 6:00, 10:00 to 7:00, 11:00 to
8:00, and then 12:00 to 9:00. So I think the shifts that ended 7:00, 8:00,
9:00 were considered night shifts, so during the week, she might have two
of the day shifts and two night shifts, but over time, with seniority, she got
to have more day shifts and not as many night shifts. But that’s how life
My early elementary school, I went to Theodore Roosevelt
Elementary School. I think the address was on Linwood, but it really was
a three-school campus. Very unique. I don’t know any other situation
like that in Detroit. It was a three-school campus. My school was built in
1924, and Roosevelt, the elementary school, was in the middle. Durfee,
the junior high school, I guess you’d say was on the south side, and then
Central, the high school, was on the north side of the campus. In front on
Linwood there was a large field, I guess they played football out there,
maybe there was a track. There was a big field. Roosevelt was a large
two-story kind of Tudor-looking brick building. Starting in kindergarten
in 1959, my kindergarten class was on the opposite side of the campus on
the LaSalle Street side. My kindergarten teacher, I will tell you, was Ms.
Salot, and her kindergarten was unique in that it had its own entrance
directly into the kindergarten class, and it had its own fenced-in play area.
There were other kindergartens in the school, but ours was the only room
like that, and to this day, I remember what the sandbox with the sand
smelled like. I started school at Roosevelt. I went to Roosevelt until I
graduated sixth grade there at my neighborhood school. One of the things
I would say is our neighborhood, I told you it had become pretty much all
Black, was mixed in that we had certainly working people who worked in
factories or other jobs, but we had a lot of the Black professionals who
lived in the neighborhood, people who were teachers, people who were
dentists, people who were doctors, so their kids, we were all going to
school together. On the far end, we had kids who were in households
where maybe they were on the welfare, but I generally didn’t know those
children as well. The important thing is that amongst my friends and in
my circle of friends, our parents all wanted the same things for us.
Amongst my circle of friends, that meant you were going to go to college
and do something, and in my household, probably before I was born, it
was determined that I would go to college, so that was the focus of my
mother with me forever, and I’ll call it the focus of my father too, but as
my mother said, she orchestrated things, and he carried it out. He
followed her instructions.
Roosevelt was a wonderful school. In my entire career with the
Detroit Public Schools, I’d say I only had two bad teachers. I had a
teacher at Roosevelt, I won’t call her name. The teachers would show
films, nature films, squirrels in the woods or something, and then you had
film strips, and then boys would be audiovisual people, but she would put
on a film or have them do a film strip, and you’d turn the lights off, the
door to the classroom had a window, and she’d pull the shade down, the
film would be on, and then she’d put her head down on the desk, and we’d
be watching the film. But you know, you hear your parents talk, and I can
recall hearing my mother say that somebody said she was having marital
problems or something. And then I had another teacher at Roosevelt who
this day still makes my blood boil, and everybody knows how I feel about
her. I’m not going to call her name, everybody knows how I feel about
her. Otherwise, all my teachers at Roosevelt were wonderful people. I
was always a good student. I always was. So they were very helpful to
me in that regard. My mother was always looking for programs and
activities, and so teachers would make suggestions or choose me to do
things. I was born in Detroit at a great time, and any of my friends will
tell you because we say this all the time, we had a great time growing up
in Detroit. We had a wonderful experience. We grew up in the heyday of
Motown and all kinds of things. Things were really good for us, but like I
said, our parents had ideas for us.
One thing that happened when I was at Roosevelt we got a new
principal, and her name was E. Lynette Taylor. So this takes you to 1964,
1965. Mrs. Taylor became our principal. She was married to a man
named Hobart Taylor who was from Texas originally. President Johnson
was President, and Hobart Taylor ultimately went to work for President
Johnson, and they moved to D.C. But they were, I guess you’d call them
well-off people, and people who know Ebony magazine would know that
Ebony used to every year have a best dressed list of women, and when I
was at Roosevelt, Mrs. Taylor was in Ebony magazine for her attire. She
wore nice clothes, that’s true. Well one thing she did, however this came
about, down the street from my mother’s job, there was an office for
Olivetti typewriters. Olivetti typewriters was down the street, and
somehow Mrs. Taylor met people with Olivetti, and she got them to outfit
a classroom with typewriters, so for my fifth-grade year, I was in the class
where our language arts program was focused around the use of the
typewriter, and it was team taught by two teachers, Mrs. Thelma McCrary
and Mrs. Cecil McFadden, and this is what we did. Our reading, when we
would do our writing, anything we did we would be using the typewriter,
but they had to teach us how to type. So I learned how to type when I was
in fifth grade, 9 or 10 years old, and I’ve been typing ever since. So
really, I think, Mrs. Taylor was so ahead of the time because now people
are using computers and they do all the typing. Kids can’t write now
because they grow up using keyboards, but we learned to do this. We
were on television. There was a man, a guy named Dave something or
other, had a local TV show in Detroit. They taped it earlier in the evening,
at least they did with us, but it didn’t come on until about 1:00 in the
morning. Some of us went on his TV show, and we were typing on the
TV show.
For sixth grade, I had one semester I was in Mr. Cross’s homeroom
and class, another semester I was with Dr. Radlow had a group of us
called the Critical Thinking Club, so we would have to do things with
Dr. Radlow to advance our minds. Mrs. Taylor took a group of us to some
program, some operatic program. She was exposing us to different things.
MR. WEAVER: One quick question before we get too far into school, if I could ask just a
couple follow-ups about your parents. Your mother seems like a
remarkable person. You talked a little about how she was unique in her
siblings in that she got to go to school, and I was wondering if you had a
hunch as to why that was.
MS. JEFFRIES: My son and I are still trying to figure that out. Still trying to figure that
out because none of the rest of them came close to finishing high school.
Some of them only went to elementary school. But at least she said she
always wanted to do things, and people let her do it. If you asked her why
is it that this happened with you, that was always kind of unclear to us.
But she said her father would get her the stuff she needed and they’re out
there sharecropping, so whatever, it worked for me and Rudy. My son is
named Rudy. Nobody else complained about her. Everybody got along,
all my uncle and aunts. They loved each other, they supported each other,
all of that. So I don’t know, but that’s what happened with my mother.
It’s kind of curious to us.
MR. WEAVER: It sounds like both your parents worked incredibly hard and worked a lot
of different jobs over the years. Did they ever talk to you about a kind of
dream job or some other kind of work that they always wanted to do but
weren’t able to? Anything like that?
MS. JEFFRIES: Certainly my father never talked about that. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want
to be a coal miner. I can say that. So he came to Detroit for other
opportunities. I don’t know why he didn’t work in just one of the big
three car factories, but like I said, he worked for Timken Axle.
I think my mother, maybe for her it would have been a teacher.
But she was born in 1924 in Mississippi and grew up in the Delta, which I
want to say this very clearly the Delta was and is still rough. So for her to
have done any of the many things that she did by the time she died in 2012
would not have been dreamed for a little Black girl born and raised there
during these times.
Here’s a story about my mom that makes us laugh. Dillinger was
big when she was a kid, and they used to have to walk to school, I guess
before she went to Belzoni. So she was afraid of John Dillinger because
they got the newspapers or had radios. She was afraid of John Dillinger,
so she said you’d be walking down the road and a car comes, she’d be
afraid that it was Dillinger going to do something to her, and she jumped
in the ditch to hide from Dillinger. So this was a great problem for her,
which I pointed out to her, Dillinger was not interested in little
pickaninnies in Mississippi, children of sharecroppers. But she said her
father talked to her one day and told her he didn’t care about people like
them, he was robbing banks and stuff, so that was a great comfort to my
mother, but she could tell you all about Dillinger getting set up by the
woman in the red dress and all of that. This was a big thing to her. So I
lived in Silver Spring for 33 years, and a place that I’ve been eating at for
longer than that now is the Woodside Deli on Georgia Avenue, and they
would have all these old pictures in there framed on the wall, but they
have a Wanted sign for John Dillinger there, and the reward and
everything, so I took a picture of my mother by the sign, and then I took a
picture of my little granddaughter and me by that poster earlier this year,
because now I can go to the Woodside Deli and see the John Dillinger
poster and it makes me feel good because I think about my mother.
So that’s what I was saying. Just like she even left Belzoni to go to
Greenwood. I think that took a lot of personal fortitude. First she was
with her uncle and aunt, and then she’s with these other people, so I think
she had something in her in that regard.
MR. WEAVER: You mentioned that when she transferred to Greenwood, that was a school
that was set up specifically for Black children at the time.
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. That’s the name of it. They were segregated so she went to
Greenwood Colored High School.
MR. WEAVER: Have you or your parents traced back your lineage, or how far back have
you traced your lineage? It sounds like you’ve done a lot of that work.
MS. JEFFRIES: I actually first year law school got a job at the National Archives, so this
would be 1975, 1976, because for undergrad I went to Wesleyan
University. One of my law school classmates was also one of my college
classmates and he was from here, and one day Cliff walked up to me and
said that if I was looking for a job, his mother worked at the Archives and
they needed somebody and I could go over there and use her name and get
a job. So I went over there, I used her name, and I got a job. I do want to
say this about that job before I talk about the genealogy. When I was at
Wesleyan, I worked in the library, and one of the things I would have to
do is this filing kind of thing, so when I graduated from Wesleyan and I
had my degree from that high-priced New England university, I said to
myself I would never file again. I come down here, I get the job at the
Archives working in the Central Research Room, and the first thing they
said to me my first day was, oh we’re glad you’re here. We have a
backlog of filing of our research applications. And they gave me a box
full of applications, and I had to alphabetize them and file them. I was
sitting there saying to myself I cannot believe this is happening to me. I
have this degree from that high-priced university, I’m here in law school,
and I’m filing all over again. But I wasn’t too good to file, and I did it,
and I worked there.
People come to the National Archives to do genealogical research
big time. They come there for that all the time. In fact, the summer I
worked there, the summer of 1976, which is right before Roots came out,
you would have thought that every person from Utah, every Mormon from
Utah, had come to the National Archives that summer to do their
genealogical research. So I did do genealogical research back then, but
really only of my father’s family and the Jeffries people. I got back to I
believe 1850 and 1860 slave schedules. I found a slave on the schedule
who would be the right age and race and sex to be my great-grandfather.
The slave schedules did not list you by name. Now essentially there were
two slave owners down there, brothers. I believe their names were
Edward and Thomas Jeffries, something like that. If you look at the
census for Farrah, Jasper County, Georgia, for 1900 and 1880s, whatever,
there are a lot of Black people in the census down there who have the last
name Jeffries because they took the last name of their slave owners.
A few years back, I was doing some genealogical research on my
computer, and I came across a couple of documents, one written by a man
named Jeffries, a white guy, who wrote about life in that part of Georgia
back, I think, around the 1880s or 1890s. He had researched it, and he
talked in there about not just the white families but also Black people.
That document was interesting to me, but I subsequently found a will that
had been posted online for one of the Jeffries men, and in it, he was giving
away his possessions, which included some slaves, he’s giving them away
to his children. That was a very moving moment that evoked a lot of
feelings for me because I’m reading that thinking well these could be my
relatives, my ancestors, that he’s giving away, and how is it possible that
you think you can own people or that you can give people to other people.
So that was a very moving moment for me.
One time when my son was maybe 8 or 10, we went down to the
Archives and did some further investigation because at the Archives, the
census can be released to the public after a 72-year period. So since I had
left law school, some other census had become available, and we found
some more information. But that’s one of the things I would have thought
I would have done more of by now having been retired for ten years.
I haven’t tried to do my mother’s family because my grandfather
was an only child, and even though her maiden name is Wade and his
name is Wade, she said that that wasn’t his name originally, but he had
some half-sisters, and he wanted to have the same name. I think she said
his name was Nichols or Nicholson, and I’ve never set about to try to
research him and his family, but I do intend to do that.
The last part would be, as I said my daddy is from West Virginia,
and then some of those West Virginia people also moved to Detroit, and
he was friends with some people. One set of his friends had a brother who
ended up living here in Silver Spring. He did a lot of genealogical
research, and even though I’d never met Bennie, I heard of Bennie, and
one day he sent me a fat envelope. He had researched my family and the
Jeffries people, and all the things he had in there were very interesting.
Plus he talked about people he knew, and I learned things that I didn’t
know because I must say that my father and my uncle did not discuss their
early years. They didn’t talk about their brothers and sisters. They didn’t
talk about their mother, which I always took to mean it was just a painful
subject to them because they died when they were so young. But, if you
asked a question, they would answer the question, but through what
Bennie did, I found out a lot more information.
MR. WEAVER: You talked a lot about your mother’s family and Mississippi as well, and
you mentioned the NewZ2021@
family. Were you going to come back to something about that?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. I’m about to meet the daughter of Mr. Mark Simmons, Jr. I, myself,
only had one encounter with Mr. Mark, and that’s when my grandfather
died, and I was 12 in 1966. But through the magic of Facebook, I
connected with his daughter. There is a Facebook group called something
like Memories of Belzoni, Growing up in Belzoni. I didn’t grow up in
Belzoni, but I would visit. I joined that group. She posted one day, and I
saw her name. So I posted and asked if she’s related to these people.
She’s his daughter. Her name is Ann. Ann is about my age, and she no
longer lives in Mississippi, and her father just died earlier this year. He
was down there still in Belzoni. We similarly have good feelings for
Belzoni, but I need to be very clear. The experience of a 64-year-old
white woman from Belzoni is worlds different from a 64-year-old Black
woman living or visiting Belzoni. The land they had was called Four
Mile. Let’s say I’ll call Four Mile a plantation. My grandfather
sharecropped. Ann recently, a few months ago, told me that there was a
group having a Four Mile reunion, and she and her mother and husband
are going to be there. So next week I will be going to Mississippi to go to
the Four Mile reunion, and I’m going to meet Ann and meet these other
people who were out at Four Mile and continue my Mississippi path and
discovery, and I will learn things about Four Mile and everything out
there. So I do look forward to that, and that’s what I was going to say
about the Simmons. Ann, like me, likes sunflowers. Here in Montgomery
County, if you go out River Road, out by McKee- Beshers Wildlife
Management Area, they have a 30-acre sunflower tract, and so they plant
these sunflowers that bloom in July, and I’ve taken my granddaughter out
there. Ann lives in Kansas, and they have sunflowers there, so she posts
pictures of sunflowers. One of the things I do as a retiree is I volunteer at
Brookside Gardens, particularly with the Wings of Fancy Butterfly Exhibit
every year, and I call myself a butterfly semi-professional. Ann is into
butterflies too, and she turned me to a Facebook group, Butterfly
Enthusiasts, and we take pictures and we post and we do things about
butterflies. So I do look forward to meeting Ann, who likes butterflies and
MR. WEAVER: You’ve written a lot about going back to Belzoni growing up and the role
that played in your life. What was it like when you would go back and
visit when you were a child? What was there to do for fun? Were there
culinary delights that you got to enjoy there that you didn’t enjoy in
MS. JEFFRIES: We’re going to Belzoni. Belzoni, if you look it up in the census, I think
now they have less than 3,000 people, but I told you it was the county seat
of Humphries County. When I was a kid, all around it was cotton fields,
and Black people picked cotton. There was a town, so by the time I was
born, my grandfather lived in town. My mother and I would go to
Mississippi every year. We would go by train, and we’d go the last week,
sometimes the last two weeks, of August, which, as I tell people, there
isn’t a hotter time in life to be in Mississippi. Once or twice we did a
week at Easter and a week in August. We would take the train. I loved
this. This is all part of my Belzoni thing. We would take the train, and so
the train would leave out of the Michigan Central Railway Station, which
a lot of people know because it’s been a symbol of decay in Detroit. Ford
Motor Company recently bought it. But we would go there, catch the train
to Chicago, leave Detroit 11:00 at night, and the post office facility that
my father originally worked in was right next-door kind of, across the
street. But we would catch the train at 11:00 at night, go to Chicago and
pull in between 3:00 and 4:00, and you’re pulling in on the train, it was
very quiet at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, but you’d go past the
Buckingham Fountain, and it would be lit, and the colors. I loved seeing
the fountains. We would catch the City of New Orleans, which Arlo
Guthrie made famous in song. We would ride the City of New Orleans to
Mississippi. It would pull out at 7:00 a.m. or 7:30. We would arrive in
Durant, Mississippi around 10:00 at night. If you were going to
Mississippi the last week or two of August in the 1950s or 1960s, a whole
lot of Black people would be going home to Mississippi, and the train
would be very long. There’d be long lines of people. Granddaddy would
come and pick us up in Durant, which was about an hour from Belzoni.
He might have my aunt or somebody or cousins and we’d be driving.
My mother was always very conscious of and supportive of the
Civil Rights Movement and supportive of the NAACP, and growing up as
a kid, I used to have to go to all these NAACP meetings with her, and they
were talking about all the things that were going on, and I’d be sitting
there reading a book. But anyway, I used to have to go to all of this with
my mother, and she sold memberships to the NAACP. We’d eat dinner
and would watch and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley so you could see
all this stuff happening as you ate food, just like I watched the Vietnam
War while I was eating dinner. So you could see people blowing up
things or whatever was going on over there as you were eating your meal.
So we were always looking at everything, and I always knew what was
going on in Mississippi.
I should point out, my father never went to Mississippi with us.
My father said many times, he said he wouldn’t get caught in Mississippi
flying over in a 707 jet. It was a long time ago. He always said that about
Mississippi. But he didn’t object to us going. And in particular, it was
always very good for me. I had a lot of cousins in Detroit. My father’s
family is very small. When I was born, his family was small. They were
old or they were dead. So now it’s smaller, older, and more dead. But I
had all these people in my mother’s family because she’s one of eleven.
My Aunt Sadie, who was the second daughter in the family, she and her
husband had both been married previously, and they both had kids. I think
she had two, and he had five, then they got married, and they had eleven.
They had like sixteen kids or something. So they had children around my
age; I could go to Mississippi, and in particular, be with them, even though
I had cousins in Detroit I could be with.
We would pull into Durant. My mother was born in Lexington,
and she had an Aunt Hun who lived in Lexington. My mother would like
to stop and see Aunt Hun before we got to Belzoni. And this would be
now 11:00 at night. It would be dark. The problem for me was Aunt
Hahn didn’t have a bathroom. She had an outhouse, and so I would have
to experience Aunt Hun’s outhouse inevitably on these trips. That was
one of the two I’ll call unpleasantnesses about the car ride. The other
thing was because this is the Civil Rights Era and I knew the things that
were going on in Mississippi and you’re driving over hills, around curves,
and everything, I always believed that we’d get to the top of a hill, we’d
go around the curve, we’d make a corner, and we would see a cross
burning, and we’d see the KKK people on these rides to Belzoni. And I
must say that never happened. I always expected that. Always. We’d get
down there, and my grandfather had a house, and he had a couple of
houses behind it. He had a screened-in front porch with a swing, and I
could swing on that. Of course this is pre-air conditioning, but people had
fans. But still, it’s 102 degrees in Mississippi. A fan can only do so much
for you. But my cousins, I would eat enough at my grandfather’s home
just so that I could walk two or three blocks over to Aunt Sadie’s house
and be with the kids, or maybe some of the kids would come over and get
me. Aunt Sadie had a lot of kids, so they always had food, but they would
eat biscuits, and Mississippi, they sell something called Alaga syrup, and it
was a dark brown, very sweet syrup, and I’d go over there and eat biscuits
with the butter and the syrup. Granddaddy, my mother liked fish, and in
Mississippi they had a fish – this is before Belzoni became the catfish
capital – because the local fish is buffalo, and it’s a large fish, and my
mother liked that. Granddaddy would get that, and we’d have
watermelon. I had a step-grandmother, Miss Rosie, she would cook a lot
of food and she made coconut cakes, so people were eating. There was a
woman around the corner from my granddaddy who had like a little store,
and she sold snow cones. So I would get snow cones with my cousins.
My Aunt Sadie and them lived on Church Street. I think her address was
188 Church Street. Next to their house was a vacant lot, and on the other
side of the lot was another little house, and the front of it had a store if
you’re facing it on the right, a little store, and then they had s shoe shop if
you’re facing it on the left. That was owned and operated by the Mays
family. Rufus Mays and his wife Alice Mays. They had three children
who were older than me, two daughters and a son, and they were more my
older cousins ages. I remember going in their store and buying stage
plank cookies, which were these flat rectangular cookies that had a pink
frosting, and the daughters would be there behind the counter. I knew
them, but they’re older than me. I would see them there. I went
downtown into Belzoni, I guess you could say kind of rarely because there
was really no reason to go. Until I was in my 40’s, I probably was never
on the white side of Belzoni, so those white neighborhoods, they were
near Aunt Sadie and them, and you could look down the block, but I had
no experience with that or with white people. I never ate in a public
restaurant, I’ll call “public” that anyone can go to, until I was probably in
my 40’s. My mother did allow me to go to the movies once in Belzoni.
The movies were segregated, so we had to sit upstairs. My cousins and I
saw a Sinbad movie, an action movie of the time. Now in reality, we had
great seats. There wasn’t a problem with the seats or anything. You saw
really well. But it was the principle of the thing. She let me do that once.
My grandfather had a phone, but it didn’t have a dial. His number was
453R. If you wanted to make a call, you would pick up the hand thing and
the operator would come on and you would tell the operator the number.
My mother never allowed me to place a phone call in Belzoni because my
grandfather lived alone and had heart trouble, my mother did not want it to
be that white woman operator thought that I was not respectful enough,
that I was disrespectful, and then she’d be vindictive and they’d snatch my
grandfather’s phone. So if we were calling daddy, she would make the
call, and once they were talking, I could get on the phone and talk, but I
was never allowed to place a call.
My mother said the first time she ever had to tell me about racial
discrimination I was 4 years old in Belzoni, and we were downtown, and
she said that I saw a little kid, a white kid, with an ice cream cone, and I
wanted an ice cream cone, but she had to explain to me that I couldn’t get
one because they didn’t sell ice cream to us, because I guess if we all ate
from the same ice cream, they would have turned into me! We did that in
Belzoni. Some of my older cousins were going to college then, which
they went to, which is an HBCU, it was then called Mississippi Valley
State in Itta Bena. I did ride over there a few times, and I was very happy
to see my cousins on a college campus. The late Marion Barry, mayor of
this city, was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi. You didn’t travel around and
go places because there weren’t places for you to go unless you were
visiting a relative or going to a church or something. When I was
pregnant with my son in 1984, I was going to Detroit for Veterans Day
weekend, but right before I went to Detroit, my cousin James, who still
lived in Belzoni, he was a schoolteacher, died. He had been on dialysis
for almost 16 or 17 years. So everybody in Detroit was going to
Mississippi for the funeral, and they were all driving down together. They
liked to drive. Well I decided to go to Mississippi too, and I flew from
Washington National to Jackson, Mississippi. Whatever airline I went on,
Jackson was the third stop, and I paid $548 for a roundtrip ticket from here
to Jackson, which in 1984, I could have gone to California or Europe for
the money I paid to go to Jackson, Mississippi. When I went there,
because I have views about Mississippi, I did not then, nor do I now, want
to be in a car driving on a highway by myself in Mississippi at night
because I don’t trust things down there. So I made sure I got in early in
the day. I rented a car, and I’m driving the hour up to Belzoni, and as I’m
driving, I see a billboard talking about Mississippi State Parks, and I saw
that sign, and I’m like now this is interesting. And then I drive some more
down the road, and then I saw another billboard about Mississippi State
Parks, and I’m like well I’ve never heard of no parks in Mississippi. This
is new. Admittedly I hadn’t been there in ten years. So when I got to
Belzoni, I said to my cousins, I see these billboards on the road about
Mississippi State Parks, but I don’t know anything about a state park. As
my cousin pointed out to me, she said they have always had parks in
Mississippi, but when you were coming, we could not go. So it didn’t get
talked about. That was a revelation to me, really, the idea that there were
parks of Mississippi had never crossed my mind, and in 1984, I was 30
years old.
One of the things my mother and I would do in later years is we
would go to Mississippi ever year and because there was so much of the
state we had not seen; we would go places. So, for instance, one year we
flew to Nashville and rented a car. I read murder mysteries, and one of the
books I read took place in Mississippi with this park ranger who was
assigned to the Natchez Trace Parkway, which I had never heard of
before. So we drove along the parkway in Mississippi, getting off so that
we could go to Tupelo because I wanted to swing by and see Elvis’s
home. We drove past there and saw Elvis’s home, but our ultimate
destination at that point was to go over to Oxford, which is the home of
the University of Mississippi, commonly known as Ole Miss. Well in
1963, I guess it was, that’s when James Meredith was integrating Ole
Miss, and we’re in Detroit looking at that on the TV and everything and
people rioting and all this stuff. I wanted to see what was so special about
Ole Miss that they had to riot to keep someone like me out of Ole Miss.
We went over there and saw the campus. We spent two nights in Oxford,
which is a nice little college town. We ate at a couple of places, cute
places, good food, like you could go here someplace. They had a
bookstore on the square, a pretty good bookstore. I went in there. We
stayed at a hotel for two nights. The young woman behind the desk was a
college student there, but she was from Maryland, from Prince Georges
County, and I was telling her how Mississippi was different from the way
it was when I was a kid. Her response to me what, “It ain’t all that
different.” Which was also true, and I knew as well, but she had been
there that long that she already knew that.
The other thing they had in Oxford is Faulkner is from there. His
home is something Oaks, something with a tree. I think I went over there
and saw Faulkner’s home. So we did that. Another time we went to
Vicksburg and did the battlefield. One time, we’d never been to the
Mississippi gulf coast. This was after Katrina. We went down a few years
later, and we went to Biloxi and Gulfport. I think we stayed in Gulfport.
We were at this fairly large like Courtyard by Marriott. They had in the
lobby, they had a case with artifacts from the hurricane, and then on their
TV, they had a video that you could see hurricane footage. I think the
water had come into the lobby almost to the ceiling, like a foot from the
ceiling. But they had been able to operate. When we were staying at that
hotel, I went out back and got in the hot tub, and as I’m lying there in the
hot tub Jacuzzi thing, I said to myself, if this were 1965, they would kill
me for doing this. And that was probably ten years ago. My mother has
been dead for four years.
We went to restaurants in Gulfport, had good seafood, and all of
that. So we endeavored to see Mississippi that we could not see when I
was growing up. I will always have very fond feelings for Mississippi,
even though it’s a rough place.
The other thing is I’ve been to 44 states and some other places, but
I’ve been to 44 states. Mississippi is the only place where to this day I can
say something about going to Mississippi or having been to Mississippi,
and people will say I’ve never wanted to go there, I’ll never go there.
That is the reaction I get all the time. I said that to someone three weeks
ago, and the lady said she didn’t want to go there. I think people should
go. In fact, I was just up at Harvard for the week, and I was talking to
some friends, and I told one of my friends I’m going to put together a trip,
and people can go to Mississippi and we’ll see a lot of interesting things.
Because there’s a lot that’s different, but there’s a whole lot of stuff that’s
the same, and if you go to the Delta, now you know Mississippi is the
poorest state in the union, you will see things you just don’t know still go
on. People have no idea how it was, how it is. My own son has only been
in Belzoni for three hours, and for three hours, we went to Tennessee one
time at my husband’s, and we drove down for the day. My mother wanted
to go, and she was showing us around. He was maybe 12 or something
like that. Anyway, he doesn’t want to go to Belzoni. Every time I tell him
stuff about it, he says why would you want to go to a place like that. I
would like for him to go. I would like for him and his wife and his
daughter, who is 2 ½, and we’re soon going to have a grandson added to
the mix. I would like for them to go and see things, but my daughter-inlaw
is Jewish, which is white to me, and I told him I don’t trust
Mississippi, so I told him if we went to Mississippi, I didn’t want them in
the car together. She and I could be in the car together, and he and my
mother could have been in the car together. So my son’s response to me,
“And why would I want to go to a place like that.” So anyway. So now
when I’m with him and my little granddaughter, she wants to go on an
airplane, and I tell her she can go on a trip with me and we would go to
Mississippi. I say that to make my son laugh.
MR. WEAVER: You mentioned a time I think it was 1966 or 1967 after your grandfather
died, I believe, that there was a period of time when you stopped going to
Belzoni. Can you talk about that a little bit?
MS. JEFFRIES: I will. Two traumatic things happened when I was a kid. Here’s the first
one. I loved and love I Love Lucy, and I remember the day when I was
about 6 or 7 years old, it’s in the news in the paper that Lucille Ball and
Desi Arnaz are getting a divorce, and I was tremendously shocked by this.
I asked my mother how could it be that they were getting divorced
because they were so happy, and she said things you saw on TV were not
like that. So that was a childhood trauma, the divorce of Lucy and Desi. I
wanted them to get back together until I guess he died first, so that
precluded that.
The other thing is we were going because my mother wanted to go
home and see her father, but also we had the other relatives, Aunt Sadie
Aunt Fredericka and other people down there, and my mother was very
close with Aunt Sadie, and she did a lot for the kids, especially the ones
going to college, sending them clothes, money, helping them with stuff.
And there were kids my age. I had a cousin, Barbara, who – I’m going to
talk about this, but it’s hard. Barbara was three months to the day younger
than I am. She had a sister, Edith, who was born in October of 1955, so
she was almost two years younger than me, and then the next oldest child
was Sadie Ruth, who was two years older than me. I would be playing
with them and doing things with them. So granddaddy died on May 6th,
and we went down. Everybody from Detroit went, and I would point out
my father went, so this was entirely shocking to me because my daddy
always said he wouldn’t be caught in Mississippi flying over in a 707 jet.
So we all went down there. Before we left, my uncles and aunts and
mother, we’re at granddaddy’s house talking about who was going to get
what, and I will say, and this is true, things got kind of heated between
them. The only time in life that I’ve ever seen such. Okay, so then we
leave. We drive back up to Detroit. I have a cousin, Julia, who was ten
years older than me. When I was younger, when she was younger, she
would come to Detroit some in the summertime and take care of me. So
for instance the summer of 1960, we didn’t go to Mississippi because my
mother was having a baby that August, and Julia came up to help with me.
So anyway, on this Sunday night, the phone rang and I was upstairs. I
answered the phone, and it was Julia. The only thing she said to me was,
she said, “Let me speak to Aunt Bettie.” That’s all she said. She wasn’t
like friendly or anything. She just said let me speak to Aunt Bettie. My
mother was down in the kitchen. We had a phone on the wall, so I called
down, and I told my mother to pick up the phone. So I wanted to be nosy,
and I went back to the phone and put my hand over the mouthpiece to
listen to what Julia was saying. She said, she was saying, “and this one is
dead, and that one is dead, and this one.” And my mother was saying,
“Are you sure?” And she was going over it again. What had happened
was my cousin, Tommy Roy, was 18. He had graduated from high school,
and my Uncle Bit, my Aunt’s husband, was in the hospital in Jackson,
University hospital. Uncle Bit had an enlarged heart, and they had had
some of the graduation or a convocation ceremony that Sunday, so then
they drove to Jackson to see Uncle Bit. Coming back from the hospital,
driving back, Tommy was driving, and for whatever reasons, ran into a
Mack truck head on. So there were six people in the car. Aunt Sadie;
Tommy Roy, who is like 18; Clayton Louis, who’s probably around 15 or
16; Sadie Ruth, 14; Barbara, 12, and Edith was 9. So six of them in the
car, and five of them got killed. The only survivor was Sadie, who was
14. She was in a coma for a couple of months. She had a lot of broken
bones. They put pins and rods all in her body. So anyway, we all drove
back to Mississippi. Once again, surprising me, my father went. But in
my mind, I thought that this was a trick to get us back to Mississippi to
talk more about the house and stuff. I told you it their discussions before
we left had been heated, so I thought it was a trick. That would be a cruel
I don’t know the answer to this. We maybe would have still gone
to Mississippi every year to visit Aunt Sadie and everyone, but once that
happened, we didn’t go back.
The part of that is I tell people I say well you know in order for us
to really go anyplace else, because going to Mississippi was our vacation,
in order for us to go anyplace else on vacation, my grandfather had to die.
But the next year, which would be 1967, we went international, and we
went to Montreal because they had Expo ’67, one of the last World’s
Fairs. We went to Montreal. And it’s a critical trip in my life. Sadie Ruth
came up for the summer, and she went with us. In kind of like an Airbnb
thing, we stayed in the home of a French family. People would rent out
rooms. Well Montreal, Quebec, is close to Vermont, so while we were up
there, we drove over into Vermont. My mother would say we went to
Maine too, but if we had gone to Maine, I would remember that, and I just
think she was confused. But anyway, she said we did that, too. We went
to Vermont, and we’re driving around in Vermont, and we’re in some little
small town, and it was blue sky, and they had a little town square with a
duck pond and ducks in the water, and there was a woman by the side of
the road selling roasted corn and a white clapboard church, and I saw that,
and I said at that moment, I said this is very quaint. I said it to myself. I
said “This is very quaint. I’m going to go to college in New England.” So
that was 1967, and I was going into 9th grade. That was very important,
that trip, and that’s exactly what did happen because I never varied from
that in my mind.
We didn’t go back to Mississippi until around 1972 or 1973 –
James got a kidney transplant. This is a lesson I learned about life.
Before we left Mississippi when my granddaddy died, my mother and
Aunt Sadie were talking, and I was standing right next to my mother, and I
was looking at Aunt Sadie. Uncle Bit was in the hospital then with his
enlarged heart. My Aunt Sadie said to my mother while we were standing
there, she said, “I do not think you will see Bit again.” Because she
thought he was going to die. They all thought he was going to die. Well
two weeks later, the person who was dead was Aunt Sadie and the kids.
Uncle Bit died in 1972 or 1973. He lived like another six or seven years
after that. So I tell people, I don’t predict the future. My mother was
living with me, and she had terminal cancer. I still didn’t know who was
going to die first, because I could have gotten hit by a car and died.
But I was standing there when she said that.
To go to a funeral for multiple people you knew and loved is very
hard. I’d say it was an experience. I think at the funeral what I remember
is my Uncle Hugh and Aunt Sarah had twin boys, and they must have
been a year-and-a-half or two. I remember doing the funeral. I won’t say
one of the boys was assigned to me, but I remember I was holding him,
and everybody had a closed casket, except for Edith, and they had said
that she died, and it was a surprise because she didn’t have the visible
injuries the others had, but it turned out she had internal injuries, and
that’s why she died.
I want to say this about Edith. Edith was a very beautiful girl.
Edith was born with a birth defect. Her right arm ended right at the crook
of her elbow, but to her, that was no defect, and she did whatever we did.
And like I said, the last time I saw her was in 1965, which would have
been right before her ninth birthday. She did whatever we did. She could
play baseball and swing the bat. She could put a pen or a pencil in the
crook and write with it, and I think she used her left hand too. She did
whatever we did. I think she said that the state of Mississippi would give
her a prosthetic or something when she was 13, but she told me she did not
want it. She was doing everything the way she wanted to. And I will say
this about Edith. She could hit you with that arm, and it would hurt. So
that is true.
So that’s why we didn’t go back as much. My cousin James, who
died when I was pregnant with Rudy, he was a schoolteacher at the school,
so he taught his brothers and sisters, so he told them they all had to call
him Mr. Gray, so that’s what they called him. I never called him that.
They call him that to this day. We were talking about that earlier in the
summer. He was a science teacher, and then he lost his kidneys, and they
had a dialysis machine at his house. I remember he said back then that the
average life span on dialysis was ten years or something, and he lived
sixteen years. He ended up having two transplants that were rejected.
We went down to Mississippi. It was an experience because I was
in college. Daddy had died. Maybe it was like 1974 or something. We
went to Mississippi because he was going to have a kidney transplant, and
I was home from college, so mama and I flew down. We did not take the
train. I had started flying by then, so she did. We flew down, and while
we were there, we went shopping. We went to some nice ladies’ dress
store. My mother got all these nice outfits and shoes and a purse. It was a
regular store, and the women in there were all white. They took my
mother’s personal check from out of town, and after we got home from
Detroit, the woman wrote my mother a thank you note and told her to
come back. Now that was a different kind of Mississippi experience. We
talked about that. They wouldn’t have taken your check in Detroit if they
didn’t know you, but she took the check. That was nice. She got some
nice stuff.
MR. WEAVER: I know it’s hard to talk about that kind of profound loss, especially when
you experience it at a young age, but I was wondering at the time it seems
like it was very difficult to cope with, and I was wondering if you thought
about at the time when you came back to Detroit, did you think about life
differently? Were you thinking about your role in the world in a way that
you hadn’t before at that point?
MS. JEFFRIES: Not like that, but like I said, the impact of standing there and having
Aunt Sadie say I don’t think you’ll see him again, and then she was the
one who died. That certainly was an impact. Here’s another thing. It did
impact me. The following summer, Sadie Ruth came up for the summer,
and she was with us, and she and I talked, and I asked her about it. She
said she didn’t remember. Well, people with head injury often don’t
remember. People with trauma may not remember. But what she said is
she was asleep in the car when it happened. To this day, for me to just to
close my eyes and be in a car with you driving, I have to feel very
comfortable with you. So when I was going out with my husband, before
we got married, I said to him one day that I could tell that I felt
comfortable with him because we were driving somewhere and I took a
little nap or closed my eyes or something. So even now, I’m probably a
little more relaxed about that, but I still feel that way. She said she didn’t
know what happened. I want to stay awake. I don’t know that I want to
see it coming, though.
The other part in terms of seeing my world differently was like I
said, it allowed us to go someplace else. Probably in my mind, like I
always felt I was going to college, probably in my mind, I felt I would just
be going to the University of Michigan or Michigan State. I also thought
that I saw myself living in Detroit. I was always going to be a lawyer. I
saw myself living in Detroit, maybe being married to a doctor, being like
my friends’ families living out in Palmer Woods or someplace and just
living a nice life. The idea of not living in Detroit or like I said, going to
school in New England, I never considered that. Now some people went
to school down South when we were in high school. Some of my friends,
for instance, went to Spellman and elsewhere. Based upon my experience
going to Mississippi, I had no interest whatsoever in going to school down
South. And all the civil rights stuff that happened, that was not an interest
to me. Another thing that happened was when I was a kid, a lot of kids in
the summertime would maybe go back down South and be with their
grandparents or aunts and uncles and work on the family farm or
something, that never happened in my house. It certainly was never
discussed that I heard of, and I never asked to go. But I think it’s very
clear to me that my father would not have allowed that, number one. And
I really don’t think my mother wanted me there without her, because, like
I said, she kept a rein on what I could do. I was with my cousins at a gas
station, and I drank out of a white water fountain, and they were trying to
get me not to do it, but I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I
wasn’t paying attention. I’m sure Malcolm Jeffries would have shot that
My mother said that when she left Mississippi going to Detroit on
that trip, she took the bus, but with the way the segregation was, she said
she had to stand up from Belzoni to Memphis for the duration, which is a
three-hour drive, but it would be longer on the bus. She said from that
experience, she got flat feet. She didn’t like it. But she said when she
hooked up with my father, he had her take the train down South instead of
the bus because you didn’t have to do that. So that’s how she came to take
the train. I will say Belzoni is my part of my worldview.
MR. WEAVER: I was going to ask a couple of follow-up questions on that because it was
such a time of profound change, both when your mom left Mississippi to
go to Detroit, kind of at the end of the Great Migration, and that
experience of growing up in this kind of center of culture, the center of a
lot of stuff, people moving to Detroit, it was a really important city at the
time, and you kind of grow up in that world, but you also go back and
experience what things are like in a place that was obviously much
different and not as hospitable, especially for you and your family, at the
time. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about of how you
experienced that difference as a child, what the differences between
Detroit and Mississippi just culturally, and how you thought about that
growing up.
MS. JEFFRIES: That’s a good question. For me as a child, the two places I could only
imagine people living were Detroit and Belzoni, and they were worlds
apart and different. I had been to some other places. I had been to
West Virginia, where daddy was from. I had relatives in Chicago. I had
been to Cleveland. But we went to Mississippi. I knew it the most. I tell
you where I did not want to live. I did not want to live in New York City
because I saw Ralph Kramden and Alice and they were living in that tworoom
apartment with the kitchen sink in the living area and everything.
We all had houses, single-family houses, and we had cars. When I was a
kid, we had one car, but as I got older, we had two cars. That was a
biggie. I had my own room and everything. When we would go to
Mississippi where you had to share space, beds, rooms, whatever. When
granddaddy died, or Aunt Sadie and them died and everyone came down,
couldn’t stay at hotels or anything, we’re all double and triple in beds,
people sleeping on the floor one bathroom, this whole thing. But at home,
I didn’t have to do that. We did things more. I always thought it was
interesting, my cousins in Belzoni, they always took school pictures, and
every year they’d have school pictures, and it would have the year on it.
They never did that in Detroit, and I thought that was interesting. Or their
high school, they went to an all-Black school, McNair High School, they
had a marching band and uniforms. I don’t think our high schools had
that, so I thought that was interesting. But we had things they didn’t have.
It was like I had a more, I will certainly call it, a more free world in
Detroit, but you know there are limits to that too because they had de jure
discrimination. There were places in Michigan you shouldn’t be. We
could certainly go down to Hudson’s and try on clothes. Even here when I
came here for law school at this place, one year I took a class, and I read a
book called Simple Justice by a man named Richard Kluger. It’s about the
five cases, Brown and the other cases that came on the school
desegregation. When you read that and they talk about the D.C. case and
about D.C. at the time, you couldn’t eat at the lunch counters at People’s
Drugs or try on clothes at Garfinkel’s or Hecht’s or different things.
White people here of a certain age are always talking about Glen Echo and
going out to Glen Echo. You don’t hear any Black people talking about
that because it was segregated and they couldn’t go.
MR. WEAVER: What was Glen Echo?
MS. JEFFRIES: Glen Echo out MacArthur Boulevard, it’s an amusement park now. You
can go out there now, I think they have a Spanish ballroom, people do
contra dancing and stuff and they’ll have activities and stuff. People of a
certain age, they all went to Glen Echo. Well my people who were here
So it was different in the opportunities and things that we had. It
was a contrast between the two, but I could see people living in Belzoni
because I knew people who lived there. It wasn’t my plan to live there,
but those were the two places I knew people living in.
MR. WEAVER: For those years that you didn’t go
MS. JEFFRIES: I was supposed to say something. You asked about food. Down there in
the Delta, for whatever reason, the Black people make and sell hot
tamales. That’s a big thing down there, and I can remember being a kid in
Detroit over on the east side on Oakland Avenue, people on the street were
selling hot tamales. So a few years ago, I was in Clarksville, and there’s a
place that’s supposed to have good hot tamales. I went by but it was like
11:30 in the morning, and they wouldn’t have them until 3:00 in the
afternoon. So another year I went to somebody’s tamales in Greenwood,
and I got a pan of tamales and took them up to Tennessee with me. But I
MR. WEAVER: This conversation is making me hungry. I was wondering during those
years, you mentioned in 1967 you went to Montreal, and that was your
first international travel experience. Is that right?
MS. JEFFRIES: International vacation. I grew up in Detroit, and you go to Canada all the
MR. WEAVER: Where all did you go, during those years when you didn’t go back to
Belzoni, did you do any other travel that had an impact on you?
MS. JEFFRIES: We came here the summer of 1970.
MR. WEAVER: To Washington, D.C.?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. We came here, and I didn’t know I would end up here. We went to
Chicago. I was in the Girl Scouts in high school, and we went to Mexico
City. Those were I guess the places I went growing up.
MR. WEAVER: What role did religion play in your family’s life growing up?
MS. JEFFRIES: My mother grew up Baptist, but when I came along, we went to this
church called Unity, which is out of Lee Summit, Missouri. We would go
there, my mother and I. My father never went to church. I guess he
believed in God, I don’t know. I never asked. But anyway, my mother
and I would go there on Sundays. We had a good routine, because it was
right across the street from Palmer Park in Detroit, which is between Sixand
Seven-Mile Road on the west side. So we’d go to church, and it was
just an hour, which is good. An hour was good. And then our routine was
to go across the street to Palmer Park. They had a pond there, which in the
wintertime would freeze over and you could ice skate. They rented ice
skates. They had tennis courts, and they had a golf course and stuff.
We’d go over there, and there were ducks in the pond. They had a snack
bar, and at the snack bar, they sold in a box of cheese tidbits, which is like
cheese crackers, oblong-shaped, and you could feed those to the ducks.
They had a payphone there, and after church, we would go over there, and
my mother would have change, and we would call my grandfather. We
could call him from the home phone too, but as I tell my son, longdistance
calls, that was a big deal when I was a kid. So we’d call him on
Sundays, and then feed the ducks. Or in the wintertime, I would go ice
skating at Palmer Park. I had an accident on my bike when I was eight,
and I was in the hospital for five days. I now know I could have died, but
I didn’t. I had a concussion and knocked my two front teeth out, that they
had to put back in. I was in and out of consciousness for 24 hours with a
tremendous headache that just thinking about makes my head spin now. I
will say that Palmer Park had hot dogs and hamburgers. I had had a
hamburger, and they had relish that always fascinated me because it was
emerald green. When I was in the emergency room, I saw that relish
there, and I was sick with my head swimming. But going to Palmer Park,
that was going to church, and church was important to my mother, like
you had to go every Sunday, sick or not. Okay, let’s not be that rigid.
After I married and moved out here, she returned to the Baptist
church, and then when I finished law school – a lot of my friends went to
Plymouth Congregation United Church of Christ. I need to talk about the
parents of people that I grew up with, and I said our parents had similar
ideas, and what happened after elementary school.
MR. WEAVER: You mentioned that you had gone to Theodore Roosevelt Elementary
School in Detroit. You talked a little bit about your parents and your kind
of social group there, and I was wondering if you would say a little bit
more about that. What were your friends like? What were you like?
What was that experience in elementary school like?
MS. JEFFRIES: Like I said, we would have a lot of kid whose parents were doctors or
teachers or whatever, and I certainly have friends who fall into that
category. What I want to be clear about is when I said Detroit was a great
place to grow up, it was great in many regards. Because, for instance,
when my parents bought their house, even though I don’t remember it and
I wasn’t participating, they used a Black lawyer to do this. When I was
growing up, I went to a Black doctor. I went to Black dentists. When I
was at the elementary school, we got a principal. My first principal was
white, but then we got a Black woman as our principal, and we had my
teachers. I talked about Ms. McFadden and Ms. McCrary. They always
looked very professional and looked very nice. Even the teacher I don’t
like, she always looked professional. Anyway, so my friends’ parents
were similarly these kinds of people, and so I saw how they carried
themselves. I saw them doing leadership things. I went to their houses,
and I saw how they lived. I knew the kinds of vacations they took. I
knew where they’d gone to college and their sororities or fraternities. I’m
seeing these things. And then I would do things with my friends. I’m
very close with my friend Denise. We met when we were ten at
Roosevelt, and we both were playing the violin. She and my cousin
Barbara who died were born on the same day, so Denise is three months to
the day younger than I am. Her father was a school administrator, and her
mother was a school librarian. Her mother was from Canada. Well
growing up in Detroit, a lot of people had cottages in Canada when I was
growing up, although they changed the rules, and foreign people can’t
own property now, but if you had it, you could keep it. So a lot of people
had cottages, and you’d go to Canada. So, for instance, Denise’s family,
they got a cottage, and she was an only child too, so some weekends when
they would go away for the weekend to the cottage, I would go with
Denise and her parents to the cottage, and we’d be up there. It was on the
Ruscum River and Bell River, maybe an hour outside of Detroit. We’d
drive, and we’d go through the tunnel, and I liked going through the tunnel
because when you get to the middle, you have the American flag and the
Canadian flag. Sometimes there’d be a lot of traffic and it’d be slow. But
we’d go to Canada. And then Denise and I could go out at night. We’d
walk around in the area, or we’d go out in the daytime and go follow the
river some. Her father had a boat. The Ruscum River ran into Lake
St. Clair, which bounded Michigan, so if you’re leaving Detroit on the east
side going to Jefferson, when you get to Grosse Point there is Lake
St. Clair. So anyway, he had a boat, and we’d go out in the boat. Denise
had a little boat thing called a yak. She and I would go out together, or off
the little pier, we’d be jumping in the water and doing our version of
swimming and playing. And then some other friends we went to school
with, the Millers, they had three daughters, Michelle, Charlotte, and I
forget the other daughter’s name. Anyway, Mrs. Miller was our Girl
Scout leader, which is how I really started going to Canada, so they had a
cottage a couple doors down. We’d go over there and be with them. The
Millers lived on the back side of Roosevelt on LaSalle, and what
everybody knew about them was they had a playhouse in their back yard,
so everybody knew the house with the playhouse. So we’d be up there
with them. So I saw all of that.
I have a friend, Jennifer, who she and I went to school from
kindergarten through 12th grade, except for 7th grade. Jennifer’s father was
a surgeon, and when we were in junior high school, he went up to the
Mayo Clinic for a couple of years, I guess, and did a residency in heart
surgery. When he came back, he was a heart surgeon. So all of these
people. But even for my friends’ parents, who weren’t professional like
that, they all had the same goal, what they wanted us to do and be, and
they’re trying to put you in things.
So when it came time to graduate from elementary school, in my
circle of friends, we always knew we weren’t going to the neighborhood
junior high, which was Durfee, right next to there. So we transferred out.
In the city of Detroit at that time, they had what they called open schools,
so if a school was underpopulated, they published a list. The list came out
in the spring, and you could transfer into a school. And, of course, there
were some schools that were more popular than others, and people would
try to get into. So when we’re finishing elementary school, Jennifer,
Denise, and I all applied to Chrysler, which was a small elementary school
downtown in Lafayette Park, that was really popular. We applied to that
school. Well, for some reason, only Denise got in. Now could it be
because her father was a deputy superintendent? I don’t know. But
Jennifer and I didn’t. So then we had to find other schools. Anyway, I
ended up going to a school way out west right near Rouge Park, Dixon,
which was an elementary school that went to 7th grade. And Jennifer
ended up going to the school Mettetal off of Seven Mile up near Henry
Ford High School. Anyway, the point is a lot of people in our circle
transferred out to these schools, not because our parents or we were trying
to integrate schools. That had nothing to do with it. But they wanted
good schools, and you follow the money, which the white people had the
money in their neighborhoods. We went to these schools. Now, of
course, I told you my daddy was driving me to school, but that meant my
friends their parents couldn’t drive them, they’re taking the city buses.
Okay, that’s what we did and how we all came to go to these schools. But
I had friends in my school years who, like I said, Denise’s father was an
assistant deputy superintendent but became a junior high school principal
first. I had people who were social workers, or we had friends by the time
I went to Mettetal, Anita and Debbie. Their mother, Geraldine Bledsoe
Ford, was a judge. One of the first, if not the first, Black woman judge on
the Detroit Recorder’s Court. Nicki Hood and Emery Hood, their father,
Reverend Hood, was minister of Plymouth Congregational, but he got on
the City Council. A guy, Horace Sheffield, his father, Horace
Sheffield, Sr., was a biggie with the UAW. We had all these examples of
people doing things. I always knew that Black people could and did do
these things because that’s what I was living and seeing.
I will say this now while I’m thinking about it. I said I had 5th
grade typing with Mrs. McFadden and Mrs. McCrary. Ultimately after I
finished law school, I got a job working with Mrs. McFadden’s son at a
small law firm, and Mrs. McFadden died maybe about ten years ago. I
was in contact with her until then. Mrs. McCrary is still alive. She’s
around 95. I call her Aunt Thelma. Her husband died a couple years ago,
so she moved from downtown Detroit out to Bloomfield Hills to be near a
daughter, and so she and I talk. We send each other cards. When I go
home, Denise and I go see her. We might take her out to lunch, and when
I was home most recently, we took her out to lunch. I arranged for a lot of
other Roosevelt People to go too, and it was a surprise for her. She
thought it was just me and Denise, but there were thirteen of us that had
lunch with her. But here’s the deal. The letter that I received from
Steve Pollak about doing this was something my mother would have
appreciated and enjoyed, but my mother is not alive. So I made a copy
and I sent it to Mrs. McCrary, and I said “Well, you know, mom’s not here
so you will appreciate this”. So she sent me a very nice congratulations
card last week, and it’s on my coffee table.
MR. WEAVER: What was her impact when you were a student? How did that relationship
begin? It’s amazing that you’ve kept in touch with her after all these
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m looking at these women, and like I said, when I was in school, the
teachers, the men wore suits and ties. The women teachers, they wore
dresses or they wore suits, or Mrs. McCrary and them, they wore dresses
with matching jackets, and they’re looking very professional. And they
had expectations for us, and so you see them and I at least wanted to be
like people I saw. You hear about athletes and entertainers and people like
that, or maybe you’re reading Ebony and they have a nice house. Okay, I
want to have a nice house, but I wasn’t using them personally as role
models. My role models were my parents, neighbors, my friends’ parents,
my teachers. These people and what they were doing, and they were all
encouraging and positive. I’m going to talk about this too at some point
because I went to the Detroit public schools, as I said, and I had excellent
teachers in the Detroit public schools. I had excellent teachers, both white
and Black teachers, who were extremely encouraging and just important in
my growth and development, and I appreciate them and the experiences I
had with them.
MR. WEAVER: What was your favorite subject in elementary school?
MS. JEFFRIES: I guess I’m going to say Reading, only because I was reading all the time,
and my mother says I learned to read because back then, they used to have
What’s My Line on TV, and the people would come on and they’d put on
the screen what their occupation was, and the panelists would have to
guess. Well if you couldn’t read, I didn’t know what they did, and
sometimes when they were guessing, in the enthusiasm, I might miss what
it said. I could be there watching it and call my mother to come in and tell
me, but she might get in there too late, and then I didn’t know. She said
that really got me to read, and she wanted me to read. So I was always
reading, and being an only child, I read a lot because I was by myself a lot.
I had to entertain myself a lot. I looked at TV a lot too, which some
people don’t like TV. I learned a lot from TV. I could be a student and
look at TV. That’s not an issue for me. And plus, being in Detroit, we
also had the Canadian Broadcasting Company, so I looked at the CBC a
lot. I particularly liked curling, the sport of curling. I used to watch that.
I used to watch hockey night in Canada when I was a kid by myself. I’m
not really a sports person, but I would watch, and now my son plays
hockey. And wrestling, and they also had local shows. They had a dance
show, kind of like American Bandstand, Swinging Time with Robin
Seymour, and all the Motown people would be on. Yeah, I used to watch
a lot of TV. Captain Jolly, Poop Deck Paul. I used to want to go on
Milky’s Party Time. Milky was a clown, Milky the Clown, and he had a
show. He’d do magic tricks, and then he’d have kids come on, and if you
won a little competition, he had a big jar, like a bowl, with pennies in it,
and you could put your hand in and get a handful of pennies, which I was
convinced that if my hand went in, I’d be getting a million dollars. It has
occurred to me in adulthood, I never did see any little Black kids on
Milky’s Party Time. But the magic words, as anybody knows, Twin
Pines. Say that to somebody my age in Detroit. They know Twin Pines,
Milky the Clown. So anyway, reading, I liked reading.
I have to talk about one of my all-time favorite teachers in life,
Thomas Mason, who later became Dr. Mason. I had him in 3rd grade. So
I told you I had the bicycle accident. In the Detroit schools, your first
semester of the year was the B, and the second semester was A. So in the
3rd grade, you’d be in 3B and then in 3A. So for 3B, I had Mrs. Mitchell
for homeroom, and her room was directly across the hall from Mr. Mason,
and the doors have windows in them so you can see in. Mr. Mason would
have all this math on the Blackboard, all this math. So the entire 3B, I’m
sitting there hoping and praying to God that I would not go to
Mr. Mason’s class because I’m just looking at this every day, and he has
all this math. Whose class do I go to? I go to Mr. Mason’s class, and I
love Mr. Mason to this day, but he died in 2005. He was fabulous. He did
stuff with us. He later tutored me in math. He’d come to the house and
tutor me. He was engaged around then to his wife Doris. They
subsequently got married and had a couple of kids. I’m still in touch with
Doris. Tom died in 2005. He was just the greatest person and such a big
influence. And plus reading. He made us in his class, we had to
memorize the poem Invictus. You may not know this, but back then,
people had to know this. “Out of the night that covers me Black as a pit
from pole to pole I thank whatever Gods may be for my incomparable
soul.” And then it ends something like, “I’m the master of my fate, I’m
the captain of my soul.” Something like that. Anyway, I had to learn that
with him, and spelling. We had to do a lot of spelling stuff. I won the
school spelling bee when I was in 6th grade, and I went to the next level
spelling bee. I still have my ink pen from the Detroit News and my
dictionary I won with my name engraved. I have that.
So those people were very impactful, and the way they carried
themselves. Like I said, that was very meaningful and impactful. So now,
like I said, for junior high, 7th grade, I went to Dixon. I’m going to talk
about Dixon. Dixon is out there by Rouge Park. It’s like an all-white
neighborhood. When I’m at Dixon, I was one of five Black students in the
school, and I was the only one in my class. A lot of kids were Polish, their
parents were, and they worked in the factories. Whatever they did, they
worked in factories. And they were Polish like they had their Polish
costumes and they would do Polish dancing, and that was a big thing, and
then they’re eating the Polish food and all of that.
So this is Dixon, and I’m out there with them. Well, like I said,
I’ve always been smart, so I’m out there with them, they weren’t
necessarily so. Our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Johnson, liked geography,
and she taught that, and she traveled around the world. So we’re there in
school doing the geography, and she would ask questions, as teachers do,
and I, as students would do, would raise my hand. She would say to me,
“Put your hand down,” number one. She would say to them, “She,”
talking about me, “is not any smarter than you are. She just reads the
book.” Well yes it was true I read the book, but I also was smarter than
they were. So then we’re doing that with them. They weren’t the
friendliest people. Nobody was malicious. Nobody certainly didn’t do
anything physical, they weren’t malicious, but they weren’t into me, and I
was smarter than they were. So, for instance, in school you take some
standardized tests, so let’s say we took the California test or the Indiana
Achievement Test, and the results come in. Well teachers pick kids to do
things for them, little tasks. The test results came in, and she had me file
the test results. Now, I filed the test results, so I know what they got, and I
know what I got, and I was way ahead of them. But she had me file the
test results. I didn’t need the test results to tell me that, but I saw the test
results. So then in the Detroit Public Schools – I liked this – back then in
your gym classes, you did a lot of folk dancing, so we’d do square
dancing, we did Polish polkas. I liked that. I liked square dancing. Now
if somebody would do it with me, I would. And I would dance the polka
now, but my husband doesn’t. Mexican hat dance. We were doing
dances. Our gym teacher was a Black woman. Well here’s how they
handled dancing back then. It’s time to dance and you need a partner, so
the boys had to pick a partner. At Dixon Elementary School in my 7th
grade class, I was the second least popular dance partner for the boys,
which would make you wonder who was the first least popular. What
made her least popular, and me second? And here’s what would happen.
When they’re out picking their partners, when pickings started getting
slim and they thought they were going to be stuck with her, her name was
Linda, they’d make a beeline for me because they really didn’t want
Linda, but they could tolerate me. Here’s the deal. Linda had had a bout
with polio, and she walked, but she walked with a slight limp. She was
mentally slow. I think she’d been held back a year, so she was older, and
she was bigger than almost everybody, and she had a mole with a hair
growing out of it. So rather than dance with Linda, they wanted to dance
with me. And that was our gym class.
What else did they do? Oh, so I was friends with this one girl, and
we traded Christmas presents, which I still have the present she gave me.
She gave me a hairbrush set, a brush and a comb, and I have the brush. I
used it today. She had an older sister and her mother. Her father was in
Herman Keefer Hospital, which was a huge hospital near me in Detroit,
which was the tuberculosis hospital. This is mid-1960’s, so tuberculosis
wasn’t as big as it used to be, but her father was in there because I believe
he had tuberculosis of the spine, and her mother worked at a diner, which
evidently didn’t pay all that well. They literally lived in a shack way out
there by Rouge Park. So her mother’s aunt died. The aunt lived in
Pontiac, not far from Detroit, and left them a house. They were going to
move to Pontiac, and I invited her home to spend the night with us, and
her mother let her come, and she rode home with me and my daddy. That
girl must have called her mother five times that night to say how nice my
house was, how we had carpeting on the floor, we had a fruit bowl on the
dining room table. I don’t know what she thought. She lived in a shack,
not me, but she was calling her mother all the time. I still have that brush.
That’s what I did at Dixon.
So Dixon ended in 7th grade, and I had to go to another school, so
then I got to Mettetal. Now, when I got to Mettetal, that very first day, for
whatever reason when we got out there, and it was far away too, we got
there a little late, and when I got up to my classroom that morning, maybe
I’m like five or ten minutes late, and they had started. When I walked in
that room, there were other Black kids in the room. I don’t know, you
could say there were five, six, seven in the room, including some people I
already knew, and when I walked in the room that day, Patricia Ice was in
the class. She said to me when I walked in the door, “Hi June.” You
don’t know what a world of difference going to Mettetal was for me as
opposed to being out there at Dixon. Out there at Dixon. So then at
Mettetal there was like a busload and a half of us, thirty-nine of us. So
that was a good number. We had fun. Now once again, because the
Jewish people had moved, they were now around Seven Mile Road, so this
was Jewish, a lot of Jewish people up there, so they actually, a lot of kids,
would be out for the Jewish holidays, but this is where I got introduced to
bagels because they’d be having fundraisers and we’d have bagel sales.
So I eat bagels now because of them out there at Mettetal. And that was
good. Seventh and eighth grade. I have a teacher from there, Mr. Jones,
he’s still alive. I hear from him sometimes. I had a Christmas card from
him, and somebody on Facebook, we were talking about the teachers. Oh,
because there’s a Mettetal group on Facebook, so we’ve been talking
periodically. I’m still in touch with him. And then after I returned to
Detroit from law school, one of the teachers at Mettetal, a Black woman,
Mrs. Whittington, she had become a lawyer, so I would see her and run
into her doing my lawyer things when I was in Detroit. So I had good
teachers out there.
Now through the magic of Facebook and the Mettetal junior high
school group, I have reestablished contact with my Mettetal locker mate,
Pat Labella, and I hadn’t seen her since I left Mettetal. She’s retired and
living in some outpost in Mexico so we’re talking on Facebook all the
time, and she’s called me a couple of times through Facebook. You can
make phone calls through Facebook and don’t have to pay, so she has
called me from Mexico a couple of times. We talk about a lot of the
political and legal stuff that’s going on and other things.
The summer of 1971 I was in New York City for the summer, right
after I graduated high school, and Jim Morrison of the Doors died. Oh my
God. Pat Labella loved herself some Jim Morrison and the Doors. I was
in Manhattan and the Bronx. I thought “Oh my God, I should find this
woman. She’s in deep mourning.”
MR. WEAVER: What were your kind of big cultural influences? If it wasn’t the Doors,
what were you listening to? Who were your celebrity idols? Who were
you a fan of?
MS. JEFFRIES: Number one – and Detroit is a big musical town. It has been, and even
now, but Detroit was always a big musical town. So, of course, I said the
heyday of Motown, so you figure the Supremes’ “Baby Love” or
something, that’s around 1964, the Temptations, “My Girl,” 1964. I was
ten years old, so all that Motown stuff was going on, and you’re hearing
about it, or they were on TV with Robin Seymour Swinging Time. They
would do the Motor Town reviews at the Fox Theatre. My parents didn’t
let me go to that. You had that going on. Aretha came out with
“Respect.” I was 14 in 1968. That was big. And it was beautiful. It was
big, and it was wonderful. Our neighbors across the street, directly in
front of us, the Shepards, they had six kids, three boys, three girls, all of
them older than me except the baby girl was a year younger than me.
Well, their son Vander one year married this woman Sharan, and Sharan
was Smokey Robinson’s niece. So when I was 14, Sharan was having her
first baby, and they had a baby shower for her at the home of Paul
Williams, who was one of the Temptations, and I loved them, so I went
with the Shepards to Sharan’s baby shower. Paul wasn’t there, but they
had the gold records in front of the fireplace, and they had one of those
life-sized photo cutouts of him. I still have the pictures of them now. I
posed in front of that. Paul committed suicide later on. That’s sad. Diana
Ross went to my high school. When I went to Cass Tech, and I took
French from Madame Kron, she had taught Diana Ross, and she had
Diana’s graduation picture that she carried around in her wallet then. My
drama teacher in high school, Mr. Bovenshin, he lived in a four-family flat
or the like owned by David Ruffin. I thought that was exciting. So you
had that going on, but then like I said even though I told you I’m not a
sports person, I was looking at hockey, I was looking at curling, I’m going
to Canada, I considered them to be my Canadian brothers and sisters. I’m
extremely bothered now that you have to have a passport to go to Canada.
It bothers me when somebody here talks badly about Trudeau in Canada,
I’m very upset about that. I love my Canadian brothers and sisters.
I liked movies. This is good. Sidney Poitier was on a roll in 1967-
1968, he did To Sir with Love, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s
Coming to Dinner. In the Heat of the Night, of course, takes place in
Mississippi, and he’s taking the train down there, and he leaves on the
train. He’s in Mississippi dealing with those people. My mother and I
went to see In the Heat of the Night when it came out. There’s a scene in
In the Heat of the Night that I will say I enjoy this scene, and with DVRs
and stuff now you can repeat it. I will look at it three or four times
because it’s a very meaningful scene in the context of America and what
life was like then and can still be. Trying to solve this murder, he and
Carrol O’Connor, who’s the sheriff in this town, go see the rich white
man, Mr. Endicott, who’s in his greenhouse with the orchids, and Sidney
Poitier is talking to him about the orchids and stuff and then they get
around to asking pertinent questions. He asked a question that
Mr. Endicott thinks is impertinent, and Endicott slaps Sidney Poitier who
slapped him right back and probably slapped him harder. Now the butler
is watching that, and he cringes, the sheriff is like ‘oh my,’ and Endicott
says to the sheriff, “Did you see that? What are you going to do about it?”
And the sheriff, Carrol O’Connor says he saw it and he didn’t know what
he was going to do about it. Oh, for a Black man down there to slap a
white guy like that, that’s a huge thing. That could have gotten you killed.
It didn’t get Sidney killed in the movie, but people got killed for stuff like
that. So to see somebody fight back that’s a very pivotal moment. And
then, of course, I like when the movie ends, when he’s on the train, and
they pan the scene and you see the people working the cotton fields.
Because when I was going down there, people worked the fields, and they
put on all these clothes because it’s all hot and everything. This is a
problem I have in life. My girlfriend says I’m in denial, and I told her I
don’t think I’m in denial, I think they are confused. But here’s the
problem I have that is never going to be resolved. My cousins would have
to pick cotton, so the Summer of 1965, my last summer there, Sadie Ruth
was two years older than me, could not hang out with Barbara and Edith
and me because she had to go work the fields. She was thirteen, and she
had to go work the fields. Then Barbara and Edith get killed. I have
posed the question to my friend Loreen, who I said her parents owned the
store and the shoe shop, I posed the question to her, whether Barbara and
Edith would have had to work the fields when they got older. To which
she says there’s no question in her mind they would have had to go. And I
told her I don’t think that’s right, and she says why not. I said I don’t feel
they would have had to do it. She said well maybe not Edith, but she said
they would have found something for Edith to do. I said even with her
half an arm, and she said yes, most definitely. She told me if you don’t
believe me, ask one of their sisters. So I asked Julia or Nancy, one of their
older sisters, if they thought Barbara and Edith would have had to work
the fields. Their response is the same thing, “yes.” But I think they’re all
confused, and I don’t believe them. And I’ll never know because they
didn’t live. But I don’t think my cousins would have had to do that. But
they seem to think I’m confused or in denial.
MR. WEAVER: You talked a little bit about how Girl Scouts was one of the things that
took you up to Canada frequently. When did you get involved in Girl
Scouts, and what other extracurricular activities were you doing in
elementary and middle school and then on into high school?
MS. JEFFRIES: In elementary school, I was in Girl Scouts, and at one point, my mother
was a leader or a co-leader. I think I was kind of jealous when she showed
attention to other people. Anyway, Mrs. Miller was our troop leader for a
long time. She had Charlotte, Michelle, and another daughter who’s name
I can’t remember. They had the cottage down the way from Denise’s
family. Out from Detroit, out from Windsor, there’s a place called Jack
Minor’s Bird Sanctuary, and we went up there on field trips. So Jack
Minor, these birds come through and they band them or whatever they do,
and you can go up there and see all these birds. When I was a kid, the
movie, The Birds, came out in 1964. I never saw it as a kid, but I saw
those ads on TV, and they scared me. The school kids were running from
the birds. And now I’ve seen it a lot as an adult. I don’t really trust birds
in large numbers, but I have been back to Jack Minor’s because I like
going up there. We all liked going to Jack Minor’s. That’s one of my
earliest things, going to Canada. So I would go to Canada.
In high school we did yearly trips to a theatre in Canada. So I did
Girl Scouts, I started piano with our neighbor across the street when I was
five. When I was eight, my parents bought me a Wurlitzer upright, which
is in my living room now. I played piano, and in elementary school, I also
started violin. I gave my violin away three years ago to a program that
gives instruments to kids who can’t afford them. In 7th grade you take
Home Economics, which I think they should bring back. We had sewing,
and I made a jumper, a very simple Simplicity V-neck jumper. Then I got
into sewing, and my parents bought me – which was in the top-of-the-line
Singer, a Golden Deluxe Touch and Sew sewing machine. For years on
Saturdays I would go downtown Detroit to the Singer Sewing Machine
shop because they had sewing lessons, and I took sewing lessons from
Mrs. Beasley. I entered sewing contests. I won record players and stuff. I
sew extremely well. My high school was a city-wide high school with
5,000 students. We had 26 curriculums of which 25 were college prep,
but one of the curriculums was called Clothing and Textiles. I took
pattern drafting and tailoring. I made wool coats, wool suits. When my
ex-husband – he was my boyfriend then – graduated from Yale, I made
him a suit the week after I graduated college because we were going to a
wedding. I sew very well. So I did that through high school. My mother
let me do a lot of things. I told you she took me ice skating. I would go
horseback riding. She’d take me to Canada to go horseback riding, and I
had a mishap on a horse, and I guess we kind of stopped going. But I’m
surprised because my son said to me recently that he had talked to my
mother one time and she said something to him that she didn’t take
children horseback riding because what had happened with me. I didn’t
get hurt, though, so it’s okay. She wanted me to be exposed to things. So
some of my friends were in a club called Jack and Jill, and for instance,
one of the girls I went to school with, both her mother and father were
doctors, and her mother was a pediatrician, but her specialty was
teenagers. She said that was called ephibi-pediatrics, and her mother was
a real achiever and stuff and skied and did things, so one time they had a
ski trip and I went with them skiing up north, and then I joined the ski club
in high school. I went skiing with them, but I fell and hurt my knee, so
then I didn’t that anymore. I went away the summer of 1970. I went away
to Olivette College. They had some summer program for high school
students. It’s in Michigan, and I was studying some kind of political
science stuff. I will say since the age of five, I always knew I was going
to be a lawyer because my mother’s favorite TV show was Perry Mason.
So I was always going to be a lawyer. But then in high school, I also
wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to do both. My mother thought I needed
to take Latin because doctors needed to know Latin, but I didn’t do that.
I know there were some other things. Denise, whose father was a
superintendent, they built a new junior high school in Detroit in 1967 or
so, and he was the principal. Johnson was President, and they had this
money out there, so they had a summer enrichment program. We went a
couple of years. Mr. Billups would take me, Denise, and Jennifer with
him, and they had all kinds of stuff. We had violins. Denise and I played
violin; Jennifer played cello. We had photography, we had art with
Mrs. Stevens, we did a lot of things. Here’s something. They had a trip
one time to a youth hostel up in Michigan to Blue Lake, so I went on the
trip. Denise and them didn’t go. Denise and her parents were in the
Bahamas, and Jennifer didn’t go. I went for the weekend. We were all
Black kids at the youth hostel on Blue Lake. That Saturday morning, I
was at the dock with the older woman, she was white, the caretaker, and
she and I were in the canoe, and were going to canoe on the lake. The
man who lived on the property next door, he comes running over there.
To this day, the single most irate person I’ve ever encountered, he comes
running over there talking about the niggers, niggers, niggers. The niggers
this, the niggers that. He and his wife lived in Pontiac, and every weekend
they came to Blue Lake to get away from the niggers, and the niggers,
niggers, niggers, because we kids were there. He’s going to burn the place
down because of the niggers. He’s up there to get away from the niggers.
From us. And she and I are in the canoe. Well, I think the thing that
really got his ire was his wife was sunbathing topless, and some of the
boys had rowed by and seen her precious body. So he’s all in a tizzy.
He’s going to burn the place down, and she and I are in the canoe. Now
she didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t say anything to him. And I guess
he finished and walked away. She and I went canoeing. We never
mentioned it. We just canoed on the lake. But that is the most irate
person I’ve ever encountered because he said he was up there to get away
from the niggers, and the niggers this, that, and the other. But that was a
fun thing. So what else did I do?
MR. WEAVER: A quick question about that. Was it rare for you to experience or hear that
kind of explicit racism in Detroit and in Michigan or anywhere?
MS. JEFFRIES: I certainly had never encountered anyone like that. I hadn’t encountered it
personally in Mississippi because my mother didn’t allow me to be in any
kind of situation where anything could have happened because she didn’t
think I would act in a way that might please people. When I was at Dixon
– growing up, for me, immigration, you were still getting people coming
from Europe after the war, and Eastern Europeans in Detroit, and then we
started getting Arab people coming over, people from the Middle East.
But that’s what immigration was, and when I was a kid, CARE, the
organization that’s sending CARE packages for people in Czechoslovakia,
so that’s what you’re seeing. At Dixon, in 7th grade, one of my classmates
was William Hoffman, and he was from Germany and had moved to
Detroit, and he spoke with a German accent. William Hoffman told me,
who was born at Grace Hospital in Detroit, that I should go back to Africa,
which I didn’t understand that. If anybody should go anywhere, he should
have gone back to Germany. But he had said that to me. Otherwise, I
hadn’t had anything happen.
In Detroit, there is a suburb not so far away, Dearborn. Everybody
knows Dearborn was a very racist place headed by their mayor, Orville
Hubbard, whose goal in life was to keep Black people out. So like I
hardly ever went into Dearborn, and what happened with Dearborn, and
this is true, this has been in the papers, they were so busy trying to keep
Black people out that all these Arab people started moving in, and then
they’re waking up at 5:00 a.m. over the loudspeaker praying to Allah, so
then they’re all upset, their Dearbornites, and I think Dearborn is now like
60% Arab because they were so busy trying to keep us out. Later on, they
opened a big shopping center, and I would go out there to Fairlane and
then go home.
MR. WEAVER: You mentioned you were a good student, and I assume throughout
elementary, middle, and high school, reading and those sorts of things,
you’re a good student, but did you get into any trouble?
MS. JEFFRIES: I did not get into any trouble, and I didn’t get into any trouble in school.
My high school was city-wide, and 8 stories, 5,000 students, probably the
most I ever did was a lot of people might skip a class and go hang out in
the back hallways or something. I did that some, but I didn’t get into any
trouble over that.
I’m going to talk about an incident that happened because this is
meaningful to me, especially in the context of the time, and I remember
this. One of my friends, her mother was a doctor and her father was a
doctor. She had a party at her house in high school not far from where I
lived, in the basement. They had a finished basement. While we were
there, some of the boys got in her father’s liquor cabinet, and he found out,
which I don’t know how, but I imagine she went up and told her father. I
imagine she told her father, which is okay. It’s their house. Oh, he came
downstairs and immediately turned the party out and made people leave,
which wasn’t a bad thing because I’d gone over in a car with my friends.
It wasn’t like you were abandoned outside and couldn’t do anything. I
take that as an example of, for me, someone being a strong parent because
he knew what he was going to allow in his house and what he wouldn’t
allow, and when he found out about it, boom, that was it. There are other
stories in the news now. Things are different with some people.
I didn’t really get in trouble in school. I ended up in the hospital
with the bicycle accident for doing something, which if I was 8, I didn’t
tell my mother until I was 13 what I was doing because I felt if I told the
truth, I’d be in trouble. My parents didn’t let me ride my bike in the street.
We’d gone to church that day, come home. She was cooking, and I was
riding my bike. We had a driveway, which was up an incline. So I
decided to ride my bike with my eyes closed, going down the driveway
and turning onto the sidewalk, when I thought I was at the sidewalk, and I
did it a couple of times successfully. The last time, I apparently rode into
my neighbor’s tree and landed with the handlebars in my mouth, and then
I got my concussion and knocked my teeth out. I didn’t fess up to that for
five years because I thought it would make them mad. Now that’s
probably something I did.
I told you I sewed. In my high school, I was in the honors
program, and in our program, you had to take electives from another
curriculum, so I took a lot of electives from the performing arts
curriculum, which we happened to share a study hall with the PA kids. I
was in SA, which is Science and Arts, and they were in PA, and we were
in 617 for study hall. I had Mr. White then, and they had Mr. Lucci. So I
took a lot of performing arts classes, but not to per se perform, but I did
take classes. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I wasn’t one for public
speaking, so for instance, I myself took public speaking or they had a class
called radio speech taught by Mrs. Frances Hamburger. They used to do a
lot of radio shows out of Detroit, like the Lone Ranger and stuff, and your
voice is your tool, so I took that, and that made you get up and do things,
and you had to do exercises and things with those people in performing
arts. It was a point to me saying that about them, which is good. Oh, so
they would do musicals, so I did costumes one time on the play Auntie
Mame, and I was the dresser for one of the lead characters. When I was
here at Georgetown, they have a Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and I did
some costume work with them. I like show people. I like show people
because if they have parties, they do a lot of singing Broadway shows.
They always know that stuff. For me, and this is an important thing. I
have to say this about Cass Tech. I went to Cass Technical High School, a
great school. Many great people went there, famous people. Jack White,
he’s some kind of musician guy, I’m not into his music, but my son
knows, and people know Jack White. When we went to the hockey
championship, they played Jack White. Anyway, he went to Cass. Cass
was a city-wide high school, and it was college prep. I was there 1968 to
1971 because high schools in Detroit went 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. I was
meeting kids from all over the city, and I learned a lot from that, but the
very reason for being there was that you wanted to go to college, so that
was the expectation of all the teachers. For instance, a lot of people
wanted to be doctors, so people who wanted to be doctors mainly went
into a curriculum that was called Chemical Biological, and they’re taking
all these science classes, or they took my program, Science and Arts, SA,
because we took those classes too. It’s probably equal number girls and
boys, so there are all these girls in there who want to be doctors or maybe
go to grad schools and get a PhD in sciences or math to be doctors, and the
teachers weren’t telling us because we were girls and you couldn’t do it. I
hear people all the time saying how girls are steered differently or not to
do the math and everything, that was the reason we were there. They
weren’t telling us we couldn’t do it. They were telling us we could. They
never tried to encourage a boy over a girl, and I think if you ask any of us
who were there at that time, everybody would agree with that. So we
didn’t have that experience of being in school with people telling you no
you can’t go to college, no you can’t do this. They were helping us get
there. Otherwise why would you be at Cass Tech? So I think that’s a very
influential thing as well. My 10th grade geometry teacher, I’m Facebook
friends with her. She kind of moved into a retirement place recently. She
lived in the suburbs. Not only did we have 5,000 students, but we had
some tuition students who came from the suburbs and paid, so her
daughter, Willow, was in my class in high school, and they lived in the
When I was here at law school, I taught Street Law at Spingarn
High School, which I will tell anybody was the single most depressing
experience of my life, but I’d never been in a school like that, or really
around students like that. It was extremely hard for me to relate and
understand. The first day I went up there, going in, a girl was coming out
and she was pregnant and she had a t-shirt that said, “Baby,” with an
arrow pointing down. Throughout the year, all these girls were pregnant
or they had babies or they were having other babies. One girl had one
baby and she was having another and she’s showing me pictures. My
friend Denise, I’m talking to her one time on the phone, I said all these
girls here have babies, and I don’t understand because we didn’t have that
when we were in school, and she said when we were in school, they didn’t
allow the pregnant girls to go to school with us. They had to go to a
different school. I don’t think I even knew that. I just didn’t know
anybody in our school was pregnant. I take that back. Two girls were
pregnant when I was at Cass. There was a girl, we had swimming together
so we’d be in the locker room across from each other. She was a white
girl who lived in southwest Detroit with her grandmother. I don’t know
where her parents were. She and I would talk. She got pregnant and
didn’t come back to Cass. She was 16, and she had married her boyfriend,
but her grandmother didn’t know she was married. Senior year I was in a
service club. Helen, the president of the club, got pregnant. So maybe it
was like March or something and Helen is pregnant. She finished the
school year. They’re not going to put you out then, but I will say this.
The club had a baby shower for her. My mother did not allow me to go. I
don’t think she wanted to condone that. But I think about that. If anybody
needed a gift, Helen probably needed a gift.
Spingarn was so different, and Cass wasn’t like that. We did all
these things, and it was great.
MR. WEAVER: Did you learn how to drive and get a driver’s license when you were in
high school?
MS. JEFFRIES: You know I did. I’m from Detroit. June is not a public transportation girl.
MR. WEAVER: What was your first car?
MS. JEFFRIES: My father died sophomore year, and we then had two cars and two people.
June thought that meant she’d have a car up there in Connecticut. Wrong.
My mother said no. Senior year she let me take the car, and we had a
1967 Ford Fairlane. It was yellow with Black interior. I had that.
Coming here for law school was traumatic for me because for some reason
I thought I wasn’t going to have a car, and when we came to visit, I saw
these people in a thunderstorm waiting at bus stops, and I practically
became hysterical. I did get hysterical at dinner, because I thought I
wasn’t going to have a car. But then I did have a car. I had a 1972 Grand
Torino. But the first car I bought was when I was working here in 1984, a
Ford Cougar. So the single most popular class at that time I’m sure in the
Detroit Public Schools was drivers training. To take drivers training, you
couldn’t sign up until you were 15 and ten months. So I was there that
November, two months before my 16th birthday, and I signed up. Cass did
not have drivers training. I took drivers training at Mumford High School,
which if people have seen those movies, Beverly Hills Cops with Eddie
Murphy, I think he wore a Mumford t-shirt. So people know Mumford for
that reason. Anyway, I took drivers training at Mumford, which is so
artificial. They had a track on their property, one lane you could go 15
miles per hour, and no other cars. So I get my permit up on Seven Mile
my mother and I went to the Secretary of State, and she says to me, do you
want to drive home? And I said sure. So I’m on Seven Mile, I drive two
or three blocks to Livernois and I turn right. Livernois is a main drag.
They had three lanes this way, three lanes north, and a left-turn lane, and
people are driving, three lanes going south. People are driving 35, 40, 45
miles an hour, and I’ve just been driving 15 miles an hour. After two or
three blocks on Livernois, my mother said “Do you want me to drive?”
and I said yes. She took over, and that was the last time in life ever, from
that point on, I kept up the driving. She went through a phase where she
wouldn’t drive on the expressways. One night there was some kind of a
family event, and she wasn’t going to go. My Uncle Larry picked me up,
and he had Aunt Betty and the two kids who are younger than me, and he
told me to drive. We were going on the east side. So I wasn’t going to get
on the expressway, but he told me to get on the Lodge, and I’d never
driven on the expressway before, and all I was thinking is: “Oh my god, I
hope I don’t kill this family. What will people say if I do this?” But, hey,
he got me on the expressway. I told you I would take the bus sometimes
in school. People won’t like hearing me say this, but I’m from Detroit.
People in Detroit have cars. We don’t have the greatest public
transportation system. Ask people now. That’s a problem for the city. In
my point of view, only people without funds and children ride the bus, and
I went to school, so I don’t have to ride the bus. I have a car. And that’s
why I have the car, so I don’t have to ride the bus. I will ride the subway.
The subway started opening up my first year of law school, and then they
were doing all this building around and everything, so I will ride the
subway. One of my big cases involved the killing of a Metro transit
officer, and so I had a close relationship with Metro people, Metro transit,
and through that case, I had some cool experiences with Metro and got to
fulfill a couple of life-long things, things that interested me with the
subway system. Public bus. When 9/11 happened, I had taken the subway
in, and I thought the subways were closed once that happened. I don’t
know if they were closed or not, but I knew that I was not going
underground with terrorism stuff going on. I called my husband to come
get me, but when I came out of the building, the thing that really scared
me, the FBI is across the street, the field office, they had closed down the
street and they were walking around with shotguns and rifles, so I didn’t
think he could get me, and you couldn’t get through on the cell phones. I
went inside. I had a gym bag to change clothes, and I’m glad I went
inside. My son was in high school. He called me, and then my friend
Joann called. Her husband and I had gone to college together. He was a
doctor. She said Rick was at Howard Hospital, and if I got up there, I
could get home. But I told my son I had changed clothes because it was
11 miles from here to my house, I was going to walk home because I said
okay, I’m still not riding a bus. I don’t like buses. I can walk home. And
I was going to just take my time, because you can stop, go in and eat
something, have something to drink, or maybe get somewhere where
something happened. But a miracle occurred, and when I came out after
changing clothes, my phone did ring, and my husband was near police
headquarters. So I didn’t have to walk home. But I wasn’t going to ride
the bus. I wasn’t that desperate on 9/11.
So anyway, in Detroit we all drove, and I have feelings about that.
All these people around here, 16-year-old kids driving cars and all this
stuff. We all drove and we didn’t have problems, but people had rules.
And we drove with our friends in the car. I’m not aware of any of my
friends having any major accidents or anything with us being young
drivers. But I think there are ways you do it, and I tell people, I’d much
rather have my kids start driving at 16 than to be 18 and boom, if he’s off
at college and he’s not getting experience with me. Rudy started driving
at 16, and I was there with him, and we put in all this time together.
Terrifying as it may have been for me, we did that. Drivers training was
popular in Detroit Public Schools.
MR. WEAVER: I’m going to ask one more question. Talk a little bit about when you
started applying to college where you thought about applying. I know you
mentioned you wanted to go to New England from your visit to Vermont
when you were in Montreal, but how did all of that transpire?
MS. JEFFRIES: In the summer of 1970, which is the summer before senior year started, I
wanted to go to school in New England. I got out the almanac, and it
listed colleges and universities by states, so I looked up New England
states and picked out some, not all of the colleges. Picked out some and
started writing letters. Amongst them, I wrote to Wesleyan. I was also a
National Merit Semi-Finalist. We did that in 11th grade, so you’re
beginning to get inundated with mail from all these schools. One of my
friends from Girl Scouts, Sandra, was a year ahead of me. She went to
Smith. So I would talk to Sandra. She knew about different schools, so I
talked to her. I’m filling this out, I’m doing this, you go to events,
whatever. Through Girl Scouts, Mrs. Washington, our leader, was a social
worker. She knew some white woman out in the suburbs who had gone to
a small women’s school in upstate New York, Wells College, in Aurora,
New York, and they were looking because at that time, contrary to what
Clarence Thomas would say, these schools were looking for Black
students because the federal government was making them, not because
they were so open and just let you do this. So my mother and father and I
went out there. They had something at the women’s house, and they were
talking about Wells College. Gee, it sounded okay to me, but when we
were in the car, my father said you will never go there, and I asked why.
He said because they only have seven Black students. I hadn’t thought
about that part because I had been one of five at Dixon. Anyway, so I’m
applying to these schools, and I applied to eight. I did apply to Michigan
and Michigan State. Michigan State had some honors program. We went
up there and visited those schools. I did it to appease my parents, although
I knew it was pointless because I knew I wasn’t going. I applied to eight
schools, Michigan; Michigan State; Radcliffe, which was Harvard;
Wesleyan; Smith; maybe I applied to seven, and I threw in Brown at the
end because something happened and somebody said to apply there. So I
got in seven of the eight schools. I did not get into my first choice, which
was Radcliffe. Wesleyan was my second choice. I went to the dinner at
this private club on top of a building in Detroit, on top of the Buhl
building in Detroit. My daddy and I went because my mother was
recovering from surgery. They had a dinner for all the people admitted to
Brown. They served apple pie with cheddar cheese on top, so when we
were going home, I asked my daddy why did they serve apple pie with
cheddar cheese on top, and he said because white people eat it that way.
We didn’t eat lamb. I don’t think a lot of Black people eat lamb in general
in the South. So I’d heard of lamb but had ever eaten lamb, and I’m in
high school, so I ask could we have lamb, and my daddy got a leg of lamb
and we cooked it and he got mint jelly, and I said why are we having mint
jelly with the lamb, and he said because white people eat mint jelly with
the leg of lamb. So we had it one time, and that fulfilled my desire for
lamb. And then people were cooking with wine, and I had a recipe that
you cooked with wine, and my parents didn’t drink. It was a chicken dish,
and he got the wine so I could make this dish, except my daddy he got
some kind of Manischewitz concord. That is not a cooking wine. We
didn’t do that again. So that’s how I went to Wesleyan. You see my
point? My grandfather died, so I could go to Montreal so I could go to
Vermont so I could sit there and apply and go to Wesleyan. It was my
second choice. They had just gone co-ed, so I was the second incoming
co-ed class. They were in Connecticut, and that’s what I decided to do.
And I’ll say this point and we can talk about stuff later. I said I had been
admitted to Brown, and I used to want to be a doctor too, so Brown
participated in this program called PREP, which I can’t remember what
PREP stands for, but it was a program created by this woman Alice Miller.
She was Jewish, and her husband was some big surgeon at NYU Medical
School, and it was a program for pre-med minority freshmen. NYU had a
campus at the time in the Bronx, and they had a six-week summer
program at their campus in the Bronx. We took chemistry, math, English,
and some other stuff, and they paid us. They paid all of our expenses and
gave you a weekly stipend, and so I spent six weeks in New York right
after graduating high school, which was extremely significant for my life
and things I later went on to do to spend that summer in New York, and I
will point out on my first day there I met this guy who then became my
college boyfriend, law school boyfriend, husband, and now ex-husband,
on that first day in New York. So anyway, we can talk about other things
next time.
MR. WEAVER: That sounds great. Thank you.
Oral History of June Jeffries
Second Interview
November 30, 2018
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Friday, November 30, 2018. This is the second interview.
MR. WEAVER: During our first session, we talked about where you come from, your
parents, your family, and your childhood. We left off talking about how
you ended up going to college at Wesleyan in Connecticut. You started in
that school in the second ever co-educational class, if I remember
correctly. What was that like?
MS. JEFFRIES: We were the second incoming co-ed class. They had gotten some transfer
students. Actually, what that meant was when I got to Wesleyan, the
proportion of men to women was decidedly larger, but when they brought
in the classes, each class was probably around 50/50 so that each year, it
was more and more women, and by the time I left, it was totally 50/50.
For the university, for us women, I would say really the only problem was
space like in the gym and the locker room, and they had to build to
accommodate that. But they had done a number of things, hiring faculty
and staff, to be supportive and to work with incoming women students and
to help make the transition. There was one woman who was on staff, I
can’t remember her particular position, but her name was Sheila Tobias,
and she was a very outspoken, very feminist-type woman, very supportive,
not quiet, vocal. She was good to have on campus during that time. And
other people. All in all, it went very well.
MR. WEAVER: Were there any challenges? It sounds like it was a very smooth transition.
MS. JEFFRIES: I think it was a pretty smooth transition. Like I said, since they had
brought in some transfer students, it happened that in my dorm the RA
was a senior. She had transferred to Wesleyan in her junior year. Bonnie
Blair, who is a lawyer here in D.C. now. She then went on to Harvard
Law School. That assisted us as well, even though we were the first
incoming class, there were some upper-level women there. And Bonnie, I
went to Harvard summer school the summer of 1974, and she was up there
for the law school, so I met her at the law school, and she took me around.
That was good having met her.
MR. WEAVER: That’s exciting. Tell me what it was like when you left home to go to
college for the first time. Did your mom drop you off?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. My parents, both of them, took me. I don’t know if I said this,
because I have to look at the transcript, that summer I went to a summer
program in New York for six weeks, which was for pre-med minority
freshmen from about ten colleges and universities, many of them ivy
league schools, and I had at that time when I went to college, I wanted to
get both a medical degree and a law degree, so I had done that program,
flown to New York by myself, spent the six weeks there, which is a pretty
exciting thing to do. I would point out on the very first day of that
program, I met the guy who went on to become my first husband. But
anyway. After prep was over, I went home, finished my preparations for
Connecticut, and my mother, father, and I drove out there. I had not
visited Wesleyan before. I don’t think it was uncommon that people
didn’t visit, and they certainly didn’t do the grand tours that people do
now. We didn’t have the Internet, but I had a friend at Smith and knew
some other people and talked about it. So going to Wesleyan for us was a
good trip.
When I was born, it was always that I was going to go to college,
so that had never been an iffy thing or a question. My mother used to talk
about me going to Harvard or going places, so it wasn’t out of the question
I was going to Wesleyan. I think my father wanted me to be closer to
home. He had been interested in Michigan or Michigan State, and I guess
my mother told her at one point she could have put a stop to all of that, but
she didn’t. So they got me there to Connecticut, and I was so ready to be
there. I was so ready to be there. I don’t think I cried or anything when
my parents left. I was happy. This is my time. So they left, and I started
doing what I had to do. We had roommates. It was called a double, but
we each had our own room with an adjoining door between us, and there
was a balcony, so the door to the balcony was in Juliette’s room. So to use
the balcony, I had to go through her room. She was nice. She was from
New York. She was from the Bronx. That was good too because I had
just spent the summer in the Bronx. Juliette had a different kind of life
from me because you know those New York people didn’t live in houses.
She lived in an apartment. They had seven kids in her family. I don’t
think her mother worked. Her father worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,
which it seems to me that maybe the Navy Yard had closed some time
recently and maybe he was out of a job, but he worked there. Her parents
were really into education for their kids. Juliette’s older brother had gone
to Yale, and then he may have gone to Yale Law School. So her older
brother was working as an associate at a law firm in Manhattan. I think
she had a sister at Smith. Juliette was at Wesleyan. My recollection that
I’ve always thought through these years, and I have to ask her if we
communicate again, is that Geraldo Rivera had been her brother’s
roommate at law school or college.
So for me going to college was a good transition. Wesleyan was in
Middletown, which is a smaller city. Back then maybe it was 35,000
people, so not as large as Detroit. The campus was beautiful. Being in
New England in the fall, that was spectacular. I was meeting people. So
many people were from the East Coast, but people were from around the
country. Many of them had gone to private schools or top public schools.
People traveled around the world. I had only been to Canada and Mexico
City. People had different experiences. A lot of rich, rich-like people. It
was good for me. It was expanding my world.
MR. WEAVER: For someone who grew up in the Midwest and spent a lot of time in the
South, was New England kind of a culture shock, or had you already spent
enough time there?
MS. JEFFRIES: My only time in New England had been when we went to Montreal and
drove there, and I decided then that I wanted to go to school in
New England. I had seen movies and TV, and they talk about how you
have these small towns in New England that would have these town
council meetings once a year and they’d come in govern. If you see the
movie with Doris Day and Jack Lemon called It Happened to Jane, and
they were up in New England, and that’s what they did. They had this
town council and this meeting. I thought that was very quaint. Whatever
you had learned in American history and the revolution in school. So I
wanted to be in New England. And the weather didn’t bother me. I was
in Detroit, so that wasn’t an issue.
What I think about Wesleyan, which they sometimes call a little
ivy is that certainly they have resources, they give you opportunities, there
are people who you are interacting with who, whether you realize it or not
then, you will be seeing or hearing about in the future as they go about
their careers out into the world, and you have connections in that way.
But also I think what those kinds of schools is people there have a sense of
entitlement, many of the people who come, so if you were a person who
didn’t have a sense of entitlement, and you could say that would be true
about me, you go there and learn to have a sense of entitlement. So people
go to places, they expect to get the things that they want. That’s their
expectation, that’s how they’ve been raised, that’s what their parents do
for them, that’s what they do for their children. An example I would say
is my mother, she came from a different kind of background, say we’d go
out to eat sometimes and then she’d want something done a particular way
or whatever and she would ask the people if they could do this, if it’s
possible, and I didn’t mean to do things in a rude kind of way or anything.
I said you don’t have to do all this kind of asking all tentative. Just tell the
people what you want. You get what you want. It doesn’t have to be an
issue. So anyway this whole sense of entitlement. So that’s one of the
benefits of going. You learn the entitlement game because it’s played all
around. Well, let me say that entitlement was played all around me
throughout my legal career.
MR. WEAVER: When you would go to college and pick up on that entitlement issue, when
you would interact with your mother in a situation like that, did you notice
it more after that? Is it something you talked about?
MS. JEFFRIES: Certainly as I aged and my different experiences, I was cognizant of that.
I would tell my mother she’s so authority bound because I think that’s the
way they indoctrinated you growing up as little sharecropper children in
segregated Mississippi. We’d be driving down the street, or I’d be driving
and she’d be sitting there and say there’s the police, and I’d say I don’t
care about the police. You don’t have to be announcing that to me. There
were some differences because of our different experiences and attitudes.
But good. It was good. I’m an extension of my mother. My mother was a
very vocal person. She was no pushover. My mother was a very vocal
person, very astute. But there were some differences. Being up there at
Wesleyan, there was another big thing. When I went to Wesleyan, you
could have pets in the dorm. So for 2 ½ years, I had a dog.
MR. WEAVER: What kind of dog?
MS. JEFFRIES: First I had some kind of little dog, a little mix that I had gotten over the
summer of 1972, and I took that dog to Connecticut with me. That’s when
my father got sick and died, and I left the dog there because I had to go
home. That little dog was named Jamaica, and Jamaica got hit by a car.
So while I was home in Detroit after my father died, I got a cocker spaniel,
Nicky, and Nicky went to college with me. Nicky was my very close
friend. She lived in the dorm. People had a lot of dogs at Wesleyan.
People had Irish Setters. There were two Newfoundlands, Alice and Thor,
that stayed on the porch at Downey House. We had a lot of dogs. It kind
of got out of hand. So I would take Nicky back and forth to Connecticut
with me, and she became famous too.
MR. WEAVER: Your father passed away your sophomore year of college. What kind of
impact did that have? Did you think about staying home for a while or did
you go immediately back to college?
MS. JEFFRIES: Let me talk about that. My parents took me to school again sophomore
year, and I moved into East College in the Law Avenue dorms, and they
went back to Detroit and I’m doing my Wesleyan life. Wesleyan has a
place, Foss Hill, I had lived on Foss Hill freshman year, and the football
field is there and you can see the library and North College and those
places. It was a beautiful day, on a Monday. It was a very beautiful
September day, and I liked the weather so much I just sat on Foss Hill and
enjoyed the weather. I was just sitting there enjoying the weather. So
when I finally went to my dorm, there was a note on my door from my
faculty advisor. My roommates were saying my mother had been calling.
It turned out my father had a stroke the night before. I went home to
Detroit. He was kind of paralyzed on one side, and his speech was
impacted, and I guess the doctors thought he could probably regain some
of that. It’s unclear to me. It seems like maybe I went back to school for a
week or something, but I must not have. Probably at the end of the week,
he had a second one, a cerebral hemorrhage. He was in a coma, and things
were much worse. So I was staying in Detroit because you didn’t know
what would happen. It was very stressful. He was at Henry Ford
Hospital. By now we’re into mid-October, and it was getting colder, as it
would do, and I was in Detroit, but my clothes were in Connecticut. So
finally I told my mother I had to go back because I had to go back to get
my clothes and do whatever. I decided I would go on a Thursday and
come back on Saturday. So back then you could fly student standby.
Those early years I could fly roundtrip to Detroit for $64.00. So anyway, I
came home. I got back to Connecticut on Thursday. At Wesleyan I was
kind of excited because Ted Kennedy was going to be speaking on Friday
afternoon or evening. So I’m there for a couple days, I can see my friends,
get my clothes, go see Ted Kennedy. My mother was always a big
Kennedy person. So I can go see Ted Kennedy. This was kind of some
relief for me, and then I was going to fly back to Detroit. My mother
called me on Friday and said things were really bad. They put a feeding
tube in my father after I left. For whatever reasons, the contents backed
up, he aspirated the contents into his lung, and then he had pneumonia. So
then it was really bad. He had a doctor, who was probably like a chief
resident, and he was a very dour person. He had always said things were
bad, you could hope for the best, expect the worse. I must have talked to
him, and he said he’s really bad. Anyway, my mother’s calling me, and
I’m like ma, I can’t do anything, I’m here in Connecticut. And then he
died. He died Friday afternoon. So I left, and I flew back home. So, of
course, I didn’t see Ted Kennedy.
I stayed home for that semester. It was very hard. That was hard,
and it was hard going back to school because I probably said when I was a
kid, my father worked midnight and he would come home and he was
home during the day all the time I’m growing up with his work schedule,
so I was used to having my father around the house. But then suddenly
my mother’s back at work and all day long it was just me. We had two
dogs at home. All of my friends from Detroit were away at college. My
college friends were in Connecticut, so I really didn’t have anybody
around. It was very quiet and still. I think you can feel, there’s a
difference in the feeling in your house or wherever you live, there’s a
difference in feeling when a person is dead as opposed to they just went to
the store or work. When they go to the store or work, it doesn’t feel
empty, but when they die, you feel it. It’s different.
And then Wesleyan would not start until around January 24, so
when other people came home for Christmas, they went back earlier.
That’s the way the time period was. I wasn’t really doing anything. And I
don’t know why I didn’t get a temp job or do any volunteer work, but I
didn’t. So one day, I woke up, and I was there, my mother had gone to
work, and I was dusting the furniture. That’s not particularly exciting.
And the dogs and I just got to thinking that I had like another six weeks
before I went back to school, and this was so boring. It was another six
weeks. So my mother called me when she was on her lunch. When she
called me, and then I just became hysterical, crying. I was very upset. My
mother came home from work and sat with me and talked with me. I
guess I calmed down. She had me go stay with the neighbors while she
went back to work. So the next day, I went to our family doctor, and
Dr. Arrington gave me a prescription for valium. So the valium I think
you take like every four hours. It didn’t knock me out or anything, but it
calmed me down. I was chill. I would do that. I took the valium probably
every four hours the first few days, which was fine. Then I got to where
maybe I’d take one in the morning and one at night, but I took them at
night in particular because I think valium suppresses your dreaming, and
when I didn’t take them, then I had these bad nightmares. I had
nightmares that my mother died and stuff. So even at 18, I heard about
suburban housewives being addicted to pills and stuff, and I didn’t want to
be addicted to pills. I would take one at night, I might take one during the
day until I went back to school. So as soon as I got back to school, I went
to student mental health and saw a psychologist. His name was Dr. Wolf.
I go in and I see him, and he says to me, “Why are you here,” and I said,
“My father died, and I’m very upset.” And that’s the way I said it. He
said you don’t seem upset. I said believe me, this is upset. So he said our
game plan was for me to stop taking the valium and then we would talk
about things. I did that for three or four weeks, and we got through it, and
so that ended me and the valium.
I need to back up and say this. When my father died and I’m there
in Detroit, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go back to Wesleyan
because of the money and stuff, so I was thinking I’d go to Michigan. I
didn’t do anything to try to go to Michigan, but that’s what I was thinking,
that this would be the case. But my mother never said anything about that.
She never asked me to stay home or change my plans. It was always
about me going back. Wesleyan was very good, and so I went back. I
was afraid.
One of the issues for me in going back was really my mother
because she was one of eleven children and whatever, and when she
moved to Detroit, she had lived in a boarding house, a rooming house,
with other people, and then when she married my father, she’s living with
him. They lived in a boarding house with other people, then they bought
the house, and it was the three of us, but at some point my grandfather had
lived there, daddy’s daddy. My Uncle Richard lived with us until I was
six. So she had never lived alone. I felt for her, and that first day when I
went back, I called her, and I think I cried. But it was okay. She never
asked me to change my plans, never complained, and it was good. My
mother’s a working woman. All my life, and most of the women in my
life were working women, and this is true even of my friends in Detroit
whose fathers were doctors, their mothers were teachers or librarians or
social workers or whatever. Most of my friends’ mothers worked. Most
of them. So by my mother having her own job when my father died, she
was the one. We had Blue Cross. We were on her insurance, so she had
her own pension and stuff. My mother had her own money as I was
growing up, so she never had to ask my father if she wanted to get her hair
done or buy a new purse or anything. She had a charge account or two in
her name at stores where she shopped. So she did things. When my
daddy died, Mrs. Ice, her daughter Patricia and I are very close friends,
Mrs. Ice she didn’t work, but she had been a teacher, and her husband was
a surgeon, and she had stopped working at some point. She was helpful to
my mother. She told my mother that she needed to get a charge card, like
a MasterCard or a Visa or something. One of their friends, one of the
Ice’s friends, Mrs. Farmer, was a travel agent, so she turned my mother
onto Mrs. Farmer. When I would want to come home, I’d call
Mrs. Farmer and tell her I wanted a plane ticket or whatever. So anyway,
things were good because I had my mother working. And then she could
work overtime, or if you worked, especially back then, on Sundays, and
you’re in the union and stuff, because stores and places used to not be
open, so for places to be open on Sundays, that was a big deal years ago.
You’d make double time. On holidays she’d work. She could make triple
time. So she did all that when I was in school.
So I went back to Wesleyan, and I, of course, was happy to be
back. But at some point, sophomore year, I had been taking organic
chemistry, and the book was Morrison & Boyd Organic Chemistry. I’d be
studying organic chemistry, and I’d have tears going down my face, so I
decided to not continue with the desire to be a doctor. I was never going
to be a science major. I was interested in government, urban studies. So I
stopped taking those science classes and concentrated on my major.
MR. WEAVER: What was it about the experience of loss and grief that caused you to
rethink what you were studying. Do you think it was the need for
something new, or was there something intrinsic within the study of
molecular biology versus taking a different path?
MS. JEFFRIES: I think anybody should take organic chemistry because organic chemistry
is really where everything is, everything that happens. You’ve got those
esters and all those things, detergents and soaps and all these things come
from organic chemistry. Inorganic chemistry is not a very big subject at
all. If people took organic chemistry, they’d understand all the politics of
oil and stuff. But it was just like this was not working out for me. So I
decided to let that go and go with the flow. Being a lawyer was okay. I
didn’t have to be both. Although now, I often sit around and really feel
like now I’d go to med school now. That would be no problem because I
see myself, I could be a neurosurgeon now and doing brain surgeries.
That’s what I think about a lot now. I think of other things too I could do,
but I could see me being that right now. But I don’t think the med schools
would want to take me now at my age, plus I don’t want to pay for it. But
if they’d take me free, I’d go. And I’m a person who’s a committed
person. I haven’t wanted to take another test since I put my pen down for
the bar exam. But I could do that.
MR. WEAVER: Who were your closest friends in college?
MS. JEFFRIES: I should begin by saying I told you when I was in that program in New
York in prep that’s where I met my now ex-husband, who, his last name is
Jeffries as well, spelled the same way as mine. So for 3 ½ years, I would
spend a lot of time at Yale and in New Haven, but at Wesleyan, I had
some women friends, Arlene and Ramona, Lynn, and Debbie, and we
lived together often over those four years, or lived near. I became friends
with Rick Blake. Rick was a senior when I was a freshman, and he went
on to a three-year program at New York Medical School. I graduated on
Sunday, June 1, and Rick graduated medical school on Tuesday, June 3,
and on Saturday the 7th, he and my roommate, Ramona, got married, and I
was in their wedding in Long Island. That union did not last. Rick was a
doctor down here, and I’ve always been very close with him and his wife,
Joann. Rick died last year on December 20. So Rick and I were good
friends from Wesleyan. I have another friend Leslie Anderson. She was
from Norfolk, Virginia, and ultimately Leslie lives here in Silver Spring,
so we used to live about ten minutes from each other. When I was
working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she worked at AARP, so we were
only two blocks from each other. We were friends. I also worked at the
library for 3 ½ years, a Work Study student. There were a couple girls
there I worked with, Lisa and Nicky. Lisa Hernandez. She was from
someplace in New York. Her father was Cuban, and her mother was
Jewish. And Nicky, her parents were Greek. I don’t know that her
parents were born in Greece. Nicky and her siblings were born here.
They lived in Stoughton, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. So that
summer I spent at Harvard Law School, Nicky’s mother was a good cook,
and I’d go over there maybe once a week. And this was when things were
really coming down on Nixon. I’d go over to Nicky’s mom’s house and
her mother would cook. She’d cook leg of lamb with a lot of garlic on a
rotisserie, and then she would take the pan juices and mix it in with a can
of tomato sauce and orzo pasta, so really I had only had lamb once before
and I’d never had orzo pasta before, and that lamb and pasta was so good.
We’d be there talking because people knew Nixon was leaving and it was
a countdown. People were taking bets on what day it was happening. So
I’d go over there. Nicky and I were good friends. We’re not in contact
now, but Nicky got married, and Lisa did too. Both of them got married
the summer we finished college. Nicky married Paul, who finished
engineering at Northeastern University, and he got a job with U.S. Steel,
which then was building the largest taconite iron ore facility in the iron
range of northern Minnesota. Lisa moved to Florida. So my first year of
law school, Nicky was pregnant, spring break was coming up for me. She
said why don’t we go visit Lisa in Florida. So I went to Florida for a
week, and that was my first trip to Florida, and I visited with them. Lisa’s
Aunt Bubby would come down from New York, like a lot of Jewish
people do, and they had these apartment buildings. A lot of them were
there in Miami. We went to Miami and visited her, and her aunt took us
out to lunch, and then we’re driving around Miami. This was 1976, spring
of 1976. Carter was in office, and you know we were having oil problems
and they wanted you to turn the heat down to like 65 and stuff. They did
that. We were having some exam at Wesleyan and it was like 65 degrees
and my hands were all cold. Anyway, there was an elevator in her
apartment building because it was all elderly Jewish people, they had signs
in the elevator that people should wear sweaters so we could end our
dependence on the oil bastards. So we did that. That was in law school.
And then Nicky and Paul lived in Minnesota, so I went up there for spring
break. I must have gone to Florida my second year of law school. The
first year, Nicky and Paul had moved to northern Minnesota. Nobody they
knew was up there, so they sent me a plane ticket, and I went to northern
Minnesota for spring break visiting my Wesleyan friend. Let me point
this out. I went in March of 1976. The day before I left D.C., it was
83 degrees. I got up to Minneapolis, the snow at the airport was taller than
I am. We drove four hours north to the iron range and it’s like 30 below at
night and people were wearing all these thermal jumpsuits and plugging in
their car batteries, which I’d never seen that happen before, and they’re
driving around on snowmobiles. And I can also tell you there are no
Black people up there in the iron range. So I took my law books with me.
Nicky and Paul would go to work during the day. I went to the store one
day, and the lady at the store says to me, “Oh, you’re not from around
here.” And I’m like really, how would you know? So the next day, Nicky
and I go to the store together, then the woman sees Nicky with me, and
she says you girls aren’t from around here. Like really, how do you
know? But here’s what people do in the iron range in northern Minnesota
because it’s so cold. They have a lot of people up there, they call them
Finlanders. I would call them Finnish; they call them Finlanders, and they
make hot dishes, otherwise known as casseroles. So they make hot dishes,
and people drink a lot of alcohol because there isn’t much to do up there.
And this year somewhere like I think in the Washington Post food section,
one day somebody wrote an article about hot dishes because she was from
up there. Well I knew all about that because of Wesleyan.
Here’s a good thing about Wesleyan. Wesleyan was into
ethnomusicology, and my junior year, they opened up the Center for the
Arts, which is maybe fifteen buildings, so this is a Wesleyan thing. You
learn these things from these people. They had this tract of land and they
wanted to do an arts center, and they got these architects to submit
proposals, but the stipulation was that whatever they did, they could not
tear down any of the existing trees. So they had to build around the trees.
So literally there’s one building that’s built around a tree and has this
center courtyard. So that’s about aesthetics because people with money
have time to pay attention to aesthetics that other people on the lower level
might not necessarily have the time just to devote to aesthetics. So that’s a
Wesleyan thing. They wanted the proper aesthetics for that field. You’ve
got instant landscaping as opposed to all these new little trees you’ve got
to wait fifty years for them to grow. One of the buildings they did is the
Gamelan building. The gamelan is an Indonesian, or maybe Malaysian,
instrument, and at that time, Wesleyan was one of two places in the
country to have a gamelan, and to play the gamelan, you have like 20 or
30 people play, so they had the Gamelan Hall. As an alum, my mother,
Rudy, and I were up at Wesleyan, and we went to a gamelan concert.
These concerts go on until around 2:00 in the morning and they start at
8:00, so you’d be sitting there, and they had staggered seating. It wasn’t
chairs. It was just like steps really. So you’re there at the gamelan
concert, and people lay out at the steps and listen. They may play a piece
that’s maybe like 30 minutes, and then that piece not everybody is playing,
so those people might walk around and do stuff or lay down or whatever,
and then they’d take a break. People may eat snacks or refreshments, and
they’d start another one, and that would go on for hours. So that’s like a
Wesleyan thing. So you can tell a real person if they went to Wesleyan if
they know what a gamelan is. I did one of these tours of an embassy, and
I went to the Indonesian embassy, and they had a gamelan there. I know
the Kennedy Center or somebody was having a gamelan concert in the
past year. I meant to go, but I didn’t. So that was a really Wesleyan thing.
But that whole aesthetic thing is important. In later years I was up there
for something and I went to a meeting of the board of trustees and they
were about to do this big renovation of all 80 classrooms, and one of the
things that Peter said, the University treasurer was Peter Patton, they were
redoing these rooms because they wanted them to have the proper
ambiance, the proper lighting, all of this. So when you have money, all of
that is important. If you haven’t paid attention to those things beforehand,
you learn to pay attention to them afterwards.
MR. WEAVER: Were there any professors at Wesleyan who had a major impact on you,
either your choice to go to law school or anything else?
MS. JEFFRIES: My first faculty advisor was Dr. Seiss. He was a chemistry professor, and
he was a nice man. But then I changed and became a government major.
Wesleyan doesn’t call it political science. I was interested in urban
studies, and my advisor was Professor Russell Murphy. I feel I had good
guidance from him. I was interested in urban studies. You could craft
your own major. He told me I could be a government major and just take
those classes and have the impact of being a government major as opposed
to urban studies. And that was good. A book he had us read in the class I
took by this guy Edward Banfield called The Heavenly City. I read that
book. I had a lot of disagreement with Banfield, his views as a white
person writing about people in the cities. Subsequently, many years later,
I think I read an update or I read some things about him. I know I
remember when Banfield died. Reading that book was of interest to me
with Professor Murphy. Another thing that happened at Wesleyan is
junior and senior year, I got into take art classes. It was called Art
History, and the book he used I still have it. I forget the name of it.
Anyway, it was very interesting to me because when you take art history
what they’re rally teaching you is white people’s art through the years, and
you might have a chapter where they give you three or four pages about
while this was going on with da Vinci, people in China were doing this, or
here’s some African art or whatever. It was very dominated by their art.
One of the things I’m into is how culturally how the dominant culture
moves to dominate people and to minimize other people’s cultures and
talents. So Shakespeare is always played up in western education. I’m
here to say I don’t like Shakespeare. I have no moment for Shakespeare.
I don’t enjoy Shakespeare, reading him, I never do, I don’t enjoy his plays.
And I’m not willing to say he’s great just because some other people have
decided he’s great and they want to push that on you. I don’t think the
Mona Lisa is great. I have no interest in why she has that look on her
face. I have no interest in it. Just because people say it’s great, I see
nothing about it that’s great. A painting of Edward Hopper just sold for
$90 million, which was the highest price for a piece of work by a living
artist. But the week before, somebody else’s painting, who’s dead, sold
for $91 million. I think people need to think about that philosophically.
The Mona Lisa is probably the size of this folder as far as I know. There
is no piece of canvas that is worth $91 million. And it’s only worth that
because someone was willing to pay it. And other people were willing to
anoint it. How can they say that that painting is worth $91 million but my
painting is not? So it’s really much what you like. I don’t like
Shakespeare, so he’s not important to me. I prefer a world where we can
value all kinds of contributions. I have to qualify that, because when I was
in high school, Mrs. Hamburger, the drama department chair, would have
a trip to Canada. We’d go to the Stratford Festival and we’d see a
Shakespeare play every year. Yes I did like doing that, and now I want to
go back to the Stratford Festival. But it’s not because I like Shakespeare.
I did like the experience. So I’m not interested. And the older I get, I
want things easier for my head. I’m not interested in working through the
language. I want it written as I speak. I don’t have time to work through
this language. So when I took art, one of my classes. Okay, I wanted to
get into drawing class because I can’t draw, but I don’t want to do realistic
kinds of paintings. I’m more abstract. But be that as it may, it’s a good
skill to have, drawing, and to understand how to get these things on paper.
But there are always more people who wanted to take the class than there
were slots, and the guy had some kind of lottery or maybe he had you
draw something and then he chose people, so I never got chosen. I tell the
Wesleyan people to this day that is my one disappointment with their
university. I did not get into the class that I wanted. But I did some
painting or did something, and one of my art people said, the professor
said to me, that I had a primitive art style, somewhat like Grandma Moses.
But he said there was a place for the primitive artist. Well that’s very
condescending. You think you all’s art is better than my art. It’s not. But
I did do art.
So if I were going to be a lawyer again, and in college and stuff, I
would be an art major and then just take classes to get into law school
because when I wanted to do the urban studies stuff, Professor Murphy
said to me I could do my urban studies and everything, but he said for law
school, the important thing when they’re looking at you, they wanted to
see you took classes that demonstrated that you could read, that you could
write, and you can analyze, and I always took those kind of classes as
well. But you could do the art. And I will say from my college years, the
most tangible things I had were those paintings that I did. I’m not a
person to keep all my textbooks or papers or exams. I don’t want those.
But I had those pieces of art, and I liked them. But I haven’t done
anything with that since I left Wesleyan.
So I did get into art while I was there. I liked that. I wish I had
done more things. I wish I had done things in the theatre department. Not
that I act. When I was in high school, I did some costume crew work and
stuff. I wish I had done that.
MR. WEAVER: In a minute I’m going to move on and ask some questions about how you
started thinking about law school, taking the LSAT, and applying, but
before we leave the college years, is there anything else, any other event
or person that you came across in college that kind of had a big impact on
you or your career?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m not thinking of anybody at the moment, but I liked the whole
Wesleyan experience. I liked what they had to offer. I liked the support
that they gave to students. I liked their sensitivity. It was a good thing for
MR. WEAVER: When did you start applying to law school?
MS. JEFFRIES: Senior year. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 5. Perry Mason was my
mother’s favorite TV show. We watched that. I guess maybe she said you
should be a lawyer. So that was always something. I actually never had a
conversation with a lawyer until I was in law school, and I did not really
know what I would do with my legal career, but I wanted to go to law
school. So I started doing that senior year, and I was interested in going to
law schools I would say maybe in particular places. So say like Boston. I
think I applied to BU. Now let me say this. Paper Chase came out while
I was in law school. I told you I had visited Harvard Law School when I
went to Harvard summer school. When my daddy died, I lost that
semester and I wanted to graduate on time, so the following two summers,
I went to summer school. In the summer of 1974, I went to Harvard
summer school to get credits. So having seen Paper Chase and their
experiences at Harvard Law School, I did not think that was the place for
me, so I did not apply. I did apply to Yale. I applied to Columbia. Of
course I applied to Michigan, Northwestern, and for me, Washington, D.C.
was a city I could be and I felt just based on whatever limited stuff I knew,
that if I was going to go to law school in Washington, Georgetown was the
place. So that’s what I did. I got accepted to Georgetown. Okay, so my
mother and I had to come here for me to get an apartment, and they said it
was very expensive, and we came here. This campus was not like this
when we came in August of 1975. This neighborhood was not like this
when we came here. We saw it and I was like ‘Oh my God.’ I thought I
wouldn’t have a car. But we found a place that was a great apartment for
me. I was here at the law school. Two of my Wesleyan classmates, Susan
and Cliff, were classmates at Georgetown, and then a guy who graduated
before us, Elmo, was also in our class. Anyway, Cliff was from here, and
he walked up to me one day and told me if I was looking for a job, the
Archives needed someone, and I got a job there. I subsequently worked at
the Federal Trade Commission, and I was going to work there the summer
after second year law school, and then that April, they called us all in, the
law clerks, and said they were over budget. The new manager of the
Department had looked at the budget and they had over-hired, so they
were going to let almost all of us law students go. Which meant that I
didn’t have a summer job for second year law school, which is kind of a
big deal. So you could say I was kind of irritated about that. But probably
within three weeks of losing that job, I got a letter in the mail from the
District of Columbia. I qualified for unemployment. I never would have
thought of that. So the summer of 1974, I got unemployment. I worked
some temp jobs. I did a temp job for a man who I had never heard of
before but have certainly heard of him since named Julius Chambers. He
was a big civil rights lawyer from North Carolina, and they had a class
action suit against the headquarters of the American Red Cross for racial
discrimination, and we were doing discovery, going through their
personnel files and copying them. We would sit there and go through the
files. It was interesting to me. I learned something about Mr. Chambers,
but I learned a lot about the Red Cross. I would have never known this.
They have a lot of interesting jobs over there, and they’re doing things all
around the world. So that was pretty eye-opening. I did some other temp
things. Some guy was researching something about the Tennessee Tom
Bigby Waterway Dam. I’d have to research that. I had a job ion law
school with the Wyatt Company, which was an actuarial company, maybe
the largest actuarial company in the world. Again, I had never heard of
that before really. They had bought a company that did executive
employee benefits consulting. So the project I did and this will relate back
to Wesleyan, working for them was they bought a share of stock in each of
the Fortune 500 companies, and with that, they got the annual reports or
whatever, and the SEC required that for the top three employees, you had
to report what the pension and compensation benefits were, so I would
read these to get that information to chart this because this is the area they
had bought this company. Well, one of the companies, Kimberly Clark,
the CEO, President, was a man named Roger Smith. Well I had actually
gone to Wesleyan with his daughter, and we had been in the same dorm
freshman year, and she was from Wisconsin. So she’s this white girl from
Wisconsin and from talking to her, I gathered they had money, but I didn’t
know what her folks did, but it was Wisconsin. So I thought maybe were
rich dairy farmers. One day we were in my room, and I had a “Playboy”
magazine, which I actually used to read because they had some interesting
interviews. This is true. I read it. I didn’t care about the pictures.
Anyway, John Wayne had been interviewed, and he’s an awful person. I
said John Wayne was an awful person, although I do like his movie, The
High and the Mighty, and Rio Bravo, he still an awful person, anyway I
read that interview, so she was in my room and we were talking and she
says her father’s company makes the paper that that’s printed on. So I’m
thinking what company is that. Somehow it was Kimberly Clark, which I
didn’t really know they made paper, per se. I know they made sanitary
napkins, so I’m sitting there with her thinking this is what her father did. I
know he wanted to buy her a car, but she didn’t want to take it, and I was
like if my parents wanted to buy me a car, I would take it. Why wouldn’t
you take it. So instead, she got an expensive stereo system. So anyway,
that’s what her father was. He was CEO of Kimberly Clark, so I read his
compensation package when I was in law school.
Here’s another Wesleyan thing. These experiences open your
eyes. I took a weekly seminar junior year, Monday afternoons, and there
was a guy named Stewart Jacobson in my class. He was from Texas. It
was a small seminar, about eight people. So we’re there one Monday
before class starts, and I’m talking to him and ask what he did for the
weekend. His response was my father and I had dinner with Senator
Kennedy. I said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” And he said it again.
That is not what I was expecting. I thought maybe his father was some
Texas cattleman or oil person. I didn’t per se know that his father did. So
here’s the deal. My son was born in 1985, and that summer, we flew to
Pittsburgh to visit my mother-in-law. There was a People magazine, and
the cover story was on Rock Hudson because it had come out that he had
AIDS and I wanted to read the story, but I didn’t want to be a voyeur and
go straight to the story, so I’m thumbing through the magazine, and there’s
an article and it had a picture of a guy at the beach and he’s jumping up in
the air, and it says something like Stewart Jacobson is jumping for joy
over whatever. And I’m thinking I knew a guy named Stewart Jacobson.
So I start looking at it. Well, this is Stewart who was in class with me, and
it said after he’d gone to Wesleyan, he had done some modeling. He wore
glasses in college, but he didn’t have glasses on in this picture. He had
done some modeling and different things, but his father was some big-time
cardiologist in Dallas. Stewart got the idea of writing a book about giftgiving,
and he tried to get a publishing company to back him, so Stewart
wrote letters to thirty family friends, or more, asking them to front him
$10,000 each because he wanted to do this book thing, so he raised
$300,000, and then he wrote famous people and asked them the question,
what’s the best gift you ever received, what’s the best gift you ever gave,
and then he met with many of these people and took pictures, and boom,
gets this book published. It’s a coffee table book, and one of their friends
was Mary Kay. She bought 5,000 copies to give away to her Mary Kay
people. I go to the china department over at Woody’s and the book is
there. Later on, my current husband and I went to the Virgin Islands, and
we’re in the Islands and went in some shop somewhere in St. Croix, and
there was the book there. So this is how they can do it. He could ask
family friends and raise money. My friends, we weren’t able to do that
kind of thing. Anyway, so that’s a Wesleyan kind of experience.
MR. WEAVER: It’s kind of special to be in the city and on the campus where you went to
law school. Tell me a little more about when you came down here. D.C.
was a city that you were familiar with but tell me about starting 1L year.
How was the experience for you? 1L is, I think for a lot of people, kind of
a grueling experience. It’s not particularly fun. How was it for you?
MS. JEFFRIES: My apartment was in Southwest at 1245 Fourth Street Southwest,
Apartment E608. I lived there for three years. You really could if you
wanted to walk from there to here, but I drove. Georgetown was just this
building right in front of us, and it didn’t have that front addition. I came
here, I had not visited the law school, like I hadn’t visited colleges. When
I got here, number one, I certainly was surprised because Georgetown had
more Black students than I expected. So for me, there was a good
number. Maybe we were 10%. I must give all the credit to a person
who’s well known in D.C., Dave Wilmot. He was the Dean of
Admissions then. A young Black man at the time, a lawyer, and he is very
much responsible for there being as many Black alumni at Georgetown as
there are. I didn’t know Dave’s story. He’s gone on to be a businessman
and do different things. I didn’t know his story, but I listened to this
podcast, a local man who’s known in media, Andy Ockershausen, he used
to be with WMAL, he does this podcast called Our Town, and he
interviews people, and he interviewed Dave Wilmot, and I listened to that
this year. Dave explained all of it, how he came to be at Georgetown,
what he did, and all of that. So I was so happy to hear that. In fact, now
that I’m thinking about that, I meant to write Dave a note. So anyway, I
was here. I had people I could be friends with. I’m also friends with
white people, but there were Black students here. People asked me about
law school. Then and now, this is my response. I did not find law school
to be a fun activity, and if people said to me oh I really loved law school
or whatever, I’d find that to be a curious response. Law school to me was
one, you’re doing all this reading, you may read a 100-page case, what’s
the bottom line here, where are we going to this, but you’re reading a 100-
page case, you have these dissents, you have to do the analysis, the fact
patterns, and then, of course, you’re trying to do the best you can do first
year of law school because you’re rewarded by going on law review. So
what that means is you go to law school, you work really, really hard, and
your reward is you’re given another assignment where you have to work
even harder and do all this stuff. I will say June did not make law review.
But anyway, you have to get into that, the reading, writing, the analysis.
Another thing about going to law school at Georgetown, and I was a day
student. They had a night program. I think most of us got part-time jobs,
which was a big experience that people could be here in the city working
various places whether it was on the Hill, law firms, non-profits, or
whatever. So at the same time you are in law school, you’re doing that.
So that’s why I worked, as I said, at the Federal Trade Commission. I was
on the investigation of the funeral home industry. Things are very slow at
the Federal Trade Commission. So that was a very good thing to be here
at Georgetown and have that opportunity.
I still was not particularly sure what I would do, and I graduated
without having a job, and I went home to take the Michigan bar. So I
enjoyed being at Georgetown, and I felt it was the right place for me and
being there. At that time, a lot of students from Howard Law School
would come and study at the Georgetown Library. I often didn’t study at
the library because I thought it became kind of a social place because so
many people would hang out there. I considered Georgetown to have
been a positive experience for me, and the little exposure to the Jesuits.
MR. WEAVER: Did you study in a study group, or did you study alone?
MS. JEFFRIES: I mainly studied alone, although there were a few times I did study groups.
I took the notes. You do the outlines. I remember freshman year I went to
some party that December, and there was a guy, a third-year student, who
was there, and he was in a tizzy over his exam the next day. He was in a
tizzy because there were no Gilberts, no nutshells for the course. So I
asked what was the problem? The problem was he had never gone to the
class until like the very last day and found out that it wasn’t the class he
thought it was so he didn’t know. I learned something from that. You
need to go to class.
I had some interesting professors at Georgetown. Professor
Richard Allen Gordon for Contracts. He was quite a personality. He had
been roommates or good friends with William Peter Blatty who wrote The
Exorcist. I think Professor Gordon helped negotiate his contract when
they sold it to the movies or whatever. I had Larry Richey for Criminal
Law. I got called on to talk about Miranda. I remember that. I had two
Black law professors, Patricia King. I had her for Commercial Law, and I
had Jerome Schulman for Corporations. I want to say this very clearly.
Those two professors were treated differently by my white classmates than
the way those same classmates treated the white professors, and they
challenged them all the time over things that they said. They did not do
that with the white professors, and I want to say that very clearly.
MR. WEAVER: Did you take Criminal Law 1L year?
MR. WEAVER: Was that of particular interest to you then, or did you know that that was
going to be an area that you wanted to go into?
MS. JEFFRIES: I did not know. And it’s funny because I became a prosecutor and became
a litigator, and you have to work in the courtroom. I think if you asked
anyone who knew me back then, if you’d asked me, if you’d asked my exhusband
if I’d end up being a prosecutor, being a litigator like that, I think
most people would have been surprised. I’m surprised. But as I said, I
didn’t really know. Maybe it was in my Tax class, but one of my
professors would talk about ERISA a lot, which is the pension thing, and
he said if you went into ERISA, you could make $200 an hour, and I
thought that was very interesting. I didn’t pursue it, but I was exposed to
things here at the law school that people were doing that I would not have
known otherwise.
I graduated from Georgetown Law School, and I went home to
take the Michigan bar, and I didn’t have a job. So here’s the deal. My
mother was a grocery store cashier, and she knew a lot of people. And
this is the way I got my first job. This is for real. I’m home, going to take
the Michigan bar, I’m asleep one morning. My mother calls me from
work and said that one of her customers worked at the courthouse and he
knew a job I could get, and I needed to get up and go see him then because
he was going on vacation the next day. So I did. And his name was
Morgan Carroll. He was a courtroom clerk in Detroit Recorder’s Court,
which was then the Criminal Court for the City of Detroit. They had an
office called the Misdemeanor Defender’s Office, which was a contract
office, and this guy, Bob Gold, got the contract and then they would assign
these misdemeanor cases. I went down there. Bob was on vacation, but
this other guy, Sam, was running the office. I met Sam, and he says okay,
you’re hired. So that summer I started doing these misdemeanor cases.
Bob comes back. He said if I passed the bar, he’d hire me as a staff
attorney, and I said okay. So I’m studying for the bar, and I end up
passing the bar, so I worked there for nine months doing misdemeanors in
the City of Detroit. I probably have a lot to say about that experience and
the way things worked. But anyway, that was good for me, and that
exposed me to these criminal cases and stuff. Detroit, as I call it, a crimefree
city. Hah hah. So there was a lot going on and a lot of trials you
could go see and things in the news. I did that.
I talked earlier about my fifth grade teachers, Mrs. McQuarry and
Mrs. McFadden. Mrs. McFadden had a son who is older than I am, and I
had never met him, but I knew of him, and he had gone to Harvard Law
School. I can’t remember, but maybe my mother ran into him, anyway,
somehow I got put in touch with him, and he was working at a small Black
law firm in Detroit, and I meet him and through him, I ended up getting a
job with them at this law firm, Patman and Young, which at most we had
nine lawyers. This was a very interesting and good experience for me. It
was, even though there were things about it that maybe weren’t the best,
but still positive in my life. Patman and Young did a lot of entertainment
work, although this was post-Motown. Motown had moved away, but
they still did a lot of things. Patman and Young had been IRS agents and
went to law school and night, so they did tax work. We also represented a
lot of the Black professionals in their professional corporations, lawyers,
doctors, dentists, business owners. A woman at the firm did domestic
relations, and we did wills and estates. In the course of the corporate
work, for instance, we did work for the Detroit Public Schools, which you
could call essentially a Black client. So I did work there at Patman and
Young for 2 1/2 years. I did wills, I did some entertainment things. The
big thing was, when I started with them, if you know Motown, they had
these songwriters and producers, Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont
Dozier, otherwise known Holland, Dozier, and Holland, and they wrote all
these songs for the Supremes and the Temptations and others. When I
started with Patman and Young, Eddie and Brian were suing Lamont and
Lamont was suing them back, and they were about to go to federal trial so
everyone’s working on this, and then they settled. Eddie and Brian were
our clients, and they were living in California. They would fly back to
Detroit from time to time in their leisure suits, their jogging suits,
complaining about the weather in Detroit because California is all warm
and everything. Well we got their quarterly royalty statements, ASCAP
and BMI, we’d get their royalty statements, and so June would read their
royalty statements, and that was very interesting to me because they were
making money off of music that had been recording fifteen and twenty
years earlier, and they were making good money. They did not have to
work as they could just collect these royalties. We had some other
interesting clients. So I worked there. It came to be the point where my
boyfriend who I talked about was at Georgetown Medical School and
maybe he graduated so anyway we decided what we were going to do, so I
left Patman and Young and came here for three months to see what we
would decide to do. We decided to get married, but he was married in the
Navy. He had gotten a Navy scholarship, paid for him to go to med
school, so he had to do a year of ship duty. I went back to Detroit while
he was on the ship. I was picking up cases in court because my mother,
she’s the best career person. She’s a cashier, she knew Judge Willis Ward.
He was on probate. Well the probate judges give assignments, so he gave
me some assignments. They would do the mental commitments, so I
would represent respondents, or if they had people were petitioning to be
conservators or guardians, and they appoint you as guardian ad litem, and
I’d go out and do interviews and write reports and go to hearings. Once he
started giving me some, other judges gave me some of those. I picked up
some criminal cases. I had a criminal case where a judge, he was so hard
on me. But anyway, then he calls me. I had applied to the U.S.
Attorney’s Office. Well he had hired the U.S. Attorney to work under
him, so he called to put in a good word. There was a hiring freeze, but
through that judge, he suggested I apply to the prosecutor’s office, so
that’s when I went to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. I worked
there, but I knew I was going to leave because I was going to get married.
I worked there for nine months, and when I told them I was leaving, they
were willing to try to work something out with me so I could stay, but I
said I had to go on and go to Washington.
I got my job here at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This is how that
came about. I told you I had applied to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in
Detroit, but then there was a hiring freeze, and Judge Henry Heady had
called Lennie Gilman, who was then U.S. Attorney, and put in a good
word for me. So I didn’t get hired because there was a hiring freeze. Well
Law Day was coming, and I went to the Law Day luncheon. I don’t know
if I talked about this already. Lenny Gilman was the speaker. The
Temptations were coming to town, and they had in the paper that there
was some complaint against Eddie Kendricks about taxes, so I went up to
him and said all my life, the Temptations are my favorite. I want to see
them, but will Eddie be in jail. He said he thought something would work
out. I told him I would be moving to D.C., and I was interested in the U.S.
Attorney’s Office here. I asked him if he knew anyone in the U.S.
Attorney’s Office, so he wrote a man’s name on a piece of paper, and told
me when I was ready to apply, to let him know. I put the piece of paper in
my checkbook, I come here, and after a month of being a housewife, I
decided I should look for a job. Well the man on the piece of paper was
Joe iGenova, who was then the principal assistant U.S. Attorney, and what
everybody in town knew but I didn’t know was that Joe was going to be
the next U.S. Attorney. Stanley Harris was the U.S. Attorney at the time.
He had been a Superior Court judge, and they were really just waiting for
a vacancy on the U.S. District Court, and Stanley Harris was going to go
there, and Joe would be U.S. Attorney. So I sent in my application in
October, and I will say that on January 1 of 1983 at 3:10 in the afternoon,
Stanley Harris called me on the phone and said he wanted me to join them,
except I didn’t quite know what he meant, and I said you mean right now?
Because I was having people over to my house. Was he inviting me to a
New Year’s Day party? [Laughter]
So then I started working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for 25
years, 7 months, and 3 days. At that time, we were in Superior Court, but
probably in 1985 or 1986, we moved two blocks away on the other side of
the freeway to that building, so I would tell people in my legal career, I
had only moved two blocks, and that’s where I was for the bulk of my
career here in D.C.
MR. WEAVER: If we could, I want to put a pause on that because we are going to dig into
more of that in our later session. I have a couple questions about things
you mentioned about law school, and the first is you talked about noticing
the sort of racism and the lack of difference that some of your white
classmates had for your two Black professors.
MS. JEFFRIES: Definitely true. I want people to hear this.
MR. WEAVER: I was wondering, I know for instance in the 1980s at Harvard and others
there was a lot of campus activism surrounding the hiring of Black
professors, and I was wondering if that was something that happened at
Georgetown as well. Did you have a sense that there was a lack of Black
professors, or was it mainly just the sort of racist dynamic that you saw
within your class?
MS. JEFFRIES: If you’re someone like me, or as I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book, like
her, we can spend much of our lives in situations where we are the only
Black person or one of two or one of a handful, so to come here and they
only had a couple of Black professors was not a surprising thing. It was
more surprising to me as I said the way that my fellow students would
show disrespect and challenge. But I do not recall that at that time that we
had any concerted movement to get more or that there was anything that
I’m aware of to get more staff in the faculty, certainly probably many of
us wanted that, but like I said, the thing that did stand out was the number
of Black students that we had at Georgetown because it was more than I
had expected because I was used to expecting lower numbers.
MR. WEAVER: Were you involved in any law student organizations?
MS. JEFFRIES: No. I was not. I did join a legal fraternity back then, and the only law
school organization I did is Georgetown has a Gilbert & Sullivan Society,
I did costumes on that. In terms of my classes, I did not do a courtroom
clinical thing. What I did was Street Law. And now I wish I had done
one of the courtroom clinical things, but I was kind of shy and retiring,
and I will tell this. I say to people Street Law was the single – I’ll call it
worse – experience of my life. It was extremely challenging for me. It
was extremely challenging. It was eye-opening, but it was a challenge, the
MR. WEAVER: What was challenging about it?
MS. JEFFRIES: I taught Street Law at Spingarn High School, which is around 26th and
Benning Road. In Street Law, we provided the books. I taught 7th period.
I don’t know, it wasn’t five days a week, maybe three days a week, and I
used the classroom, which was another teacher’s classroom, and for
whatever reasons they chose to do this, she and her 7th period class went to
another room. My very first day at Spingarn, as I’m walking up, a girl
came out and she was pregnant with a maternity top that said, “Baby” with
an arrow pointing at her stomach. I went in the office and they had a
trophy case with all these trophies, which I thought this must be like every
trophy they’ve ever earned at this school, but I think they were only for
recent years. At Spingarn, I taught on the third floor. Class ended at 3:00,
and I’d be in the classroom say like 3:05 or something. They’d come on
over the loudspeaker and say Room 305, are you okay? And I’d say yes.
I never knew why they did this, but they did it. Midway through the year,
they got a new principal. Something happened and they brought in a new
principal and new security and they had locks on the doors, so when
classes started, they would come over the loudspeaker and say you were to
lock your doors because they were going to sweep the hallways, and that
was to keep people from running in your rooms. One day when I got in
class, some guy was in my class one time who wasn’t a student, and he
said things to me I didn’t even tell my boyfriend the things that the guy
The teacher whose room I used would often have the Blackboard
completely filled, and she would ask me if I could not erase anything, and
sometimes she’d ask me if her class could come in and sit in the back so
they could copy what was on the board, and I’d say okay. It was her
room, I didn’t know why she was doing that. I got to school early one day
in around February and I was in the teachers’ lounge talking to her, and
she said that she taught five classes and had one set of books which was
shared between two classes. The other three classes did not have books,
and that’s why she wrote all the stuff on the Blackboard. She said that she
used to type it all and mimeograph it. This is a long time ago. She said
that just became too much. I was totally stunned to hear that these kids
did not have textbooks, so I said to my students this teacher says that she
only has one set of books for two classes and you don’t have books, is this
your experience? And they were like yes, and I said how can this be? I’ve
been in this city, this is my third year, and I’ve never heard this, not in the
newspaper, not on TV, I don’t see your parents up here, I don’t see you
picketing, but we could look out the window and see the nation’s capital.
I said I bet those kids over at Wilson have books, and I don’t understand
why you all are accepting this. That was a tremendous shock for me.
When I was in Detroit, before I went to high school, high school kids used
to have to buy their textbooks, but someone or some group had sued, and
it went up to the Michigan Supreme Court before I started high school,
and the Michigan Supreme Court said that part of providing a free
education was the books, and not only did they have to give you books,
but they had to give you basic school supplies. So in high school, I did not
have to buy the books, and then at the beginning of every semester, they
give you some lined paper and some pencils. You got that as well. Now
if you took a class like I took sewing class or something, you had to buy
your own materials and stuff like that. So these people didn’t have books,
and I said if I didn’t have books, my parents would have bought me books,
but I don’t hear anything about this. That was so flabbergasting to me.
The idea that they’d have these security sweeps. I think they had a
shooting and that’s why that happened. And all these girls were pregnant.
I’d never seen this before. I called one of my friends at home and said all
these girls at school are pregnant or they have a kid or they’re having
another one, and they’re showing me all these pictures of babies. I don’t
like knowing anything about this. She said that’s because when we were
in school, they didn’t allow the girls to go to school if they were pregnant.
I want the girls to get an education, but for me I don’t think that’s the best
to have them at school like that because everybody was accepting of this
and thinking it was the norm. I want you to educate the girls, I want care
for the children, but I also want these girls to know you don’t have to have
babies when you’re 15 years old. I think for many of them, and I
encountered this in my job, I think if people say to them don’t get
pregnant, you don’t have to get pregnant. I just don’t. And the kids just
were not good students. My first exam was a basic civics thing. Anything
on the exam we had talked about or it was in the book. I asked the
question, “What’s the name of the Mayor of Washington, D.C.?” That
was not a hard question because the name was in the question. His name
was Walter Washington. People didn’t get that. I asked people to name
three federal agencies, because I figured most people had folks working.
Couldn’t get that. So many of the kids wanted to do sports. They thought
they’d be professional athletes. So I’d say what do you want to do in your
adulthood. Oh, I’ll play basketball. I said to them you know what, any
Black guy I’ve ever gone out with plays basketball. Not only do they
play, but they all think they’re great, and they’re not. I said and you
know, only one Michael Jordan comes out a year or something. What
happens if you go to college and the coach doesn’t like you, you don’t
make the team, you break your leg. What if you get bent, what are you
going to do. One boy, Rodney, was a swimmer. I said well you know
what, swimming will not keep your head above water in all that you do.
Another guy once said he was going in the Marines. I said I see those ads
on TV. The Marines say they’re looking for a few good men, not a bunch
of clowns, fools, and buffoons. What are we doing here?
So Street Law, it was very hard for me because that was not an
environment that I had been in. No. That was not an environment that I
had been in, and I was trying to relate.
MR. WEAVER: Did you get close with any of your professors when you were in law
school? Do you still keep in touch with any of them?
MS. JEFFRIES: Not with law school professors, I didn’t get close with, although I have
run into some. I’ve seen Patricia King and spoken to her. I’ve seen
Professor Gordon. I called over and some issue came up in life. I called
over and talked to Professor Gordon and someone else. But I didn’t have
those relationships, which I tell young people now. You need to cultivate
relationships with them. That can be very beneficial. I knew some people
on staff because I had a law school job and worked at the law school.
I want to say this though. I had good experiences with
Georgetown, and one thing that happened after I graduated law school.
They have the local alumni group, and I would go to some alumni
activities. There were two Catholic women’s colleges in Detroit, Mary
Grove and Mercy, and I think Mary Grove got a new president and they
were having the convocation to install the new president so they invited all
these Catholic school presidents to come. The president of Georgetown
had been invited and didn’t come but they asked me if I would go and
represent Georgetown. We all marched in. So Georgetown sent me the
complete academic regalia, my robe, the purple thing, the beret and all. I
did that representing Georgetown. I felt very honored to do that and to
have that experience.
MR. WEAVER: Who were your close friends in law school? Did you develop a new group
of friends?
MS. JEFFRIES: I was friends with Curtis Scott, and he didn’t finish. Curtis was from
Detroit, and somehow I knew Curtis in some kind of way casually. I had
heard that he was going to be going to Georgetown Law School, so I
probably connected with him before we started. Curtis was here, and he
had gone to Brown, so we knew several people in common from college
years. I became friends with a woman, Lee Adams. Lee and I are still
friends. She was local from here, had gone to Mt. Holyoke, and her
brother Gene had graduated from Wesleyan the year I started. Another
woman, Faith Thomas, she was from Maryland. Faith and I are still
friends. My friend Kim. Kim is from Queens. She’d gone to Cornell. I
talked to Kim not long ago. She ultimately got a job with the ASPCA and
had some interesting work. My job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, some of
my classmates were there. I have a very good friend, Marva. Marva was
older than us, about eight years older. She had worked as a social worker,
had worked out in California, but she’s from Greenville, Mississippi, and
Marva and I became friends, and we are good friends now. She’s up in
Silver Spring. I see other people, Georgetown people. In participating in
some Georgetown things, I’ve met other Georgetown alum. I met one
woman, Beverley Perry, she graduated after I did, but she is older than I
am, and she went on to become a vice president at PEPCO, and now I
think she’s chief of staff or deputy chief of staff to the Mayor. I had good
experiences through my friendship with Beverley. She’s a very generous
person. And some other folks.
MR. WEAVER: Talk a little bit about the summer leading up to the bar exam. Did you
take the bar exam in the fall?
MS. JEFFRIES: I took it in the summer, July of 1978.
MR. WEAVER: What was experience of studying for that like? Were you studying here,
or were you back in Detroit?
MS. JEFFRIES: I was back in Detroit. I took the bar review class. It met down at Wayne
State, and then I was working. The bar review is different now. We had
the books and you went to the lectures, then they would have extra little
classes and practice sessions you could pay for. I don’t think I did. I
maybe did one of those extras. I did a lot of studying myself or with some
people I met, we would study together. For me, studying for the bar exam
was an intense experience. What I said I would do is if the bar exam was
Tuesday and Wednesday, I was going to stop studying Sunday at
5:00 p.m., because if I didn’t know it by then, it was too late. Saturday
evening, this guy called me and asked what I was doing. I said studying.
He asked if I wanted to go out, and I said sure. So we went out, and I
come in Saturday and like 2:00 a.m. or something and go to bed. Okay,
5:00 a.m. I wake up. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t study, so essentially the
studying ended. At that point, I was hyped.
I did not want to not pass the bar exam for the failure of or the
want of a number two pencil, so on Monday, I went down to Wayne’s
bookstore, and I bought twenty number two pencils. I went to the library
or wherever they had an electric pencil sharpener, and I sharpened twenty
pencils and took them up to Lansing that day with me. Herein comes the
single most morally challenging event of my life. Tuesday morning I’m
there, and you’re in those little student desks with the table that flips over,
and I put my pencils there and I’m sitting there, and across the aisle, a guy
asks if he could borrow a pencil. I have to say I’m totally stunned that
anyone would ask me for a pencil. I mean like totally. You would call me
like a nice person. Okay. But I couldn’t believe he was asking me for a
pencil. I looked at my pencils, and I looked at the ceiling, and I looked at
my ceiling, and I’m like I can’t believe it. So I gave him one pencil.
Nobody else was going to get a pencil from me. I was really concerned. I
didn’t want it to be that something would happen and that 20th pencil
would have made a difference.
So anyway, the bar exam was Tuesday and Wednesday. When it
was over, I had used three pencils, but I had been a Girl Scout, and the
Girl Scouts said be prepared, and I used three pencils. By the time I took
the bar exam, I had lost 17 pounds studying for the bar exam and stuff.
That Sunday I told you I woke up at 5:00 a.m. Really from that point on I
couldn’t eat. I had more like tea and toast or something like that. So
Wednesday when we were finished, oh my goodness, I was starving. We
came to Detroit and pigged out on Chinese food.
So then you had to wait. Bar results were coming out in October,
and, of course, it’s not like now. I think now you get them on computer.
They’d come in the mail, and the word was they’d come on a Saturday in
October. I didn’t want to be sitting around the house waiting for the
mailman, so I would go take these long drives. I would go to Canada. I’m
driving around the state of Michigan not to be home [laughter]. This is so
true. I’m going to Canada, I’m doing stuff not to be home. Well the bar
results came out and I didn’t get mine, so then I’m in a tizzy. I get to work
on Monday and trying to call up to the bar place was a nightmare. The
phone was staying busy, I’m at work and people are talking. So one of the
women, Pam, had a friend who worked in the same building in Lansing.
She had her friend go down there and they gave her another number we
could call in on. So when I called in, the woman said that I was one of
fourteen people who they didn’t have certification that we’d graduated
from law school and they needed that and that they had told us that at the
bar exam. I’m here to say no one at the bar exam had told me that because
why would I have sat around in Detroit, why would I be driving to Canada
and everything if I had known they needed that. She said the registrar’s
office could call it in, so we called the registrar’s office, and I talked to
them, gave them the number, and we gave them a chance to call in, then
we called back, and I was on one phone, and Pam was on the extension.
Pam Harwood. So the woman says June Jeffries, and I said, “Yes.” And
she said she passed. Whereupon I became giddy and I threw down the
phone and everything, I’m so excited. I think my mother was at work so I
couldn’t talk to her, but when I got off work, I went home and nobody was
around. I went across the street and told Mr. and Mrs. Tyson, I’m running
around all giddy and everything. But then I got nervous because then I’m
thinking what if I misheard her. What if she said she didn’t pass. But
Pam was on the other end, so she heard it too. So then I kind of waited.
But I did get them, and I was admitted on a Wednesday at the City County
Building in the ceremony there, and then we went over to the Sixth
Circuit, over to District Court and got admitted. I got admitted to the
Sixth Circuit and to that then. That was good. 1978. I got admitted
November 8 or 7, so that’s 40 years ago this month.
MR. WEAVER: We are at I think a good closing point for today. I have one more question
that I want to ask, and it’s kind of a hard question, so if you want to, you
can answer it now or you can think about it, and we can return to it next
session. In our first interview, you told a really great story about how
strangely enough part of the reason you ended up at Wesleyan was the
experience of having apple pie served with cheddar cheese on it. I thought
that was a really fascinating story. I’ve never had apple pie with any kind
of cheese on it. It reminded me of sort of the weird contingencies that
happen and the ways you kind of look back sometimes at your life and
think based on this one strange thing that happened, like things could have
gone differently. We talk a lot about that, and we talk about the stories of
our lives, things could have turned out one way or another, but was there
any event or person that you haven’t talked about yet that you think about
in that way, that you think about and think, huh, if it had gone a little bit
different way, my life could have turned out totally different. I know
that’s a broad question.
MS. JEFFRIES: I do think about that, but even just like I told you how we just happened to
go over into Vermont. If we hadn’t done that, New England wasn’t on my
mind in going to college, in going to Wesleyan. My mother talked about
Harvard and stuff, so maybe I would have applied to Harvard or wherever,
and I was getting those letters, but just going on that trip like that.
People that I’ve met and things might go a different way. There
probably are people like that and some things I’ve been told. I’ll think
about that one. But I think about what if my parents had stayed on the east
side. I’m not an east side person, and I’d gone to different schools and
met different people. Because I would say my friends’ parents for me
were very influential, and I gained a lot from them because like I said, my
parents had not gone to college, but some of my friends’ parents were
doctors or different things and very influential. I’ll say this briefly, I was
in Detroit last month, and I ended up going to a birthday party for a
woman I went to junior high and high school with. She is a judge, but
when we were kids in junior high school, back then, which is the 1960s,
her mother was a judge on Detroit Recorder’s Court. She was the only
Black woman judge on Detroit Recorder’s Court, so as kids, you always
knew that. Debbie posted something on Facebook the other day about her
mother, and I sa’id even though I didn’t know your mother, I knew she
was your mother, and I knew she was a judge and to be a little girl and to
see a Black woman being a judge like that was important and significant.
I should say this, I mentioned Judge Willis Ward, the probate
judge. When Gerald Ford died and his funeral was going on, my mother
and I were in the car and had it on the radio, and George W. was speaking
at the funeral, and he actually mentioned Judge Ward. So I can talk about
that later. I was like wow, okay.
MR. WEAVER: Great. Well thank you very much. We will pick this back up.
Oral History of June Jeffries
Third Interview
February 11, 2019
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Monday, February 11, 2019. This is the third interview.
MR. WEAVER: During the previous session, we talked about where you’re from, your
parents, your family, your childhood, and we left off talking about how
you went to college at Wesleyan then picked up in our second session
talking about your experience at Wesleyan, the challenge of losing your
father, your experiences here at Georgetown Law School, among other
things. You were admitted to the bar in November 1978, which is just
forty years ago, or a little over forty years ago now. Today we’re going to
talk a little bit about the beginning of those forty years, the start of your
career as an attorney. According to your bio, you were named Senior
Litigation Counsel at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1992. Is that correct?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. It is correct.
MR. WEAVER: Okay, so I think that might be a good marker for us today. If I ask a
general question about stories or things that happen, if we could try to
focus on the time between 1978 and 1992.
MS. JEFFRIES: Okay. That’s good.
MR. WEAVER: Tell me about the first few years you spent in Detroit from 1978 to 1982,
after you passed the bar, so you’re a new lawyer. What kind of work were
you doing there when you found out you passed the bar?
MS. JEFFRIES: I have to say this because I had been here in Washington. I went home to
take the bar exam, and I didn’t have a job. I anticipated I would take the
bar exam and return to D.C. and look for a job, so I had kept my apartment
and was paying the rent there. But what happened with me was my
mother was a grocery store cashier, and at that time, she was working
downtown at the A&P in Lafayette Park, and lots of interesting people
lived down there. Wherever my mother worked, she always made friends
with the customers, so one day that June, I was at home, actually asleep,
and my mother called me from work and said one of her customers called
who worked at the court and he knew a job I could get, but I had to go see
him that day because he was about to go on vacation. Now this talks
about the way things work in Detroit. In any event, I went down there,
and that man was courtroom clerk. His name was Morgan Carroll. He has
subsequently died. He worked in Detroit Recorder’s Court, which was the
criminal court for the City of Detroit. They had there, the way they
handled misdemeanor defense work was, there was an office that had a
contract and it was called the Misdemeanor Defenders Office, and the man
with the contract was named was Robert Gold. So Morgan Carroll had me
go over there to the Misdemeanor Defenders Office. Bob Gold was on
vacation, and another guy was in charge, a young guy, Sam Churikian. So
I went over there and told him that Morgan told me to come over there,
and Sam said okay. Sam hired me in the absence of Bob. They would do
the misdemeanor defense work there. Bob came back from vacation, and
it was okay with him. After I’d been working there, Bob told me that if I
passed the bar exam, he could hire me as a staff attorney, so I was working
for Bob. I passed the bar exam, and I became a staff attorney. So all told,
I probably worked with the Misdemeanor Defenders Office for about nine
months, and that was my beginning of exposure to criminal law, aside
from Perry Mason, which got me there in the first place, got me to law
In the Misdemeanor Defenders Office, I think about that work
compared to the quality of work and the type of defense that misdemeanor
defendants and others get here through the Public Defender’s Office, and I
will say it comes up short. I hope that in Detroit things are done better
now with more resources and more training. I don’t know to what extent
it has hopefully improved. But it was a good situation for me. What I saw
was that I enjoyed being in court, and up to this point in time, if you had
ever said that I would be in court and be a litigator, that would have been a
surprise to everyone. It would have been a surprise to me. And I’m sure
if you’d ask my boyfriend at the time, who became my husband and is
now my ex-husband, if you had asked him if he saw me doing that, I’m
sure he tell you that was a surprise as well. But I liked being in court. I
liked the drama of it. I liked being able to represent and speak on my feet
and strategize some. That was good for me to be at the Misdemeanor
Defenders Office.
So then another thing that happened, and I tell people all the time,
any job I got as a lawyer, I got because I knew someone in some kind of
way, although it didn’t have to be I knew them well or anything, but it
always worked that way for me. When I was in 5th grade, our 5th grade
class was taught as an experiment because our principal had made inroads
with Olivetti Typewriter Company, and she got them to outfit our 5th grade
class with typewriters, and so our language arts and classes were taught
around the use of the typewriter, which really is like people using
computers now, except typewriters didn’t have that artificial intelligence.
So two teachers taught that together, Mrs. Thelma McQuarry and Mrs.
Cecil McFadden, and they taught us typing, and we were on TV and stuff
because we learned to type. I have been typing since I was nine years old.
So I remained connected to Mrs. McQuarry and Mrs. McFadden to some
extent after those years, and like I said, my mother worked at the A&P at
this point when I finished law school in Lafayette Park. Mrs. McQuarry
lived down around Lafayette Park on Thornhill Place, and my mother
would see her and other people, so in some kind of way, I knew that Mr.
McFadden’s son, Ulysses Boyken, was a lawyer, and I knew that because,
for instance, we used to get Jet magazine, and I remember we had Jet
magazine and we got married, he and his wife were in there with their
wedding, so I had known that. And I knew she had a son from when I was
her student. Anyway, he was a lawyer with a small Black firm in Detroit,
and I can’t remember right now what got me to talking to him, but I think
he shopped at my mom’s store, and that’s probably how. He probably told
her I should come talk to him. He was at a firm called Patman & Young,
and I went and saw him, and through him, I ultimately got hired by
Patman & Young, which was a firm I worked at for about two years and a
few months. Patman & Young was a small Black law firm in Detroit, and
they did interesting work. Patman & Young themselves had been IRS
agents and gone to law school at night. We did a variety of things. They
did tax work, so, for instance, we did do tax work for our clients. To my
memory, I’m a member. I was admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax
Court over there. I’m sure that hasn’t lapsed, but that’s because of Patman
& Young. They did entertainment work. So I was with them from 1979
to 1981. This is post-Motown. When I first went there, the big thing that
was going on was Patman & Young represented Eddie and Brian Holland,
who were of the songwriting team Holland Dozier Holland, who wrote all
these songs for Motown and the Temptations, Diana Ross, all those
people. So at that moment, Eddie and Brian were suing their former
partner, Lamont Dozier, in federal court. I don’t remember what they
were suing Lamont for or about, and it was about to go to trial. And then
Lamont had a counterclaim against Eddie and Brian. And of course,
Motown had moved to California, and Eddie and Brian had moved to
California. They were in LA and flying into Detroit and complaining
about the weather and they wanted to back in California. Anyway, when I
started, they were about to go to trial, but the trial settled. So we did some
entertainment for Eddie and Brian and some other performers. We had
some athletes who were our clients. So for instance, we represented Dave
Bing and that’s public knowledge so I’m not saying anything people
didn’t know. We represented Dave Bing. He wasn’t playing for the
Pistons then. He always wanted to go into business, and he was
developing I think and had started his steel company at the time, but I
know at one point during our representation, the Pistons were perhaps
interested in him coaching the Pistons. So we represented people like that.
We also represented many of the Black professionals in Detroit like
doctors, lawyers, dentists and businesspeople in their professional
corporations. We did that work for them. We did civil litigation, and
there was a woman at the firm, Mrs. King, an older woman, and she did
domestic stuff, so a lot of divorces and things, family law issues.
So I went there with that firm. It was an interesting and good
experience for me because I did a variety of things. I wrote a lot of wills
and some trust agreements for some people. I did some litigation. I did
some administrative work. We always signed off on things. I signed on
the tax things, but I never per se did any of the tax work. I got to meet a
lot of people working for Patman & Young. When I first started working
with them, we worked in a building on Cadillac Square and maybe it was
called the Cadillac Square Building. We were on the 26th floor. While I
was there, we moved to the Penobscot Building, which I think at that point
was called the City National Bank Building, but now it’s back to being
called the Penobscot Building. Until they built “RenCen” [the
Renaissance Center], it was the tallest building in Detroit. We moved into
offices on the 47th floor, and it’s a beautiful kind of art deco building, and
a huge building. There was so much stuff in there that you wouldn’t have
known if you had never gone inside. To get to our offices, you had to take
two separate elevators because there was one set of elevators that went to
floor 1 to 30 and you’d have to change and go over. Our office had a
balcony, and you could go out on the balcony, and this is in downtown
Detroit. I could go out on the balcony and look out on the river, across the
river and into Canada and see my fellow Canadians, my fellow brothers
and sisters as I call them. It was beautiful. They had decorated very
nicely. We had a suite of offices. In Detroit, they do the fireworks before
the 4th of July, so we’d be up there for the fireworks and go out on the
balcony. It was a beautiful experience.
Lots of businesses were in there. So, for instance, I don’t know
what news organization it was, but there was a news organization on our
floor, and there was a young Black woman who worked for them, and I
was friendly with her. She continues to write, and I think at some point
she was working for The New York Times, but she had a special in The
Washington Post Food Section last year. She wrote an article about
cooking for her father who had subsequently died, but they were Haitian,
and she had two recipes in there which I saved because she made these
Cornish hens and she made something else. I intend to make that. But I
remember her from being in Detroit. One woman was working there, and
she was a receptionist, and we became friends, so at one point, she wanted
to leave Detroit, and she came out here and stayed with me a few months
and looked for a job. She ultimately went back home. So this summer she
and her husband and children, and she even had grandchildren, they came
out to D.C. and I got to see them and we talked about the old days at
Patman & Young. It was a good experience for me. We did work in the
federal courts. I did work in courts outside of Detroit. I’d go up to
Pontiac, Oakland County Circuit Court. We had a client who owned a bar
and they had female dancers in the bar. They got a violation, the liquor
commission wrote up a violation because let’s say parts of her body he
said were exposed that were against the liquor violations. I went and did
the hearing, and then there was some argument about this particular
exposed piece, and everybody in there, all the people on the panel, were
men and I said it seemed to me that perhaps I was under a misconception
having the same body parts myself, maybe they knew something I didn’t
know. Anyway, I won that case.
MR. WEAVER: You did the argument?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. I was representing the bar guy, and I won the case. Let’s see. We
had one client, Dr. Charles Wright. He was an obstetrician. Dr. Wright
and Mrs. Wright. Their daughter, Stephanie, was a year ahead of me in
high school, and they had a younger daughter. I would call Dr. Wright a
patrician person, and his wife, Mrs. Wright, was very formal. Dr. Wright
had a very strong, deep and abiding interest in I’ll call it Black history.
Although this month they call it Black History Month, I call it Black
History as American History month. He had a deep interest in that and
started collecting things and opened up a Black history museum. My
recollection is it began in his house, and then he got a building
somewhere, and then subsequently, they built a museum, and now the
museum, I think they’re on their third formal building, the Charles Wright
Museum of African American History. It’s a very beautiful building. One
of my high school reunions, we had our dinner there in the atrium area.
Dr. Wright was one of our clients. He’s had a lasting impact on the City
of Detroit and our history.
MR. WEAVER: You may have already answered this, but what was the most interesting
case that you worked on over those years at Patman & Young?
MS. JEFFRIES: I will say this, an experience I had working with them. We did litigation
for the Detroit Public Schools. We were their lawyers. So we had a case
there where a woman teacher, a Black woman teacher, was suing the
school system for racial discrimination. We were in trial in the federal
court in Detroit. The trial was before Judge Julian Abele Cook. He may
be Julian Abele Cook, Jr. I don’t recall if at that time he was the chief
judge. He wasn’t because Judge Cohen was the chief judge. He
subsequently became chief judge of the Eastern District of Detroit.
Importantly, Judge Cook is also a graduate of this law school,
Georgetown. I also knew him because I did some Georgetown things
while I was there. We were in trial one day with Judge Cook, and we
were all sitting there one morning before things really got rolling, and
Judge Cook remarked that in his legal career, that that trial marked the
first occasion in his life where he’d been in a courtroom where the judge
was Black, the court reporter was Black, the clerk was Black, the lawyers
were Black, and the parties were Black. Essentially the Detroit Public
Schools were Black. I remember him saying that.
Another thing that happened, because I said we had cases in
federal court, I was in court and walking down the hall one day and an
older Black woman was there, and she stopped me and she asked me if I
worked there, and I told her in a way, that I was a lawyer and I had a
matter there. She told me that she was so happy to see me and so proud,
because she was older, probably 60 or 70, that she’d have to live that long
in life for that kind of experience.
The other thing I felt when I did trials, and this is true into
especially my early years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I felt that the
jurors were happy to see me in my position as an Assistant U.S. Attorney
because they knew how it had been that we had not been represented in
those jobs and positions in the justice system, which didn’t mean they
were just going to rule in my favor, but they appreciated the fact that I
could even be there. So that’s what I would say.
I’ll also mention I had another case at Patman & Young where we
had a white client who came to us on a custody issue involving his
daughter who was in early elementary school. He and the mother were no
longer together, and the mother was now with another man who was a
Black man, and she had recently had a child who was obviously the
mother was white so the child was mixed, as people would call it. Some
people would just call the child Black, but anyway, this was going on. So
the mother had the little girl living with her and going to school, but the
little girl was being taunted by other kids in school who would call her the
“Blackey whitey” and say things because of the mother’s relationship with
the Black man, so the white father wanted custody of the child so she did
not have to experience that, and I represented the father. I will say my
mother personally found that reprehensible with me that I would represent
that man. I told her he was entitled to advance his child’s interests as he
saw them. So that was interesting. I actually don’t remember what
happened with that, but I know we represented him. I don’t think it was a
bad result, because if it were, I’m sure I would have remembered that.
I learned some things. For instance, this is an aside, I said
Mrs. King did the divorces and things. One of the things Mrs. King said
was that people were often too quick to divorce and that it may not be that
you need to be divorced, but maybe you need to be separated and apart
and not rush to divorce because when you divorce and start breaking up
things, especially when you’ve been together for years and you have
property, like a lot of our clients had businesses and things, you have
property and investments, when you start breaking it up, you lose. I
always remembered that, and I applied that to my own situation when my
first husband and I separated, and I did not apply for divorce for several
years strategically because of what Mrs. King had said.
I learned things, certainly writing wills and trusts for people and
thinking ahead in life and about your children. So I learned a lot there
with Patman & Young, but I ultimately left really because my boyfriend
was here doing his internship, and after the years we had been involved
together, I said we had to decide what we were going to do. Either we
were going to get married or not, so I left Patman & Young to come back
here for a few months to see what we would do and make a decision. So I
came here. If that was April, in July he had to do a year of ship duty.
When he graduated from Yale and subsequently applied to medical
school, they did not have the medical school. The Navy did not have the
medical school that’s out there in Bethesda now. There was the Navy
scholarship because they needed doctors, and they would pay for you to
go to the medical school of your choice. He got a Navy scholarship, and it
paid all of his medical school expenses, whatever Georgetown Medical
School charged, bought his books, his equipment. He got a monthly
stipend for his living expenses, and in the summers, if he didn’t have other
things to do for the medical school, then he did summers in the Navy. So I
know his first summer after med school, he was up in Newport, Rhode
Island. Then what his commitment was, he owed the Navy four years
after his training. He was not required to do his internship or residency in
the Navy, and if he did, that didn’t count toward his commitment, but he
did his training in the Navy because it paid better than civilian residencies,
and you got all those military benefits. So after a year of internship, he
had to do a year of ship duty on the U.S.S. Nassau out of Norfolk. The
U.S.S. Nassau LH4 was an amphibious assault ship, which carried
thousands of Marines and then the Navy people. It was their ship. He did
that. So we decided before he went on the ship that we would get married
after that year and I would move to D.C. So I went back home to Detroit
while he was on his ship. I needed to work, so what I did initially, and my
mother plays into this as well, what I did initially was I was going down to
court and picking up cases. So I got cases at Recorder’s Court. As I said,
my mother knew people. Well, another one of her customers was Judge
Willis Ward who was on the Wayne County Probate Court. Judge Ward,
he was old then, he could have been in his 70s, he had gone to the
University of Michigan as an undergrad, and he played football at the
University of Michigan on the same team as Gerald Ford, and they had
been friends. I forget where Judge Ward went to law school, but anyway,
my mother talked to him. The probate judges would give assignments,
and he told my mother for me to go down and see him. So I went down
and saw Judge Ward, and he started giving me probate assignments. Then
once I started doing the probate assignments, other judges would give me
cases too. Judge Shmansky, Judge Kaufman. You’d get cases. So in the
probate court, they would give you cases where, for instance, I might be
appointed guardian ad litem if someone was petitioning to become
guardian or conservator over another person, I’d be guardian ad litem. I’d
investigate, talk to them about why they were doing it, talk to other
professionals maybe involved. If the person was hospitalized, I’d go visit
the respondent to see what their situation was, what their viewpoint was,
make an assessment, and then I’d do a written report to the judge, and I’d
go to court for the hearing. I’m sure I would make recommendations. So
that was a type of case you did. They also did the mental commitments.
People get those three-day holds, and then you have to commit. I’d get
appointed to those. Those were very interesting too. My guardian ad
litem cases were very interesting. And, of course, it involved people not
just in Detroit, but in the rest of the county as well. So I was representing
lots of different people in different places. Some of the places I went to
were kind of dicey, and my mother felt very concerned about me going.
She wanted me to have my uncle go with me and sit in the car and stuff,
but I never did that.
So I got those appointments, and I got some appointments in
Detroit Recorder’s Court. So here’s what happened to me. During this
time, I knew I was going to get married and go back to D.C., but I needed
a job. I was interested in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and I had met a guy
through someone else who was an assistant, but he was probably a
supervisor. I submitted an application. The U.S. Attorney at that time
was a man named Lenny Gilman. I ultimately did have an interview with
Lenny Gilman. So I said I’m doing cases in Detroit Recorder’s Court. I
had a felony case in front of a judge named Henry Hadding, a man I did
not know. I just got a case in front of Judge Hadding, an older Black man.
I think it was a burglary case involving a young guy in his early 20s who
had broken into a woman’s home through the window. What it really was,
the woman’s daughter was his girlfriend. He and the daughter had had a
baby together, and I think the mother had put the daughter out or
something, but the baby’s things and the girlfriend’s things were in the
house, and he went in the woman’s house to get those things. So that’s
what it was. We had a status hearing, a very simple matter, and I go to
Recorder’s Court, and I’m talking to the young man. I told him what I
thought would happen, and Judge Hadding gave me a really hard time, a
really difficult time, and I did not understand that. I didn’t understand.
Anyway, I worked out of my home. Subsequently, I get a phone call one
afternoon, and it’s Judge Hadding. He said that he had done that on
purpose to see how I would handle myself, and he was impressed by the
way I handled myself, so he was calling me to see what I was doing with
my career. I told him I had just applied to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and
I had interviewed with Lenny Gilman maybe that week before. Judge
Hadding said to me that when he, Judge Hadding, had been the chief of
the trial division at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, he had hired
Lenny to work under him, so he asked me if I would like it if he gave
Lenny a call. So of course I’d like that. Of course I did. And I said that.
We got off the phone. Judge Hadding called me back later than afternoon
to say he had talked to Lenny. Wow. He had done it that day. So I’m like
The other thing Judge Hadding told me I should apply to the
Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office because he knew that they were
looking for women and minorities. You had to take a test. I guess you
had to take a test. That makes me think, because I always tell people the
last test I took was the bar exam, and when I put my pencil down, I never
took another test, but I had to take a test to do that. I don’t know what
they asked me. I don’t think it was two plus two, but they asked you
something. I took the test, and I applied. Now right after I talked with
Judge Hadding, Reagan was President. It was then in the paper, like
Reagan had a hiring freeze, so I did not get on with the U.S. Attorney’s
Office, but I took the prosecutor’s test, and I got hired. In Michigan,
paternity is quasi-criminal, and the law is such that any woman seeking to
establish paternity could hire her own private attorney, but she could go to
her local prosecutor’s office and have that pressed through the
prosecutor’s office. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office had a
paternity division. In reality, 98% or 99% of our cases did not come
because women were just voluntarily saying to their local prosecutor I
want to establish my child’s paternity. They came became women on
welfare, as part of the process, had to cooperate with establishing paternity
because then, once paternity was established, we would then seek a
support order against the father, which would go toward the welfare,
however that worked. So that’s what our cases really were, women who
were on welfare, and young women who were on welfare.
So I did that for a few months in Wayne County Circuit Court, and
I talked to these young women. Things were very consistent. Almost
none of them personally cared about establishing paternity or about getting
child support because they always said he doesn’t have anything or he
doesn’t have a job. My response would be but you may be poor in life,
but rich in death because the guy could be walking down the street and
Sikorsky helicopter’s rotor could fall off and kill him, and the state could
get like $10 million, and your child would be entitled to something. Or I’d
say even if he doesn’t have a job now, don’t you hope that over the next
twenty years he would have a job. I learned from this a lot of people don’t
think in those ways and the way their lives are, really the prospect that the
guy would improve in any kind of way and go on and have a job and a real
kind of productive life in that matter, that wasn’t in their radar. If I asked
the young women what has he done for you or for the baby, the answer I
heard more than anything else if I heard anything else well was “he bought
some milk and bought some Pampers.” That’s what I heard consistently.
When I came over here to the office and I would have young women as
witnesses and they had these kids, if I asked them what does he do, it was
the same thing. He bought some milk or maybe some Pampers.
I had done that a few months and that was my entrée, then moving
over to the main part of the office criminal. So then I found myself back
in Detroit Recorder’s Court. By then, I knew I wanted to do murders and
MR. WEAVER: How did you know at that point? Was it that you worked on stuff like
MS. JEFFRIES: Not at the firm, but I’d been in Detroit Recorder’s Court with the
Misdemeanor Defenders Office, so that’s what the whole courthouse was
criminal stuff, and I must say, Detroit was not a crime-free city, and there
was stuff going on. So while I was in Misdemeanor Defenders, I’d go in
another courtroom. Plus a lot of the lawyers who were coming through
and I saw other prosecutors and people. I would say that at that point in
time, I viewed myself as someone more on the prosecutorial side than the
defense side. I knew I wanted the courtroom experience and everything,
so being a prosecutor was what I wanted.
So I was over there. I think in the time that I was there, before I
left, I may have done one homicide kind of case. I know I did some
sexual assault, rape, cases. The prosecutor at that time was William
Cahalan. He had had that job four years. It was an elected position. He
had the job for many years afterward. Detroit, Wayne County, is
interesting kind of place. If you have the right name and get on the ballot,
you can get elected. So if your name, especially back then, was
Shamansky or Wojohowitz or one of the Polish names or if you were a
Kauffman, you’d get elected. Murphy, you’d get elected. There was a
guy, a Black guy, who ran for judge. I don’t know what his name was, but
he legally changed his name to John Murphy. He got elected. If your
name was Cahalan, yeah, you’d get elected. This is true. I haven’t looked
at the bench in Detroit lately, but there are probably still some people
those names there. That’s the way it rolls in Detroit. Cahalan was
prosecutor four years. My immediate supervisor was a good guy, and I
learned a lot from him. His name was Rich Krisciunas. There was
another prosecutor there, Tim Kenny, he went on to become a judge. I
think he’s still a judge now. They did major cases, and I learned things
from them. I was doing my work, but I knew I was going to get married,
and I was getting married September 11 of 1982. There came a point in
time when I had to tell them I was leaving, and that was an interesting
discussion. The man’s name escapes me now, but he was probably chief
of the trial division. We were having a conversation, and really, it was
like they kind of like wanted me to stay. They said I could have some
time off and maybe work. I said I really wanted to go and be with my
husband and I didn’t want to commute. So I left there on a good note.
But here’s what happens.
I am a child of Motown. Like I told you, I didn’t like that Motown
tribute. I grew up in the heyday of Motown. Motown is the soundtrack of
my life. Is the Temptations is doing my girl in 1964, I’m 10 years old, and
all of this, there were TV shows in Detroit on Channel 9, which is the
Canadian broadcasting corporation. Robin Seymour had Swinging Time.
The Motown people would go on his show and sing their songs. They’d
be lip synching, but they’d be on and singing, and it was like a show like
American Bandstand. People go on and dance. We all looking at
Swinging Time, and we’re all listing to WCHB, Window Cox Haley Bell
and WJLB, those were the Black radio stations, and then you had CLKW,
the Big 8 from over in Windsor. That was a major radio station. When I
was in Connecticut at night, I could still listen to CLKW, the Motor City,
the Big 8. I loved me some CLKW, and so do a lot of people. NPR did a
thing on CLKW. One day I was driving home from work, and I pulled
over and sat and listened to it. Neil Gagne did it. It brought tears to my
eyes. So Motown is the soundtrack of my life. My boys, The
Temptations. Anybody who knows me, if any degree of knowing me
well, they know they’re playing that at my funeral because I want to hear
my boys one more time. David and Eddie and others. Okay. So you
would say what does that have to do with June being an assistant US
attorney. Here’s what it has to do. Law Day. I would participate in
things, so the Detroit Bar had Law Day. I have to come back and talk
about Window Cox Halley Bell, WCHB. Law Day, May 1, the Detroit
Bar, you could have a law student shadow you and then the Law Day
lunch, and Lenny Gilman was the speaker. So I had this law student
shadow me, and I paid for us to go to lunch, and we went to this lunch.
Lenny Gilman was the speaker. Now, here’s what was about to happen.
The big thrill for my life. The Temptations were doing a reunion tour. I
had actually never seen them perform live because I said I’m 10, 13 when
this is happening. They used to do something down at the Fox Theatre,
the Motor Town Review, and all the acts would perform, but I was young
and my parents didn’t have me going. I never seen them perform. And
then they have staff changes and breakups. The Temptations were doing a
reunion tour, and they had Eddie and David were going to be singing with
them, and I had bought tickets to go see this. Well shortly before the Law
Day luncheon there’s an article in the paper, Eddie Kendricks had some
kind of tax matter. They had indicted him or something in Detroit, and
I’m like oh my God, Eddie, maybe he won’t come to Detroit because
maybe they’re going to arrest him or something. So I went up to Lenny
Gilman, and I said to him a couple of things. I said the Temptations are
coming and I want to see them, would you have this case. He said he
thought something would work out and it wouldn’t be a problem. That
was a major relief to my life. The other thing I said to him was that I was
going to get married in September and move to D.C. and I really wanted to
work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office since that’s who did homicides and
that’s what I wanted to do, so I asked him if he knew anybody. Lenny
said to me that he knew a woman. A woman had worked for him and she
had married a guy in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and he wrote the man’s
name on a piece of paper and told me when I was ready to apply to let him
know. So I put that little piece of paper, folded it up and put it in my
wallet, and carried it around with me. I will say I did go to the Fisher
Theater, and I did see The Temptations. I saw The Temptations, and the
person I went with was my friend who was the receptionist at Patman &
Young. She and I went together. She’s somewhat younger than I am, a
few years younger. We went to this together, and it was fabulous. When
she and I left the show, I said to her I could die right now and I would be
happy even if I never married Jeffries. I could die right now. Let me
point out that my maiden name and my married name is Jeffries. His
name is Jeffries too, but my family is the real Jeffries.
So anyway, I see the Temptations, I continue working at the
prosecutor’s office until I was going to get married and I moved to D.C.
We were living in Bethesda, right near the hospital. Of course we were
living in an all-white neighborhood except for us. A nice little
neighborhood, North Chelsea Lane off of Wisconsin. Jeffries could walk
to work, and so I’m there being a housewife because I didn’t have a job.
MR. WEAVER: You had not applied at this point?
MS. JEFFRIES: No. I’m living on wedding money people gave me, which I put in my
bank account, not his. I’m a housewife, cooking meals. I waxed the floor,
bought things. Okay, I have to say cooking meals and waxing the floor
isn’t that exciting so I did that for a few months. In October I said to
myself, you need to start looking for a job. So I contact Gilman, and I said
okay, I’m sending in or I just sent in the application. Well here’s the deal
with this. In 1980, the Republicans had had their convention in Detroit.
The woman who worked for Lenny Gilman who had by this time left
because she had married and moved to D.C., she was a woman named
Victoria Toensing. Vicky married a man named Joe diGenova. When I
applied to the Office, Joe was the number two person in the Office. None
of this meant anything to me. Stanley Harris was U.S. Attorney, and
Stanley Harris had been a Superior Court judge. He was U.S. Attorney,
and what was really happening was it was well known in the legal
community, but I wasn’t a part of it, that he was just waiting for a
judgeship over in U.S. District Court to open up. He was waiting for that,
and then Joe was going to be and did become U.S. Attorney himself. So
this is when I applied, and I sent my letter to Joe. I sent that in, and for
some reason, October 17 rings a bell. So I don’t know if that’s the day I
sent it in or if that’s the day I heard from them.
So between October 17 and January 1 of 1983, this is the time
period of me applying to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, on January 1, 1983,
at 3:10 in the afternoon, my phone rang and it was Judge Stanley Harris,
and he says to me, “We’d like you to come join us.” He said something to
that effect. This was Near Year’s Day, and we had a few people over to
my house, maybe watching football. I personally wasn’t looking, but
that’s what was going on. Anyway, I was kind of perplexed when he said
that to me. I said you mean right now? I thought he was inviting me to a
party. So no, he wanted me to come work for them. He had said to me
when I interviewed with him, he asked me what was my timetable for
working, and I told him that I really was in no rush and that if I felt that I
had a good shot at getting that job, I could wait, that I wasn’t just taking
the job to be taking a job.
Anyway, he called me on January 1. I said October 17, so that
would be about two-and-a-half months. I remember the first day I was
supposed to interview with him in December, they called me and put it off
because a man had driven his tractor or something onto the grounds of the
Washington Monument. Maybe they were having a standoff, so they were
kind of busy, so I got rescheduled.
Here’s a point I would want to make about that happening. At that
time, my understanding is the U.S. Attorney’s Office would get 600 to 700
applications a year for maybe 15 openings. So that’s a lot of applications,
and then a small number of people being hired. That happened for me
between October 17 and January 1. Maybe a year or so later, a guy I
worked with in Detroit in the Office and I knew who he was, he was a
good friend of my supervisor, Rich Krisciunas, he applied to the Office
and was coming to town for an interview. He must have called me, and
that must be how I knew that. Anyway, I had never worked directly with
him, and I’d never seen him in court or anything. I called Rich to ask him
because I felt that they might, the people at work, might ask me about him,
and Rich was a good friend of his, but Rich did not recommend him. He
said something to me that I’ve always remembered and tried to employ.
He said if you want your recommendations to be valued, you have to be
careful about who you recommend. So I kept that in mind. But with that
guy, whenever he sent his application in, it had taken him fifteen months
to get an interview, compared to the timeframe of mine. As far as I know,
Lenny Gilman talked to Joe. So all of this stuff is like I said comes from
Judge Hadding giving me a hard time. He called Lenny. So that worked
for me that Lenny — and I got on with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Which brings me to the topic of serendipity. I consider all of that
to be serendipitous. I went over to the museum last week for a showing of
the movie Black Klansman, followed by a discussion between Van Jones,
Spike Lee, April Ryan, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, the Chair of the
Congressional Black Caucus. Spike Lee talked about serendipity, and
here’s what he said. He said the summer after his sophomore year at
Morehouse he came home to New York, he needed a job so he could get
some clothes and stuff for school, but New York School in 1977, they
probably headed toward bankruptcy, things were dark back then, and he
couldn’t find a job. He had a female friend, I guess he’d gone to school
with her in the neighborhood, whatever, who was going to Princeton. He
went by to see this girl, and he said they’re sitting there talking with two
boxes on the floor. She wanted to be a doctor. He gave her a name, I
don’t remember who, and he said she’s a doctor and a professor in
California now. She had two boxes on the floor. One was a Super 8
camera, and the other was a box of film cassettes. Somebody had given
this to her. She told him she didn’t want it, she wasn’t interested because
she was going to be a doctor so had other things to do. So she told him to
take it, and he took the camera and the film. So then he said he’s not
working so he starts going around filming all this stuff. When he gets
back to Morehouse, and maybe he was a communications major, he took
some class, and he told the professor about this and all this film. The
professor told him he had to do something with it, and this is how Spike
Lee got into being the Spike Lee that we know. His point was what if no
one had given her that camera. What if he had gone to her house the week
before, before she got the camera. What if he’d gone a couple days later
and the camera wasn’t on the floor and he’d never gotten the cameras. So
it’s that serendipity which is the same thing I say about what if my
grandfather hadn’t died and we hadn’t gone to Montreal and I hadn’t gone
to Vermont which got me to Connecticut. So serendipity. All of us, I see
that in so much. I consider that serendipitous.
That’s how I got to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And not long after
I started, Stanley Harris became a U.S. District Court judge, and Joe
became the U.S. Attorney, and after he became the U.S. Attorney, he and
Vicky went into practice together and people know about that. I will say
this about Joe diGenova. When he was U.S. Attorney, the day he became
U.S. Attorney, we were still in our offices in Superior Court on the fifth
floor, he gathered us in the reception area and made remarks the day he
became U.S. Attorney, and Joe said to us collectively that if any of us
were interested in becoming a judge and going through the process, if any
of our names got sent over as one of three to the White House, Joe said he
would do everything he could to help us get chosen by the White House as
a judge because he said there would probably never be another president
as amendable to appointing Assistant U.S. Attorneys to the bench as that
current president. And I will say this, while Joe was U.S. Attorney, a
number of my colleagues became judges on the D.C. Superior Court, and I
believe Joe did exactly what he said he would do. I believe Joe did that.
When Joe was U.S. Attorney, if you had a case and got a good result, if
you had a particular case that was in the news, Joe sent you personal notes
about that, and I have notes from Joe diGenova that I have kept. I wanted
to say that about Joe because I have a story about another person who was
U.S. Attorney who was absolutely opposite in that person’s approach, but
that’s a later story.
I said I wanted to go back to WCHB. That was, I think, the first
Black radio station in Detroit, and I think they started in the 1950s.
Dr. Wendell Cox and Doctor Bell both, I believe, were dentists, and
Dr. Bell was Dr. Cox’s father-in-law. Wendell Cox was married to Iris
Bell. Father-in-law and son-in-law started this radio station. When I was
at Patman & Young, of course Dr. Bell was dead, but Mrs. Bell, his wife,
was one of our clients. She probably was in her 80s then, but they still had
WCHB. I’m growing up in Detroit, and we listened to WCHB and WJLB.
The difference was WJLB early on when I was a kid they did two-phased
broadcasting, so depending on the time of day, if you put on WJLB, they
were either doing Polish hour in Polish or they were playing Black music.
So you had to know what time to listen. Eventually, they dropped the
Polish hour and they just became all-Black music.
MR. WEAVER: I have a couple quick questions. Do you have more on the radio station?
MS. JEFFRIES: When I said we had a lot of businesspeople, representing them was
important, and years later when I was in Civil, so this would be around
1996, I was coming off the beltway on Georgia Avenue, and you can say I
ran into a car, but that really was his fault. Other people might not view it
that way, but it was his fault. The guy I ran into was Wendell Cox, Jr. or
Wendell Cox III. I was like you’re Wendell Cox from Detroit? He was
Mrs. Bell’s grandson, and he was a psychologist. He just died maybe last
year or something because I read his death notice in The Post. So here in
D.C. I ran into one of those radio people.
Another thing I should say is the first Black-owned TV station
opened in Detroit, WGPR, and they were one of our clients. I would work
on their FCC licensing applications and stuff. They subsequently sold the
station, but they’ve opened up a museum in their studio about the station.
The brother of one of my friends had been a news person for the station,
and so now they operate this museum, and they’re open on Fridays. When
a group of friends and I were in Detroit in October, we went over there
and did the tour, and that was so meaningful to me because, like I said, I
had been involved with them back when they were getting started. So that
was an important thing for me working at Patman & Young.
MR. WEAVER: Before we dive into the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I want to ask just a couple
questions about your time in Detroit. You talked about the serendipity of
delivering your argument and handling the judge coming down on your
harshly, and that getting related to D.C. where you ended up getting an
interview and landing at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, so there’s that kind of
high point where you’re a young lawyer and you’re handling yourself well
in the courtroom. I was wondering, did you make any mistakes a young
lawyer that you remember that stand out?
MS. JEFFRIES: Oh yes. Here’s my mistake. When I was in the Wayne County
Prosecutor’s Office, my first trial was a bench trial before Judge Donald
Hobson, and it was a gun case. I did this trial in front of him, and you rest,
you do your arguments, okay. Judge Hobson acquitted the guy because I
failed to move the gun into evidence, and he did this to teach me a lesson.
A lesson was learned that day for the rest of my career and when I go up
to Harvard and I teach in the Trial Advocacy Program, I tell them about
this. I always track my evidence, and I have an evidence chart that I do,
my evidence list and everything, and I check off who used it and if I
moved it in or not, so I track my evidence, and before I rest, I always ask
can we conform and go over the evidence to make sure that I have
admitted everything I needed. So yeah, that’s a lesson. That’s my mistake
that day.
Here’s something that I wouldn’t call a mistake, but it happened.
My very first client was a shoplifting case of some jewelry from
Hudson’s. Hudson’s was the big department store downtown like
Woody’s. It was a big thing. Everybody shopped at Hudson’s. The
person was locked up, and in the cell block – and you have a female cell
block and a male cell block – and my client had a man’s name, so I go
back there and I ask for him. The officer brings out this person, and the
person who comes out is a woman. This is my first case ever in life, and
I’m recently graduated from this law school, so this woman comes out.
The charge is shoplifting of some jewelry, and she’s crying. She kept
crying and we’re talking and everything, and the way they worked it and
this is another thing about the way things were, PDS would have a fit
about this, the police officer stayed in the room with you, so he really
could hear what was being said. I had a question from my colleagues, and
I got up to leave, and the officer came over to me and he said I’m going to
tell you something you don’t know. I said okay. He said that’s a man
you’re talking to. I thought it was a woman because it looked like a
woman and the jewelry and she’s crying, but it did have a man’s name
coming out of the men’s lockup. I thought maybe they were overcrowded.
So then I went out and I said to my colleagues I don’t understand. I’ve
just been talking to my client, but the officer says that it’s a man, but I
thought it was a woman. I said I don’t know what to do. Should I ask? I
went back and I asked him are you a man or a woman. People won’t like
this. He said he was a man. Anyway, I told him he needed to stop doing
all that crying because I couldn’t take all that crying. He was very nice
and stylish. But this is true. When I was subsequently working at the
prosecutor’s office, like on my last day because I’m going to get married,
who do I run into but him on the elevator. Once again, very stylishly
appointed, had some really nice suede boots on. So that was my first case,
a shoplifting case, with the Misdemeanor Defenders Office.
That thing about the gun, that would be my mistake.
MR. WEAVER: Based on your record, I think it was well-learned from.
MS. JEFFRIES: I learned that lesson.
MR. WEAVER: One other thing you said earlier, you mentioned a story about a woman
who approached you in Recorder’s Court.
MS. JEFFRIES: U.S. District Court.
MR. WEAVER: She expressed her appreciation and happiness that you were in this role.
You’re a young lawyer, you’re trying to figure out what your job is going
to be, and sometimes it’s hard to step back and see the big picture and kind
of where you fit into things, but as you talked about that earlier, it was
very clearly impactful as you think about it now. Thinking about it
through the eyes of your younger self in that moment and in your early
years, what kind of impact did that have? Was it inspiring? Was it
weighty? Some combination of those or something else?
MS. JEFFRIES: It was very meaningful to me because like I said she’s this older woman
and she just walked up to me and said that. This is the 1970s. As I said,
not only was Motown the soundtrack of my life, but the Civil Rights
Movement was all my life, the 1950s and 1960s, and I was going to
Mississippi. I was fully cognizant. When I came here to Georgetown and
I came here sight-unseen, which I guess people would be shocked by that
today since they visit 500 schools now, but you got the Internet and can
find out more than I ever knew, but when I came here for Georgetown and
walked into my class at Section 3 that first day, there were way more
Black people in my class than I expected to see. I charge all of that to
Dave Wilmot, and in fact, I had dinner with my law school classmate and
others last night, and I brought that up and we discussed that. In these
professions, minorities, not just Black people, and women were
institutionally kept out of opportunities, schools, positions, jobs by the
system of this country, and so by the time I came along, I view me as the
beginning of really a great wave of women entering into law and even
other professions in big numbers because I think that my class here at
Georgetown probably was around 50/50 with the women to men. If it
wasn’t, it was close to that. There’s a lot of meaning to people to know
that they were shut out. There was an obit of a Black woman who died,
and it was in The New York Times yesterday, Dr. Doris Weber, 91 years
old. She was one of the first Black women to graduate from Yale Medical
School I think. It may have said she was the third Black woman to
graduate from Yale Medical School. It’s not because she was the first one
smart enough to go to Yale Medical School, graduate and be a doctor. It
was because the system in America was designed to keep us out, just as
Barack Obama was not the first person smart enough or accomplished
enough Black person to be President, but the system in American was
designed to keep us out, people like him, and designed to keep women out.
So yes, that was impactful, and even certainly situations I’ve found myself
in in my career would remind you that you were a minority or a woman.
When I was at Patman & Young we had some lawsuit going on and there
were different parties, so the lawyers had a meeting and I went for my
firm to this meeting. I’m the only woman with these old white men, and
I’m the only Black person. So then they wanted someone to take notes of
the meeting, and they wanted me to take notes. I think I told them I would
but only for the purpose of that meeting. Why are you asking me to take
When I was in Detroit, a young Georgetown alum, I would go to
alumni events and different things. In Detroit there is Mary Grove
College, which was a women’s school, and it’s a Catholic school, and
there was also Mercy, which also was a women’s Catholic school. I can’t
remember which one, but I think it’s Mary Grove they installed a new
president, and they invited the presidents of other Catholic universities and
colleges to the convocation, so Georgetown’s president at the time did not
come, but I was asked to participate as Georgetown’s representative of the
president, and I agreed. So they sent me the full academic regalia, the
robe and all. We had this academic parade of the presidents that marched
in this program and everything. I took my mother with me and then they
had a reception. I will say I was very honored to be asked to represent the
university at that, and I was honored that my mother could go with me and
to see that because, of course, as I’ve probably said, with my father dying
sophomore year of college, my mother got me through college and law
school, and I liked to be able to share the fruits of the experience with her.
And that’s something I did as a Georgetown alum when I was in Detroit.
To go back to what I was saying, women and minorities being kept
out. We can talk in the future about when I was in appellate in 1996. I
had my first appellate argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals, and I
took my son with me. So you can write that down, and we can talk about
that later on.
MR. WEAVER: When you got hired at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, did you not do details to
different divisions?
MS. JEFFRIES: We had a rotation, and when I started, I want to say it was a four-year
commitment, which was not a problem. Actually, when we started,
because my husband was doing his residency, we were going to be
transferred away, but I think we had a four-year commitment.
That’s the other thing about how I got hired. When I said usually
they would hire fifteen people or so, well they had gotten authorization,
because the work was expanding, for new positions, and I think they got
fifteen new attorney positions, so they were also doing that hiring. So it
was more than you would have in a usual year.
The rotation, you either began in Misdemeanor or Appellate, but
you do misdemeanors, appellate, grand jury, and then felony II, and by the
time you did all of that, that would probably take you through your four
years. Felony II did murder II. They didn’t first-degree murders or sex.
Those were in Felony I. Rape and first-degree were in Felony I. I don’t
think we did the child sex cases. So that takes you through your rotation.
What happened with me was I did my Misdemeanor rotation, and then I
went to Grand Jury, and it was about time for me to leave Grand Jury.
The Office needed people doing trials and felony trials, and so they
accelerated some of us, so rather than go to appellate, I skipped appellate
and I went to Felony II from Grand Jury, and there were a few of us that
skipped and went to Felony II. So I was doing my trials there, and in fact
it was the first day of felony trials was the day used to compute when my
baby was going to be born, so I was pregnant in felony trials. I did a lot of
trials in Felony II while pregnant. One week I did three drug trials. And
as I said a moment ago, I tried the last bank robbery that was done in
Superior Court. Ever since then, they’ve all been done in U.S. District
Court. My due date was May 21. That trial seems like that trial took me
more than a week, maybe up to two weeks, and it was in front of Judge
Eugast, who I’m sure was then the chief judge over in Superior Court, and
I’m eight months pregnant, and I was having some swelling. One day I
had forgotten my shoes, and I had on sneakers, so I told Judge Eugast I
didn’t have my shoes and did he mind if I wore my sneakers. Judge
Eugast said he would see these women around town and they’d be walking
around in their suits and stuff and they’d have on sneakers, and he asked
his wife what was up with that, and she told him it was none of his
business. So he told me to wear them. Then when I did the closing
argument, I asked him if I could have a chair, could I sit in the chair in
front of the jury and do the argument if I needed to sit, and I did much of it
from the chair. He told me he didn’t care. He said I could do anything
except stand on the table. So I did my closing argument in that trial,
Mr. Roots and Marshall, those were the defendants. They were convicted
of bank robbery. But when I finished that trial, it was very late April, and
the baby was due May 21. I said to myself I would not do another trial
while I was pregnant, and I didn’t care how I got out of it. Whatever the
case was, if it was called for trial, I was getting out of it and not trying
another case, and I was successful. I didn’t have to do anything nefarious
to get out of it. So I know those defendants, one of them at least got
eighteen years to whatever. In subsequent years whenever I would see
one of those defense attorneys, his name was Harold, and I’d say hello to
Harold and that my son is like five now, or my son is ten, how’s your guy
doing. That was an interesting bank robbery to me. Women face issues,
okay. This was a bank robbery. There used to be an American Security
Bank, which I think got caught up in that BCCI stuff that brought down
Clark Clifford, Bank of Commerce and Credit International, I think maybe
they bought American Security Bank. Anyway, the bank was right there
at Georgia and around Park Road, and the bank was being robbed by two
guys with guns, both of them had guns. A male customer ran out the front
door, and there was a policewoman on a motorcycle, and he told her that
those guys running down the street had just robbed the bank. Her name
was Regina, and she was short, shorter than me and I’m 5’3”, she goes
after them. Well she encounters one of them, and maybe there were row
houses and there were steps down to like a basement in the front of the
house. One of the guys was down there, and maybe he had his back to
her, and she stopped him and had him come out. Well she said he had his
hands in his jacket pocket, and she had her gun drawn. She said she kept
telling him to take his hands out of his pocket, and he wouldn’t do it. She
said she told him that two or three times, and she was getting mad because
she felt he didn’t respect her because she’s just a short little thing. She
said if he hadn’t taken his hands out of his pocket, she might have shot
him because she was concerned about that. What happened was a
sergeant came up behind her. He was a big guy, over 6’ tall. He came up
behind her and had his gun and told the guy to take his hands out of his
pocket, and the defendant did. Well what was in his pocket. His gun was
in the pocket, and his hand was on the gun. Regina said she was so mad
because she did not think the guy respected her. She thought she was
going to have to shoot him to get him to do what she wanted. That’s not a
good thing, people. I’m just saying. She didn’t shoot him. Other things
happened. I’m not saying she would have shot him, but that’s the kind of
thing that can irritate you as a professional, for someone not to take you
seriously because you perceive of your status.
MR. WEAVER: Did you feel that when you came into the Office, did you have the
impression sometimes that you weren’t taken seriously in a similar way?
MS. JEFFRIES: I don’t think that I would say that. When I came in the Office, there
certainly were some women ahead of me, and a few women who were in
some supervisory positions I think around that time. The now-late Noel
Kramer was an incredibly brilliant woman, she was chief of grand jury,
and a few other people. So women were starting to do things. I don’t
think I felt that way, although it still was a situation where the bulk of the
supervisors were men. I will make this observation. At that point in time
in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the bulk of the supervisors were men, and
not only were they men, but they were men who had stay-at-home wives.
I come into the office at a time where you’re beginning to have women as
a presence, and some of the women had had children before me, and
certainly with me and my group of colleagues and everyone since, we
really started having babies, but we had supervisors who were men who
had wives who were stay-at-home mothers. I’m not saying this to knock
them, but we may have some issues like the whole maternity thing and
how much leave you’re going to take and everything, which for them, they
didn’t deal with the issues because their wives were back home taking care
of kids and different things, so it was a different kind of attitude, more that
you had to educate them and deal with issues we might have, whereas
now, because probably half the people over there, one, are women, and the
men over there, if they are married and have children, they are doing
duties with the kids. So they have to leave because you have to get to
soccer practice or the child is sick and somebody needs to go home, and
not only is that true of the men as supervisors but those male judges over
there, a lot of them have parenting responsibilities, and they have wives
who also are fellow lawyers or judges or engineers or whatever they’re
doing. So it’s a different attitude. Once you have women in critical
numbers, things just shift anyway in attitudes.
So, no. I’m trying to think. I wouldn’t say that I had any problems
with any, what I’ll refer to as older judges who grew up in different times.
I didn’t personally have any issues. I will want to say something about
Judge Norma Holloway Johnson and her portrait unveiling and use her as
an example of things that happen to people. But no.
I had a witness one time he said to me you don’t look like a
lawyer. I said lawyers look like me, so you need to adjust your eyes
because this is what lawyers look like.
MR. WEAVER: More generally, what were your first impressions of the Office?
MS. JEFFRIES: We had a good number of women, and there were other Black lawyers
there, which was important to me. Black back then, it was more either
you could talk about people in terms of male/female or maybe
Black/white. Now it’s even much more mixed because there are more
Asian lawyers, gay lawyers, Hispanic people. It’s even more mixed than
it was when I started. I thought to be in a prosecutorial office that could
both do local or federal charging decisions and bring it in either place, I
actually thought that was a pretty unique, well it is, and useful situation to
be in as prosecutors. We also had the resources of the federal government
behind us, which states can’t match, I will say. And I was very impressed
with the quality of the defense bar and particularly of the Public Defender
Service and of their mission and how they go about it and the quality of
the work that they do and the representations. My viewpoint is – well, I
will say this, because, of course, the Office was traditionally a bastion of
white people and many of them people who did not live in D.C., maybe
lived in Maryland or Virginia and many who had life experiences different
from the people that they prosecuted. Now while on the one hand you can
say I had life experiences different from the people that I prosecuted
because I certainly grew up in an intact family in a single family and
parents who were working. We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor people,
and I had excellent experiences. I had ended up going to Connecticut for
college and coming here to Georgetown. I certainly had not been a
teenage mother. I was not a drop-out. I didn’t have people in my world
who were caught up in the criminal justice system, either amongst my
friends or really amongst relatives, so I had a different kind of experience
from many of the people that we prosecuted. But I think that when you
are like the Office was, and then prosecuting people of a different
character, many times I think there was a failure of people I worked with
to understand that this set of facts can be looked at differently by other
people, and they also felt that their viewpoint about an issue was the
correct one and that people who saw it differently, like people on the other
side, were wrong, the values are different. One of the things that was
common people would say and refer to, they’d talk about D.C. juries and
certainly back then, our jury compositions were mostly predominantly
Black. I found that to be very offensive or think that D.C. juries were
stupid. The people weren’t stupid because they didn’t agree with the U.S.
Attorney’s Office, and I found that to be offensive. But if you’re on the
other side, you just may see things differently, and your interpretation of
these facts don’t necessarily rule. Another thing is many of my colleagues
when they would lose a case, they would come back and blame other
people like the D.C. jury or the judge had done something or the defense
lawyers. Whenever I lost a case, my question was what had I done wrong
or badly? What could I do differently? That was my analysis on things.
When I would see my defendants, and this was so true as Rudy grew and
we were living our lives the way we lived our lives in Montgomery
County, and I’d have my defendants, who were primarily young, Black
males, and they’d be sitting across at the other table, I felt many of them
toward them in ways like I did my son, but they were people who were
raised in different circumstances, beginning with the foods their mothers
ate while they were pregnant or the prenatal care that they did or did not
get, their medical care, their early home education, their religious or moral
training, the quality of the schools that they went to, and, of course, you
can see disparities in things that happened maybe in some of the D.C.
schools as compared to schools in Montgomery County, yet when these
kids come out and they graduate the same year, they’re competing against
each other. The kids could be at a marked disadvantage. So I felt badly
that their lives were such that maybe they had not had the advantages that
children like my son had or that I would have and that really it’s no
surprise that they were sitting there on the other side, the other table, in a
courtroom. I could have a young woman come in as a witness in my
homicides and she could be 23 and have four or five kids, and she dropped
out at 8th grade. You could say very often she would live with a lot of
stressors, and you could see in her behavior and the way she treated her
children those stressors manifest and come out and see the environments
that her children were being raised in and the people that they saw every
day. So really it was no surprise that maybe fifteen, twenty years later,
children of that young woman were being prosecuted by the U.S.
Attorney’s Office, and I think as a societal failure that any of us can sit
there and know that these kids are not going to have a good outcome and
what are we as a society doing about that, and that is a great failure of the
United States of America.
My prosecutorial philosophy, people may find this to be funny, I
kind of live by the Golden Rule, and I try to treat my defendants in a way
that I would want to be treated, and that was my philosophy toward
discovery as well and certainly, especially, when I started, prosecutorial
attitudes toward discovery were certainly different from what the current
attitudes are now, and a lot of things have evolved as the law has. I
believe, and I think if you ask defense attorneys about this, maybe they
saw me differently, but I don’t recall ever having a discovery dispute with
defense counsel, and I certainly don’t recall any motions to compel to get
me to disclose something. Now certainly primarily you may have a
situation where you had security concerns about a witness and their
identity, but I was not a hard liner on discovery stuff.
Prosecutors have gotten into a lot of trouble over Brady, and I
think Brady has also resolved, and I know the philosophy of the U.S.
Attorney’s Office certainly had evolved over the time that I was there. So
I know I’ve been gone for ten years, but I would be on the one hand
surprised if they have regressed, and if they have regressed, it’s because of
instructions from Main Justice. Brady, I think, is on the one hand because
is subjective in ways that can be difficult for a prosecutor because maybe I
might have something in my file which I look at and for a variety of
reasons, I don’t think it’s of any moment, but on the other hand, I don’t
know what the defense has developed and what they have, and if they
knew that, that might play into something. So you may have issues like
that, but I know I didn’t ever have any Brady complaints against me, and
that was never an issue in anything that I prosecuted that went up on
appeal. I would be sometimes when I’d enter my appearance, June M.
Jeffries for the United States of America, I would think about that, that the
United States of America back then I think had 330 million people, and I
would think about the fact that I was representing them in that moment in
that courtroom, but also that as their representative, I had the resources of
the U.S. Department of Justice, which the defendant at that other table
didn’t have the things to match what I had in my arsenal. I think I was
mindful of that. I do think that because of our Public Defender Service
here, for which I have a lot of respect, they were not my enemy, and
hopefully, I think, there are those of them who would say I was not an
enemy toward them, I think they do a really phenomenal job individually
with cases, but also attacking things institutionally. I think there were
problems with the way the U.S. Attorney’s Office was doing grand jury
things and use of subpoenas and PDS tracked that, and they filed a motion
to correct that institutionally, and that’s important, and I salute them for
this. I’m not mad at them. I feel this way. They didn’t write the
Constitution or the laws and neither did O.J. Simpson. They employed
them, and I’m not mad at them. I also feel like Johnny Cochran. He said
you may be able to control whether or not you commit a crime, but you
can’t control whether or not you get arrested, and I agree with that.
MR. WEAVER: One thing this makes me think about it seems like one of the keys to your
success was doing your job with a lot of empathy both for victims, for
witnesses, for the defendants, for the people who perpetrated some of the
crimes. It seems like a core reason that you were able to connect with
juries and be able to do your job very well. Was that taxing? Did that also
come with a price of a certain weightiness in sort of thinking about,
particularly for the defendant, understanding their circumstances and
where they’re at?
MS. JEFFRIES: If you pre-sentence reports, which Lord knows I’ve read a lot of presentence
reports in my life, you see many common themes, lack of
education. I believe that drugs or alcohol have something to do with most
of the cases, whether or not it’s a drug case, the defendant himself may use
drugs or alcohol in ways that don’t help him, or the parent was a drug
addict or alcoholic and the child led a fractured life or the boyfriend is
selling drugs and the woman gets caught up. I think most of the women,
especially when I was prosecuting, if you see a women involved in the
criminal justice system, most of them were there because of a guy in some
way. You see that, and yes, I feel that for people. Or they didn’t good
educations or they didn’t have good opportunities. Here’s an example. I
told you how I spent thousands of dollars in the pursuit of hockey for my
kid and all the ice time and you’re going and the rinks and all of that. So
many of my defendants were idle people because they didn’t even have
hobbies or interests that they pursued and put their time in, and it’s like
they say, idle hands are the devil’s workshop. So a lot of my defendants
and the way they worked, not in a job, but the way they were living. They
stayed up until like 4:00 in the morning playing video games and sleep
until 2:00 in the afternoon because they don’t have structure and then
they’re hanging out with people on the corner because they don’t have
those outlets. So if it’s important in Montgomery County for people to
have ice rinks and swimming pools and tennis and all of that, it’s
important to the children of the District of Columbia, so to the Mayor, I
say keep Fort Dupont ice rink. I think you can heat the schools and do the
ice rink. But just as important as that, if it’s important for the schools in
Montgomery County to have computers and schools in every classroom, it
should be important for these kids in the public schools here to have
books. When I taught Street Law, I found out that people didn’t have
books and that’s shocking and incomprehensible to me. So yes, empathy.
It wasn’t a thing of I get a conviction and I’m cheering and I’m happy
because somebody’s just been convicted or they’re going to be going to
prison for some substantial period of time. Now I may feel that they
deserved the time, but it’s not a point of happiness that somebody’s going
to be in a cage and live the way they live. I also feel that prisoners need to
be treated probably way better than most of them get treated because all
you do is make them angry, and then when they come out. I wanted for
any of my defendants who come out, I want them to come out and meet
success with life. If they don’t, then as a society, we pay a price for it, and
I would wish that for them, whether that gets accomplished or not. So,
yes, it wasn’t like I was doing this out of a sense of happiness or whatever,
but I also know being from Detroit that relatively crime-free, haha, city
that I am, and growing up in a place that you would call the inner-city and
seeing what happens and the crime and the things that happen, I know
there are people and good people besieged by the crimes in their
neighborhoods and that that’s a problem.
So, yes, it wasn’t that I did it from sense of big-time happiness,
although there are many aspects of my job that I enjoyed and were good
for me. What people commonly say to me because I would do those child
cases, my baby murders, my kid murders, they say I don’t see how you
can do that. Well somebody had to do it. I would say that I don’t even
feel that those weighed me down a lot. They were sad in very many
reasons, but I feel I went home to happiness, and I had to be happy for my
child and my life, so I didn’t feel weighted in that sense.
MR. WEAVER: From talking to some of the folks who worked with you in the Office and
from different press accounts, you have a reputation of being a dogged
prosecutor who would spare no effort seeking justice, and I’m quoting a
little bit there from some of the folks that I talked to. They describe you
as someone who had the respect of the judge, jury, your opponent, and
often, the defendant. How did you develop that as a young lawyer at the
U.S. Attorney’s Office? Were you nervous when you started? It seems
like from talking to people, your reputation just kind of precedes you as
this very confident, always on top of it, always on her game, usually
winning all of your cases. So I’m wondering what that looked like as a
younger Assistant at the Office and how you developed that.
MS. JEFFRIES: Here’s the what I’m going to call the one time I was nervous, although
there maybe were some other aspects, but the one time I was nervous, my
very first court matter in life in the Misdemeanor Defenders Office in
Detroit, the very first thing I did was a misdemeanor arraignment. I’m
here to say my late dog, Wizard, could do a misdemeanor arraignment. I
used to tell my secretary when I didn’t feel like going to court, I’d say why
don’t you go over and I’ll write down what you need to say. Why don’t
you go and just come back? So I had to do a misdemeanor arraignment,
and I was so nervous. I wrote down everything I had to say, and then Sam
Churikian, he’s the one who hired me there, he said do you want me to do
it for you, and I looked at him, and I said no because to me, if I had
answered yes to that, then what was the point of the $42,000 I had just
spent going to law school. So yes, I was nervous for that, but otherwise,
no. Now let me counter by saying as I would tell people if I’m doing trial
and I tell the students up at Howard, when I was doing trials, when the
judge would turn to me after we picked the jury and call on me to do my
opening, before I opened my mouth and said the first word, that was the
most nervous I ever was, that two seconds. But that’s different from what
I was saying about doing the first court thing. That, I was terrified.
I felt this way, I felt that any judge or lawyer that I was involved
with in the courtroom, I felt that they had the same thing I had, a bar card,
and with regard to the judges, they were getting the same thing I got,
direct deposit of a paycheck. So I wasn’t scared of them in that sense.
They had what I had. And I didn’t go to court with the idea that my role
was to make a job happy. I wasn’t there to antagonize them, but I did
have a client that I represented. As I said, to stand there and enter my
appearance to represent the United States of America, I found that to be a
heady thing, and I wanted to do it well, and I’ve always been mindful of
people coming behind me and wanting opportunities for them. I felt that
the defendants were entitled to fairness, and if I were to do otherwise, that
I would not be the person that I wanted to be or that the person that the
various people who had influenced my life had expected me to be, so I try
to do things in that way. I would have cases where I might have the
defendant’s family, parents, as witnesses. I always felt that my
defendants, this is the way I operated, I presumed that they loved their
child with the same depth and intensity that I loved my child, and I was
not there trying to disrespect them or trying to hurt them. I had a job that I
was doing, but I tried to be mindful of that.
I did a murder case, and one of my defendants took the stand and
the people involved, they were all friends and stuff and other things, he
took the stand, and I think I thought he told a more credible version than
what my folks were saying, and he was acquitted. His parents, I had dealt
with his parents and they came to the trial, and he had older parents
because he had been born later in their lives and he was their only child,
and when he was acquitted, I said to them, and he had previously been in
jail and had gotten out, and then this had happened. I said to them, “Todd
just got a big break,” because it was a murder case, and I said I hope that
he will use this in the right way. Almost a year to the day, I’m reading the
paper on my way into work, and I read that Todd had been shot seventeen
times. That killed Todd. I called his parents afterward, and I talked to
them, and I told them I was sorry, and I was. And that would be true now.
So like I said, I tried to do things fairly. Reading the pre-sentence reports,
people had bad lives, so since the bulk of murders, I didn’t really have a
lot of flexibility, so no, you’ve just murdered two people, no, I’m not
going to agree to probation. It was not like that, okay. It’s not like that.
The defense lawyers, particularly, would come in and make these heartfelt
pitches, and you could read the reports and see why yes, all of that is
true, I can agree, but at this point, if you’re 18, and I have 3 murder cases
that you’ve done, I’m not agreeing to probation, and yes I am asking for
time and consecutive for each life.
Now since I’ve retired, I heard this man say, and I don’t know
what I was listening to, NPR or some other thing that maybe I went to, he
was talking about sentences in the United States being too long. I’m not
going to say one way or another that that’s absolutely correct, but he said
something like you could probably give people a third of the time that they
get and have the same effect. I think about that a lot, and I think there’s
probably a great bit of truth to that because I always felt that if you sent
me to jail for one night, I’d probably learn that lesson that I shouldn’t have
done it. I’m sure for my defendants, after three or four years, they say
okay maybe I shouldn’t have done this, so maybe they’ve learned that
lesson. That’s not the only reason why they get convicted. Some of them
need to be away from folks so they won’t do it again or whatever, and then
with these crimes of the violence, people age out, and I do have people
who are doing sentences of life without parole, and I think they deserve it.
But anyway, that’s something I think about philosophically. Are there
ways and things could be done differently? Yes. I think all those people,
like when I was in Misdemeanors prosecuting people for marijuana, all
those people got those marijuana convictions, I think all those people
deserve expungements from their records because now what’s going on
people have marijuana businesses and they’re making millions in
marijuana farms, and one of the former deputy police chiefs who then
went to a career on the Hill, I read an article in the paper last year or the
year before, he’s now the chief security officer for some marijuana farm in
western Maryland. I’m like really? And people were being locked up and
everything. I think they all deserve expungements. Yes, I do.
MR. WEAVER: What were some other notable early trials? You mentioned the bank
robbery prosecution when you were eight months pregnant. After you
came back, what were some other trials you did before you started
prosecuting murders?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’ll think of something, but I do want to say this. I tell people about bank
robbery. By the time I left work, the average bank robbery was only
netting around $3,000, so if you want to make money in a robbery, I tell
everybody, don’t do a bank robbery. The way to go is do an armored
truck. Whenever I see an armored truck at a shopping center or
something, I go the other way because I think of them as rolling armed
robberies and shoot-outs and everything, and I don’t want to go down in
the hail of bullets. I stay away from armored cars. Don’t do bank
robberies. That’s so ineffective. If you’re going down federal time, go
down for big. When I was in Detroit, we used to have all these shoplifting
cases. People going to K-Mart and shoplifting shoes and stuff, but you
would very rarely see Saks 5th Avenue in there’re, because I think at Saks
if they caught you and you acted kind of decent, they let you go. So why
go down for a $2 pair of shoes. Go down for a $200 pair. You might get
a better pair.
So anyway, in Felony before I was doing the murders, it was a lot
of armed robberies. I actually enjoyed armed robbery prosecutions,
especially if you got the weapon. The very first one I had when I went to
federal trials, I had an armed robbery in front of Judge Truman Morrison,
and it involved a .357 magnum that we had recovered. You hardly see
those anymore because everyone’s gone automatic. I haven’t heard
anything about that in a long time. When I first went to Felony trials, the
chief of the section was Steve Gordon, and Steve himself was going to
prosecute two murder cases. One involved a case where no body had been
found, and the other involved these old people where they’d gotten
together, and the wife had the husband murdered for the insurance policy.
Steve was busy preparing for trial when I went to Felony trials, so in
essence, my first two or three months there, the only conversation with
him was “Hello,” or there was a conversation about the office I moved
into and the caseload I took over. When I moved in that office, my
colleague, whose office it had been, went on vacation, and people around
me kept telling me that she said she wasn’t going to move out of the
office. I didn’t care, and I didn’t want to fight about it, but everybody’s
coming to me, my fellow lawyers and secretaries, that she made it clear
that she wasn’t moving out of the office. So I went to him and said I’m
sitting here, and I didn’t want to unpack my stuff needlessly, so I said if
you have another office I can use, I don’t mind, I can do it. He told me
she would be moving. So she did. That’s the only conversations I had
with the chief of the section. I’m getting ready for this felony trial and it
had suppression motions, and I’m doing the motion in front of Judge
Morrison, and unlike TV, there were no people in the courtroom. It was
just us. None of my colleagues were there. I made this argument, I was
feeling stupid too, I made this argument, and then he said to me something
like well that takes care of the Fourth Amendment claims, but what about
the Sixth Amendment, and I’m standing there in my head going the Sixth
Amendment. Sixth Amendment. And then I started thinking of phrases
and stuff, and then I started throwing things out, so I gather I was saying
the right things because I’m looking around and there’s nobody in here,
right? I’m like okay, June, let’s get this together. I remember that trial,
doing that motions hearing, which means, people, be prepared. I was a
Girl Scout. Be prepared.
Armed robbery has some drama, and in that particular case, the
defendant took the gun and pointed it right at the man’s head. We did a
demo in the courtroom. I like demos. I think that was effective with the
jury. If you’ve ever had a 357 pointed at your forehead, it will get your
attention. So I remember that. The armed robberies were probably, you
get a lot of UUV’s [unauthorized use of a motor vehicle]. I have some
things I could say about that, but I’ll let that go.
I don’t think we did the child sex cases there. UUV’s, armed
robberies. I had a case that was memorable. I had a young woman who
was shoplifting or writing bad checks. I think writing bad checks. We’re
in front of the judge, and she pleads guilty. She’d write these bad checks
buying all this stuff. So she comes for sentencing, and she’s wearing a
leather dress. I’m like, Judge, this is the problem here. Look at this dress.
This cost a lot of money, and she’s writing these checks.
Here’s one I had. I had another young woman, 28 years old, a
secretary at Blue Cross with a 3-year-old son, but she’s smoking the crack,
not a good move. So what she did was either she bought 39 pieces of ID
and credit cards for $40, or she bought 40 for $39, so then she goes
shopping. She went to Woody’s and bought a few things, she went to
Garfinkel’s and bought a few things. This was a long time ago. These
places don’t exist. Then she goes to Neiman Marcus, and this is a 28-
year-old Black woman. She goes to Neiman Marcus, to the fur
department, picks out a $15,000 fur coat and goes to buy it with a credit
card. So they say to her that a transaction of that amount has to go
through the credit department so come back tomorrow, and we will have
this processed. So she leaves. Now, at that moment when they say to you
this is going to be run through the credit department and you, the 28-yearold
Black woman have just handed them the credit card of Stella
Kowalski,. I think you should then try to calmly walk out the store and
not go back. Those shoes we had gotten at Garfinkel’s and those pants
and everything, just don’t go back. But what do you think happened?
Home girl goes back to Neimann Marcus the next day, they give her the
slip to sign the name, Bingo, MPD was there watching all of this, so we
got her on that, and I’m prosecuting that case. So she takes a plea, and
she’s out on bond, and she’s supposed to work with the police department
to try to get more, looking into this. Well what do you think happens?
She goes shopping over in Virginia with more credit cards that were not
hers. That was very sad to me, because she had this little boy and she
went to jail. She was there crying in court. That was sad. But I’m like
really? A $15,000 coat and they say they’re going to run it and you go
back? I took that to mean that crack is very powerful.
MR. WEAVER: Who were your closest colleagues during the early years?
MS. JEFFRIES: If you ask people, people would tell you Deborah Long-Doyle, Blanche
Bruce. Blanche was a year ahead of me in law school. I didn’t know her,
but she’s also from Detroit, so when I was working in Detroit and meeting
people and stuff, and I met a lot of Howard people, people would say to
me do you know Blanche, but I didn’t. What happened was she had been
working for Justice here. She transferred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in
Detroit, so then people would mention her. Subsequently, I met her
because one of her good friends started working at my law firm, and then
when I got married and moved here, I think the first day I started in the
Office and I was up in Claire Whittaker’s office, I saw a list she had of
new hires, and Blanche’s name was on there. I asked if she was from
Detroit, and she said yes, so three months after I started in the Office,
Blanche started in the Office, and we were close friends for many years.
I’ve been friends with other people—Judge Broderick, Patti Broderick, we
are good friends. She officiated at my son’s wedding, and he clerked for
her for two years. You talked to some of my friends. Sherri Harris Evans.
She’s also from Detroit, went to Cass Tech, but Sherri is younger so I
didn’t know her until she moved here. And Judge Ricki Roberts. Several
people, Natalia Combs Green. We were good friends and worked
together, and others. I run this group, I really kind of created this, of
women, AUSAs, current and former, and we have these dinners twice a
year, so a lot of them I’m friends with. Last week, there are four of us
who get together periodically and have lunch, discuss court people,
politics, and now we’re all retired, and one of our group, Joan, has moved
back home to Utah. She was here, so last week we had lunch as we
always would do over at Charlie Palmer’s and talked about stuff.
MR. WEAVER: You mentioned the gun case, one of your earlier cases in Detroit where
you learned the lesson you have to get the gun into evidence. Was there
another, did you have a loss in a case at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the
first few years that kind of sticks out in your mind that you remember?
MS. JEFFRIES: In those first few years, no. Not really, I don’t think. Those cases,
misdemeanors or felony II’s, not that I can think of in that regard. I will
say I did have a case in Misdemeanors where the lawyer came in on some
discovery thing, and he wanted me to dismiss the case or something.
Well, I wasn’t doing that, so then he said to me if I didn’t dismiss the case,
then it would go to trial, and “the judge would try the case,” because the
lawyer he worked with was a former Superior Court judge. So I think he
said that to me because I was supposed to be afraid of the judge going to
trial against the judge, but I want to say clearly that meant nothing to me,
and I was not afraid. No, I don’t remember any losses from that.
MR. WEAVER: Was there a case that was particularly tough that you were proud of at the
time that you thought you weren’t going to win but you pulled it out
through a good closing or a good cross or anything like that?
MS. JEFFRIES: I think of that in regard to one of my murder cases, which was quite a
while ago. I tried a case where the defendant was accused of killing his
boyfriend, the defendant was Ralph, the boyfriend was David.
MR. WEAVER: Do you remember the name of the case?
MS. JEFFRIES: The defendant? His name was Ralph Smith, and his boyfriend David.
Ralph was a female impersonator. Ralph took the stand. He was
represented by Doug Wood, so he had a good defense attorney, and he
took the stand, and in essence said that that night they had come home
from – it was New Year’s Eve, so January 1, that morning, they had come
home to the apartment. Things had been going badly with David because
the two of them were together, and David had some kind of car accident
and couldn’t work and Ralph had supported David and done all of this.
David had recently gotten his financial settlement, and then had not been
acting right and things were not going well. So they argued, and in the
course of the argument, David gets shot one time. In the autopsy, it was
two things that killed him. The gunshot wound and then he had a broken
hyoid cartilage in the throat, so suffocation. Ralph said that it was David’s
gun and David pulled it out of the drawer and that the shot came in the
course of a struggle. He said all this stuff. Well, as I said, Ralph was a
female impersonator, and one of the things he did was there was some
group with some kind of childhood disease or disorder, and the parents
had a group and every year they would have an annual fundraiser, and
somehow Ralph was connected to these people, and they would have this
fundraiser, and he would perform. He went as Keisha. He would
perform, and those family members, they were so supportive of Ralph and
talked about what a good person he was. I’m not saying Ralph was a bad
person. This was a situational thing. David got killed. So he had that
going on and all of this, but I will say this. When he took the stand, and
everybody knew in the case that he was a female impersonator, because he
worked that night as Keisha, so he told the jury that he was 6’1” or 6’2.”
When the shooting happened, he weighed 205, although he had been in
jail so he weighed 195, and he said that night as Keisha, he had on a silver
lame’ cocktail dress, a bouffant wig, and 3” nails and heels. When he said
3” nails, women in the jury busted out laughing, but I’ll say this, he had a
picture of himself made up. He looked really good. He did. He looked
good as Keisha. If Ralph had been acquitted, I was going to go to one of
his shows because I wanted to see. I didn’t have animosity toward Ralph
or Doug or anything. Anyway, he took the stand. When he took the
stand, I thought I was going to lose that because I thought he had
presented well and his self -defense claim. He was convicted. The sad
thing was it was a gun charge and you get mandatory minimum of at least
five years. The case was before Judge Eilperin, and it was Judge Eilperin,
and me. Oh, I know a case I really have to talk about. Judge Eilperin, and
me. I believe that there was tacit agreement amongst the three of us that
had it not been for that mandatory minimum, he would have gotten
probation. I would not have opposed that. I believe that. But he did get
the five years. That was too bad for Ralph.
I should talk about this case in front of Judge Weisberg. This is a
Felony II case. This was a fun case in a sense. I had a case where a man
in his apartment in Dupont Circle had been brutally beaten by my
defendant, as well as I know the defendant’s name. I have to think about
that. Anyway, my victim was gay, a Black guy, and the defendant was a
white guy. I didn’t have too many white defendants. John Allen Windsor,
I think that’s my defendant’s name. They meet up on the street, as people
will do, and John went home with my victim, and they did what people do.
They told me they were popping amyl nitrate, inhaling that, and then
looking at porno magazines, so stuff happened. When it was time for the
defendant to leave, he wanted stuff from my victim, like money or things,
and my victim didn’t give him money or things. Unbeknownst to my
victim, John lifted his keys. John came back later on when my victim was
sleeping, and my victim had a small statuette, and John beat him up. This
guy was in the hospital, he’s unconscious, he’s got fractures here, his teeth
knocked out, he was a mess, and he was unconscious for a while. John
ends up getting picked up however they locate him. I forget how they
were able to close it, and I prosecute it. So I’m on Felony II’s. The grand
jury assistant had indicted the case, then when you get indicted, it comes
before what the Felony II judge and you have the arraignment on the
indictment, so I wasn’t there for the arraignment. My team member was
there, a man. After that, then we probably had a status hearing two
months later. Well between the arraignment and the status hearing, John
Allen Windsor starts writing me letters, but he’s never seen me, but he
starts writing me letters, talking about all this stuff. He’d talk about how
he said he didn’t kill anyone, but could he have a plea, and his lawyer says
whatever, and he’s telling me this stuff. But then he’s telling me all this
other stuff. Now, I will say this. Based upon what John would say to me
in these letters, John Allen Windsor was the most highly sexed man in
America. He’s writing me all these letters from the D.C. jail, and I’m
reading these to my colleagues. I’m like don’t these people have stuff to
do at the jail. How do you have time to be writing me all these letters. So
we have the status hearing, and I go to court. Once again, it’s Judge
Eilperin, and I have a motion, because I wanted handwriting because he’s
writing me all these letters and he’d mention stuff about the case, so that
we can have handwriting comparisons.
MR. WEAVER: Is his writing primarily about the case, or is it the case and also whatever
MS. JEFFRIES: He might say stuff about the case, but it’s also the sex and stuff. So I
write this motion, so John comes to court. People listening to this can’t
see what I’m doing, but the way the courtroom was, the judge is up there,
my table is here, the defense table is here, the clerk is over there, and in
the courtroom, you’re around, the defendant is there, I’m moving around,
I’m not feeling anything, but I’ve got this motion and I’m asking the judge
to sign the motion. Well John is standing over there. I’m going to go
stand over here. And if I’m over there arguing, John is standing over there
looking at me like this, and so I’m looking at the motion, and I’m looking
at him, and I’m looking down, and I’m looking at him. So the judge says
he’ll sign the order, and I have the order. So what would I normally do.
I’d normally just walk over there and give it to the clerk, but he’s been
looking at me, so I said to Vince Caputy, my colleague, I don’t think that I
can walk over there, and Vince says I’ll take it. But then the marshal says
he’ll take it. So he takes it and gets signed. Then when John is gone, the
marshal says to me when this guy is in the courtroom, you should stand as
far away from him as possible because he’s always asking me about you,
are you wearing dungarees. He says you should stay away from him, as
far as possible.
Well now John has seen me in court. He writes me a letter. He
says Ms. Jeffries, forgive me for writing you all that sex, blah blah blah.
I’m writing you all this stuff, but that was before I saw you, and now I see
you’re the most beautiful colored woman in America, and I’m sorry for
writing all this blank stuff. He was graphic. So he’s not going to write me
anymore. Okay. A few days go by, and I get eight letters from John.
He’s writing me these letters; he’s drawing little stick figure pictures. He
tells me details about his stuff and things and everything. I’m like oh my
god, he’s writing me these letters. In all, I got 72 letters from John. He
told me stuff that he could do and that he learned from his father. He told
me I could call his father. I didn’t know what his father’s going to vouch
for his abilities, or his father is going to want to do it. I don’t know. Why
would I call his father? But I did call his mother one time. John had been
in the Navy and something had happened and he’d gotten a head injury,
and she thought from that head injury he had changed, but she told me he
had been home with her one time, and she was afraid of him because
something had happened and she said he had knocked her onto the bed
and gotten all on top of her and done stuff, so she was weary of John. And
he’s writing me these letters.
He took a plea, and he was sentenced. There’s a part I won’t put in
that people should know, but I’ll tell you afterward. He gets sentenced. I
filed a motion, all the letters. I let the judge see all the letters John had
been writing me. Once he saw me then he wanted me to write him back.
This is in the public record. if you pull the file, you can read the letters, so
I’m not telling you people stuff that’s not out there. He wanted me to use
the name Rosie Woods to write him back because she was someone he’d
once been with. And then he’s telling me about when he was five years
old stuff he did with a three-year-old girl. He’s writing me these letters
and drawing pictures. So one time he wrote me, he’s there at the jail, and
he’s talking about he’s sitting there and it’s such and such a time, and he’s
doing this but that didn’t work and then time went by and he did some
more and then something happened. He was using terminology that I did
not even know. I’m reading to my colleague, and I said what is he talking
about? What does this mean? So then it was explained to me what John
was talking about. I have learned a lot of stuff having been a prosecutor.
So anyway, John wrote me. And then he wrote me this letter how one day
I’d look up and he’d be standing in my office doorway. He went through
this elaborate thing that would happen. We locked John up. I don’t know
what happened with him. That stands out in my mind.
I should talk about this. I was assigned to Judge Weisberg for a
while, and very early on in my career, I had a homicide where he gave the
person probation over my objection, and it may be that I inherited the
case, and I only did the sentencing. Whatever it was, he gave probation,
and I objected. Back then, and I’ve talked to him about this subsequently,
so Fred [Weisberg] knows this, he participated in some project Yale Law
School was doing about sentencing. I guess they were tracking sentencing
that he gave, and then he wanted to talk to people who had been in front of
him. So I talk to whoever it was, and I talked about that case and said I
just couldn’t understand how you would give somebody probation, and
that person had killed someone else. I felt anyone who killed anybody
needed to go to jail, and I said this. Well, of course, if he read the
remarks, he would have known it was me. So that wouldn’t have been a
secret. Anyway, I said this. As I told him many years later, I wanted him
to know that I was no longer of the viewpoint that every single person who
took another person’s life should absolutely go to jail, and that there were
some people who should get probation. Like I prosecuted a woman
named Blanche subsequently who was an alcoholic, her boyfriend Jackie
was an alcoholic. They lived together and they’d drink and as some
people do relate to each other, they would get violent with each other. But
one weekend comes and she was going to go to her cousin’s for the
weekend and go to some cabaret or something, so she was there packing a
bag and she and Jackie were arguing, and he threw something or whatever,
and so she picked up a knife and she said she swung it at him and then she
leaves and she said when she left, Jackie threw her leather coat at her out
the door. Okay, he did that. So she goes away, but I guess she came back
on Sunday or something to pick up something, and when she came back,
Jackie was in front of the TV set. The TV was on, he’s in the chair, and
he’s slumped over. He’s dead. Well it turned out she had hit an artery,
and he had died. Now, he had a very high blood alcohol content, and
externally, there were just a few drops of blood on his shirt. So I think
that Jackie is under the influence and is sitting there looking at the TV and
as he’s bleeding out, he was too weak to do anything and didn’t realize
what was going on. So she gets charged with second degree murder, and
we had sentencing. She was representing by PDS, and you know, PDS
has a supply of people working, and they have social workers, one being a
woman named Betsy Bieben, and Betsy worked on the case. While
Blanche was out, she had gotten and gotten into AA, she had a job, she
was working and doing all these different things. She got probation, and
one of the things I have always remembered at sentencing, when Blanche
spoke, she said to the judge, she said I loved Jackie, and she said if I had
known that I had actually hurt him, I never would have left Jackie. And I
believed her, and I think this was the quality of their relationship. They
fought with each other and they stayed together. Through the years, I
would see Betsy and ask her about Blanche, and to my knowledge,
Blanche never had any violations, and she continued to do well. It’s
unfortunate as I’ve seen demonstrated, sometimes it has taken the death of
a loved one for another person to totally change their lives. But I’ve seen
that happen.
So, yes, that happened to me in Felony II’s. I said that about Judge
Weisberg, that everyone should go to jail, but I evolved.
I should also say over the course of my time, especially doing all
those homicides, I was dealing with victims, family members, and
survivors, and I have developed close and good relationships with some of
those people, and we can talk about that when we talk about later in my
Here’s a murder case I tried from the late 1980s, a well-publicized
case, Ricky Brogsdale. He was called the Peeping Tom Murderer. Ricky
did three different types of cases. He did these peeping tom cases where
he would spy you through a window, masturbate, ejaculate, and then shoot
you with a .22. People didn’t know he was out there. Several of those
people got shot, but they didn’t die. They got shot in the arm or whatever
happened, they didn’t die. His very last case, by the time he did the last of
the peeping toms, this had gotten publicized and in the news, and the
community was in an uproar, why hadn’t they been told this was going on.
His very last peeping tom shooting resulted in the woman dying, and he
got arrested shortly after from what was going on then. But he also did
some flat-out revenge first-degree murders. So three different types of
cases. In my peeping tom cases, I probably had six or seven victims, then
I had three flat-out first-degree murders, and I had the peeping tom
murder. So Ricky does the shooting, and it’s been publicized. It was an
apartment, a first-floor window. The woman he shot, Yvonne Ford, it was
her parent’s apartment. She and her kids were living there, but they were
getting their own apartment or something and she was packing. So she’s
in the bedroom packing, everyone else was out in the living room.
Ricky’s out at the window doing his thing, and she evidently heard the
noise, and she walked up to the window, and Ricky shot her one time in
the neck, and she falls. Yvonne dies from that. Her 16-year-old daughter
hears this, runs in the room, sees her mother on the floor, people go as
people would go, she runs outside, and at this point in time, the 7th District
Police Station I think was in the 1900 block of Mississippi Avenue before
they built the new station. She runs outside, and as she’s running outside,
they lived two blocks up the street from 7D, a police car is going by. She
tells them her mother’s been shot through the window. The police, the
calls go out, they look, so they’re thinking this is the peeping tom guy.
There was a police officer, a sergeant, I’ll call his name Joe Thomas, he
was working that night in 7D. He knew all of the ins and outs. Okay.
The police fan the area. There was a young kid, 14, taking the trash out
for his aunt. He was staying with his aunt because his mother was in the
hospital having a baby. As he’s taking the trash out, a guy comes walking
through the alley. It’s been in the news about the peeping tom guy. The
kid said to him, “Hey Peeping Tom man.” And it was my guy Ricky.
Ricky opens up his jacket, and the boy can see he’s got a gun in there.
Well around this time, you start hearing police sirens. Ricky takes off. So
at some point, the police come through. They ask the kid have you seen
anybody, and he says this guy went over there. Joe—Joe’s over on that
side, wherever that was, and there was another set of apartments which the
rear faced a wooded area, and he goes back there. Well Ricky was over
there. He often did more than one shooting in a night. There was a
woman in her apartment who was taking a shower in the bathroom, and
Ricky was back there in the window, but Joe comes around, and Ricky
gets arrested. This is a big deal. Ike Fulwood was chief then. The chief
comes in, and Ricky’s talkative. He agrees to give videotaped statement.
He’s giving statements. They’re asking him about all these cases. Ricky
had been in Lorton on a gun case and had been released. So after release,
he starts doing all this stuff. When he was in Lorton, he stayed longer
than you usually would because he was doing violations in there, so they
made him serve longer, the parole people. And Ricky’s a personable guy.
He’s talking and they’re asking him about cases, and he’s giving it up. He
even told them about a case that he had done that was unconnected and he
agreed to go out with the police and he took them to where it happened,
and that’s how we found that victim. So there was one shooting that
Ricky would not own up to. One of my victims was a police officer, a
woman, in her apartment, sitting on the bed talking on the phone to her
father, and Ricky had been outside her bedroom window doing his thing,
and he shoots her one time in the head while she’s talking to her father.
This has been publicized too. Ricky would not own up to shooting Kelly.
He wouldn’t own up to that. It was believed he wouldn’t own up to it
because she was a police officer, and he didn’t want to admit that to other
police officers. Ike Fulwood came down. He said to Ricky if you confess
to this shooting, these are my people, nothing will happen to you, and Ike
told him that. Ricky then gave it up on Kelly as well. I want to say
nothing did happen to Ricky, and I’d like to think nothing would have
happened, but I’m saying that there. Ike Fulwood said that to Ricky, so
Ricky gave that one up. I ended up being with Ricky longer than any of
his lawyers. He went through three sets of lawyers over the course of time
for various reasons. Some left to take other jobs or whatever. I did three
trials with Ricky. During that investigation at one time there was a
possibility of insanity defense and I talked to a lot of people. I talked to a
brother of his, I talked to his mother, which is a good example of the
issues his mother had and she was a substance abuser and everything,
having met his mother, I’m sure to have her as a mother was a very trying
thing. So anyway, we get to the last matter, and Ricky wanted to plead
guilty, so we were going to have a guilty plea, but then a cousin of mine
got killed in a car accident and I had to go to Detroit so we put it over for a
week. Well his lawyer told him why we put it over, that I had to do this.
Ricky’s artistic. He made a sympathy card and sent it to me. So then we
go to court. We have the plea and then Ricky gets sentenced. His lawyer,
who was from PDS said to me that Ricky wanted to talk to me. I’m like
why does he want to talk to me. He said Ricky wanted to know, he didn’t
want me to hate him. I said I don’t hate him, but this is intriguing. I’d
like to talk to Ricky. At that time, we actually brought prisoners up to our
office. It’s changed now, but the police would bring them up. I invited
the lead detectives, some of the mobile crime guys, because when Ricky
got processed and they’re taking pictures in his jumpsuit, well Ricky was a
boxer, and he had boxed when he was at Lorton, and I can’t remember
how this worked, but he got able to go someplace to some boxing
competition. I almost going to say he went to Las Vegas. Doesn’t that
sound weird that a guy in prison would do this? Something happened that
he was a boxer, Ricky “the Rock” Brogsdale. So when they’re taking his
pictures that night, he wanted to pose in these poses because he was
muscular. So he took his suit down so you could see his chest and arms,
and he posed in these pictures, and he had his sister’s name tattooed on his
arm, which was important to me because one of the guys he killed, that
was important. We had these pictures, and Ricky had asked for those
pictures, and I had given them to his lawyer, because, you know, they
were probably the last pictures he’d have taken in his life. But he wanted
these pictures. So anyway, I had some of the mobile crime unit, his
lawyer, and detectives. I made hors d’oeuvres, and we had stuff to drink.
Not alcohol. I made punch or something. Ricky came, and I served this.
I said this is interesting. We can all talk, and like I had known a lot of
things about Ricky, and I knew he had lived in Delaware at some point
and then they came to D.C. but I didn’t know what that was about. So
here’s what my defendant told me. He said they were living in Delaware
and he had stepfather. He said some men broke in and killed his
stepfather with a shotgun in front of him and whoever else was there. So
I’m thinking imagine being a child and you see your stepfather murdered
with a shotgun and then having his mother the way she was as his mother
I’m sure that was trying. I thought there had been let’s say some
inappropriate behavior between the mother with her children, which got
verified. Some of my cases Ricky’s thing is sexual in nature and things
that happened. So anyway, we had that discussion, and Ricky he wrote
very well. I told you he sent me a card. He wrote me a letter after that
meeting and thanked me for the meeting. He said that I had known this,
but it was Ramadan and he was fasting for Ramadan, but he told me he
had broken his fast because I had made the hors d’oeuvres, and he had
something to drink, but he wanted to keep up communication with me. I
don’t want to be communicating with a person who masturbates and
shoots people in the head through windows, so I told him my job wouldn’t
allow that, but you really should write a book, because he writes very well.
I told him he writes better than some of those police officers in their
reports, and he was artistic. He drew me the card, a picture of a woman in
a big sunhat and he used colored pencils. It was very nice. I kept that too.
When he’s talking to me, I told him I thought it was interesting that
someone like him would send other people sympathy notes. He says what
do you mean. I said you’ve killed like four people, Ricky. But here’s
what I said to him when we started talking. The movie Silence of the
Lambs had just come out and it was still out. I said I’m sure you’ve never
seen Silence of the Lambs, but there’s a scene where Hannibal Lecter, they
have all these police and people around, but he escapes and kills
somebody, and he escapes but all these police and people are there. When
they come up to my office, they could un-cuff them. I told Ricky I don’t
care, they can un-cuff you, and we’re sitting here, I’m at my desk, he’s
over there, but I said Ricky you haven’t seen this movie Silence of the
Lambs so you won’t know what I’m talking about, but I said if you make a
move or something, what’s going to happen is I’m dropping to the floor
and I don’t know what these people will do so we’re not having that.
Ricky thought that I was concerned that he would masturbate in front of
me. He told me this in the letter. Because that’s some of the reasons why
he got held up at Lorton because he would masturbate in front of female
staff members. So he thought I was referring to that. I knew he wasn’t
going to masturbate around me because he never did in court. I knew he
could control that. He wasn’t just whipping it out and doing it. So Ricky
wrote me that letter. I think I heard from him one other time. Down there
in Lorton he had gotten stabbed and it turned out that he got stabbed by
the son of Yvonne Ford, the last murder victim. I think when Edward,
when his mother got killed, Edward was maybe 14. Edward subsequently
ended up in Lorton, and he was in some area where Ricky was, and he
ended up stabbing Ricky. Ricky wrote me because he said people down at
Lorton were saying that I had set this up so that Edward could do this. But
Ricky said he didn’t think I would do that, but this is what people were
saying. He also said that if Edward ever saw him again, Edward would be
sorry that he had not killed him if he ever were to encounter Ricky again.
So then I’m like oh God people, now the guy who masturbates thinks I set
things up so he could stab people. I told the police if I ever heard Ricky
had escaped, number one, I’m turning off all the lights in my house, I’m
calling them, and they’d be getting me and my kid out because I wasn’t
going to walk around windows and be scared. But, you know, Ricky had
a lot of talent and a lot of smart, but I know that having his mother and all
those things, he could have had a different life. Like I said, he had talents
and smarts, and he is a boxer. But this is what happened with him.
MR. WEAVER: Is he still in jail?
MS. JEFFRIES: He should be. In fact, I went to a funeral a few weeks ago, a homicide
detective died, and Kelly, the police offer who got shot in the head, she
was there and I saw her then. When she came back to work, that was
difficult for her. People said they’d be with Kelly. If you heard a car
backfire or something, she’d become nuts, as you would. With her, it
didn’t penetrate the skull. I had another woman who Ricky shot. She’s
sitting on her sofa. He shot through the sliding glass door. This was sad
for her, as you can imagine. She was a nurse and worked at St. Eve’s for a
long time, but she quit and was taking another job and she was between
jobs because she was supposed to start and she was going to have a party
and she’s peeling potatoes into a pot sitting on her sofa and she gets shot.
She was a cancer survivor. She gets shot in the head, and she said she was
talking to her housemate but she was holding the knife and she starts
clutching the knife but she said she felt this intense pain, like a burning,
and she thought that she was either being electrocuted, because she had
the potatoes in a metal pot of water, and she thought a wire had maybe hit
the pot or she thought the cancer had come back and she had a tumor, but
she’d been shot in the head. A problem then happened for her was she
was between jobs and she didn’t have health insurance. She had big
financial consequences. I think her car got repossessed, problems with her
rent. She had friends who would give her money or whatever. There was
a victim’s compensation fund that you could get lost wages, but since she
didn’t have wages, she couldn’t get lost wages. Just a lot of things. So
then later on she goes back to work at St. Eve’s, and she’s there one day,
and Ricky, we sent him to St. Eve’s for an evaluation because he was
going to do an insanity defense, so she’s there at work one day and looks
up and who’s coming in but Ricky Brogsdale, her defendant in the case
that was still pending. I don’t think I knew she was back to work and no
one had given her notice that this guy was coming. I didn’t know. That
was hard for her. But here’s what did happen. When she’s saying how
these financial consequences, it occurred to me what if I get sick or hurt,
what’s going to happen to me and Rudy. I went out and bought disability
income insurance, which once I retired and I got that first retirement
check, I cancelled because now I have permanent income. You learned
that. She had a lot of bitterness. I’m not blaming her, but the way these
things had happened. That was hard for her.
I had another case where a 41-year-old woman and her 8-year-old
daughter were murdered in their home up near Walter Reed. That case
was interesting for a number of reasons. But her parents, 79 and 78, came
up from Richmond because they were unable to get in touch with her for
some days. They got into the house and immediately knew something was
wrong for any number of reasons. Mrs. Jones went upstairs, and when she
went in the bathroom, the guy had put the 8-year-old in a tub of water, so
she found her granddaughter. Then she ran screaming. They get out of
the house. So the police come. At that point, they don’t know where
Holly, the mother, is. She was 41, and her car was missing. The police
come in, they’re processing it, but the defendant had rolled her up in a
carpet and put her under the bed so they found her and then they found the
defendants in the car the next day.
As it happens, I was not a sorority member because I went to
Wesleyan which didn’t have sororities. It had just gone co-ed, and they
only had white fraternities, so I was not in a sorority. Holly’s sister was
then the supreme bacillus of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which is like the
head person nationally. I became friends with Janet and her family
members, and through Janet, I was initiated into the sorority, so I joined
the sorority in 1992. Holly’s ex-husband, Jimmy, was an architect, and he
and Holly had adopted the two kids, a girl and a boy. They had divorced,
and Jimmy took the son with him, I guess to Memphis, and Holly had the
daughter. The boy was older then, maybe around 12. So anyway, as I say,
I maintain relationships with family members. So Jimmy lives in
Memphis. He’s remarried, and he’s an architect. My husband’s family
farm is an hour from Memphis, and a few years ago, Jimmy and his wife
and grandson came up to the family farm for our Labor Day event. I was
in Memphis in October and met Jimmy and his wife, Mary. We all had
dinner. We will talk.
When the snipers happened, and I live in Montgomery County, all
those Montgomery County killings happened up in my neighborhood or
where we frequent, or my son worked at the Hockey Stop, all around us.
The way I heard about the sniper shootings that day was because the exwife
of one of my murder victims knew that I lived in Silver Spring, and
she either called me or emailed me and told me they were having
shootings up there. It was a school day, and that’s how I found out about
that and subsequently called the school to ask what they were doing
because the kids were about to get out of school.
So I have relationships with people from those days, and those
were the significant cases before 1992.
MR. WEAVER: I think this is a good place to wrap for today, and then when we meet
again, we will cover more ground if there’s something else we think of,
and then start at that point in 1992 and some of the more notable cases.
Oral History of June Jeffries
Fourth Interview
April 29, 2019
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Monday, April 29, 2019. This is the fourth interview.
MR. WEAVER: During our first three sessions, we covered your early life and family and
the beginning of your career as an attorney and prosecutor. Today we’re
going to pick up on your career focusing on the period starting when you
were named Senior Litigation Counsel at the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in
1992. In general, we’ll try to focus on that period. When did you find out
about your promotion?
MS. JEFFRIES: I found out because at that time, I think Ramsey Johnson was the interim
or acting U.S. Attorney. We were between appointed people. My son had
the chicken pox, and I was home with him for that period because
Mrs. Cox, the lady who took care of Rudy, had never had chicken pox,
and they said if you get it as an adult, it was really bad. So I didn’t have
anyone else to take care of Rudy, and I was home for about ten days with
So they called me and told me. I had never heard of Senior
Litigation Counsel before. I was pleased. I was honored, but then I had to
come in and sign some paperwork, and Rudy had the chicken pox, so I
wrapped him up and drove in. I guess I left him in the car and went
upstairs and signed the papers. So that’s how I found out. And then they
had a ceremony, which I don’t remember if I had my mother come or not.
MR. WEAVER: Were you surprised?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. I was surprised because, like I said, I’d never heard of it before. I
was honored.
MR. WEAVER: Did the promotion come on the heels of a major case or anything else, or
was it just kind of the natural progression after you had tried a number of
MS. JEFFRIES: I had gone to what was then called Felony Ones on March 31st of 1987.
The Felony One section did first degree murders and they did rape, maybe
child sex cases too. So I had handled several I will call high-profile
murder cases. I view each murder to be significant, but these I had tried
several high-profile. I had a guy called Ricky Brogsdale who was the
peeping top shooter. He became called that. Ricky did his shootings in
1987, I think. I had retried Eddie Mathis. Eddie Mathis had originally
been tried by another prosecutor, Mark Biros. Eddie and two or three codefendants
were tried. It was believed that Eddie and his operation were
responsible for about twelve homicides, and he got convicted on the one.
This one particular trial, he killed a man named Moxie up on 9th Street
right below U Street, and it was three of them that did the shooting, but
Eddie was the only one convicted in large part because Eddie didn’t wear
a mask because the testimony was that Eddie said he wanted the mother
fucker to know who shot him. The other two defendants had on masks.
So Eddie had been convicted. They had a big drug ring and did a lot of
things. It got reversed for several reasons. I think when the judge would
make rulings, Mark would say thank you or something. The Court of
Appeals didn’t like that. But he did call Ken Mundy who had been
Eddie’s lawyer. He called Ken Mundy, the leader of the pack, in his
closing arguments. He said Ken Mundy was the leader of the pack in the
courtroom just like on the streets, Eddie was the leader of the pack. The
Court of Appeals didn’t like that. So I retired Eddie all of my witnesses,
his cohorts and people were by then in various federal institutions around
the country, and all of them came out wearing orange jumpsuits because
they were all incarcerated. Eddie, of course, didn’t take the stand. All he
did was sit there at the table. The Cosby Show was popular back then.
Eddie sat there every day wearing a different pullover sweater looking like
Cliff Huxtable, and not a word came out about him and his background.
So anyway, I had done that retrial for the office. Eddie was not
surprisingly acquitted. I had some continuing interactions with Eddie
through the years after that.
I had somebody else back then. I had a double homicide of a
mother, 41 years old, and her 8-year-old daughter up in Northwest. These
guys had killed them and then proceeded to use their home as their home
for the next week, eating her food, drinking her champagne, pawning her
goods, until that came to an end. So I had several cases that had gotten a
lot of publicity by that point.
MR. WEAVER: Was this when you tried Linda Cannon as well?
MS. JEFFRIES: Linda Cannon was early on. Linda took a plea. I believe that Linda was
probably in 1987. Linda is significant to me because she had killed her
10-month-old son, Gregory Cannon. Gregory’s cause of death was
starvation and blunt force trauma. She beat him, and she didn’t feed him.
I believe that up to that point, I was not aware of mothers killing their
children. I’ve thought about that, and I can’t remember anything in my
life to make me aware of that beforehand. I was very struck by the case. I
was also struck by that case because by then they had started using colored
photographs at autopsy, and I had not gone to his autopsy, but I had the
pictures. In some of the pictures, he’s lying on the autopsy table before
the procedure began with his eyes closed, and he looked just like he was
sleeping. He looked very sweet. Other pictures showed me that he wasn’t
sleeping. So I took that case to heart, and I also disagreed with the judge’s
sentence because he gave her probation. Straight probation. I took
offense. I took umbrage with his sentence. One of the things I did was I
had some blow-ups, 8 ½ x 11, color pictures. I kept a set of those pictures
in an envelope on the window ledge behind my desk because I did not
think that she would successfully complete probation. I was right about
that, but I was also a little miffed about it because not long before her
probation would have ended, she got violated, but the judge didn’t send
the violation to me, so I didn’t find out about it. That, I would say, teed
me off, and I think he did that on purpose. But I found out. I told him she
violated his probation, and he’s the one that did all that stuff, so essentially
I’m like what are you going to do about it? So he locked her up.
MR. WEAVER: You found that to be a pretty motivating experience, because that was
early on when you were in Felony Ones?
MS. JEFFRIES: It was a murder two, which we did in Felony Twos.
MR. WEAVER: So it would have been right before you moved up to Felony One
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. I don’t think I did that as Felony One, and that judge wasn’t a Felony
One judge. It was a little before 1987, maybe 1986. I did it as a plea and
kept it or something. Of course my son was very young, because he was
born in 1985, and I was flabbergasted by this. I felt that way about
Gregory. The other thing I would say is that when you get into child
homicides and stuff, you’ll see some common themes, and often a mother
kills a child because she doesn’t like the father, has problems with the
father. Linda did not like Gregory’s father, and she had a three-year-old
who had a different father, and she treated him fine, but it’s this baby who
didn’t get treated well. So that’s a common theme that you see. I still
have those pictures of Gregory packed away in my box of office things,
and I think about him. In fact, I was thinking about him recently. But I
think about him, and I think that I could be the only person in the world
who thinks about little Gregory Cannon because Linda didn’t like him.
Now she may think of him, but I’m probably the only other person who
thinks about him and his short life.
Anyway, they named me litigation counsel. I had a string of cases
that I did.
MR. WEAVER: In the last session, we talked a little bit about when Joe DiGenova was the
U.S. Attorney, and kind of the way he encouraged assistants and
prosecutors and he would write notes when people did a good job. For
prosecutors in the office that were going to be selected for judgeships, he
would assist them in that process. I think by the time you were elevated, it
was Jay Stephens who was the U.S. Attorney in D.C. Is that right?
MS. JEFFRIES: When I became litigation counsel, it was Ramsey Johnson, but then Jay
came. Jay was probably the next one after Joe under Daddy Bush.
MR. WEAVER: What was your relationship like with Jay Stephens and also with Ramsey
MS. JEFFRIES: Ramsey, when I first started in the Office, Ramsey was deputy chief of
misdemeanors and the office had I’ll call it less formalized, maybe less
stringent kind of training back then than it does now. Things have
evolved. But when I started in Misdemeanors, I think there were about
three or four of us who started in that time period, and Ramsey did a week
of training with us in his office there, and then he was deputy chief. So I
knew Ramsey from that experience and got along well with him. He
became head of Superior Court. This was a funny thing that happened. I
was in front of Judge Henry Greene one time on some case, and he was
upset about something that the government had done. So Judge Henry
Greene is on the bench, and he keeps saying to me he’s going to call over
to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and he’s going to talk to Mr. Johnson, and
Mr. Johnson this and Mr. Johnson that, and I’m standing there thinking to
myself who’s this Mr. Johnson person? I had not a clue. But no, Ramsey
had only been chief of superior court for a week then. I didn’t know who
he was talking about. So I got along well with Ramsey. In fact, I saw
Ramsey a couple weeks ago at the D.C. Court’s Judicial Conference.
MR. WEAVER: Who else served as U.S. Attorney for the remainder of your tenure there?
MS. JEFFRIES: I used to know the order. We had Jay Stephens, Eric Holder, Wilma
Lewis, Jeff Taylor. I guess Jeff was U.S. Attorney when I left. Mary Lou
Leary maybe served as interim or acting. Roscoe Howard was U.S.
Attorney at some point. Roscoe and I had been line assistants.
I want to say this about Jay Stephens and his tenure in the Office.
Jay came in. He had been over at the White House Counsel’s office. Jay
came in and he started the era of technology and stuff. When I first started
in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Superior Court Division, we were all on the
fifth floor of the courthouse, but either in 1985 or 1986, Rudy was six
months old or a year-and-a-half when we moved over to the triple nickel
as they call it, on Fourth Street. When we were there in the courthouse,
when we got a second Xerox machine, that was a big deal, and my
understanding was that the head of Superior Court hadn’t wanted us to get
that. Jay came in and he ushered in an era of we were getting computers.
I was one of those people who didn’t really want a computer, and when I
first got my computer, I used it as a clock. But I slowly began using it.
We got upgraded phones where people leave voicemails. We could start
going to outside training. The office started having significant training
programs. He probably I think named a training director. We had kind of
had somebody in that position who had been in the office for many years
who was an elderly person and really didn’t train. He would come around
the courtroom and watch, but really there wasn’t any training going on
under him. Jay changed all of that. So Jay brought in a whole lot of stuff.
We started getting paralegals and all kinds of things that we had not had
beforehand. That used to make me wonder did Jay suddenly come in and
started making requests and getting money or had the money been there all
the time and people weren’t using it. I was stunned. Jay was good in that
regard. Jay opened a lot of things, particularly for when I came into the
office. Black assistants in U.S. District Court, those were few and far
between. Jay opened up District Court to minorities, probably women too.
I’m sure they must have had some women. I can’t think of one. So Jay
did that. Jay made some good appointments of Black assistants to his
staff. So I like Jay Stephens a lot. I probably saw him last year at one of
the AUSA cocktail parties. I think he’s general counsel for some big
MR. WEAVER: This is another question I was going to ask later, but I’ll ask it now since
we’re talking about it. I was thinking about the technological changes and
the way the legal practice changed in the 1990s. That happened right as
you had kind of your feet beneath you, you had been a lawyer for over ten
years at that point, and then all of a sudden, when you become Senior
Litigation Counsel in 1992, the next fifteen years were monumental
technological changes. What was that like and how did that impact your
practice? Did you feel that you were already in the zone and had your
way of doing things? Did that make it slower to adapt or were you excited
about the changes? What was that like?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m not adverse to change, but like I said, the whole computer thing I
wasn’t big on that. How is that going to help me? But here’s an
interesting thing. The Office does not hire people straight out of law
school. They made an exception for a guy who started right when I did,
and he had been an astronaut, but he never got chosen for a mission, and
he had a PhD in physics. He had an interesting background, went to
UVA, and then they hired him. His name is Paul Patterson. So Paul, his
name actually was Norman Paul Patterson, and he wrote, NP Squared.
Paul embraced technology. He’s all into computers. You may not be
aware of this because you’re so young, but when those computers first
started coming out, they would have these numbers affixed to them that
ended in 86, so you get like a 286 or 386 or a 486. As they got more
power or memory, they’d go up another. So Rudy’s around 4 or 5 then,
and I’m maybe thinking I should get the child a computer, is this
necessary? Paul was all into it and all these things you could do. So that
was good because we had been team members at some point, so Paul was
all into this, and you could ask Paul stuff about what you should do, how
you should do it. I had a friend who was telling me about the Internet and
things you could do, and email, so I began to get curious. Of course I
would say having the computers was a world of difference. At one point I
told my secretary if she wanted to continue working as a secretary at the
U.S. Attorney’s Office she was going to have to go to law school because
with the computers and phones, their work was decreasing. You used to
have to write everything out, and they did the legal typing. But with the
computers, you really could do all that yourself. And then once
Lexis/Nexis came along. I would imagine that by the time I stopped
working in 2008, I probably had not gone to the library to pull a case or
shepardize a case or something in ten years. I just had not done that. And
then the other thing that also was good, Jay, I think it was, got us a really
crack shot law librarian. His name was Jay Ferris. Jay was a fabulous
librarian and could get stuff for you whatever you needed. Especially with
my baby cases, I would do a lot of research, and Jay could get things for
me. I used to tell him, I said if you retire, whenever you retire, I’m
leaving. Because he was my support. I think he retired a year or so before
I did.
You stopped having to go to the library. But then eventually, they
switched us over from those keyboards and monitors and IPUs to the
laptops. And then you could take them home and do work. That was
fabulous for me because I was a single mother, and I had a child. I’m not
the kind of person who wants to stay there until 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 at
night. I needed to go home. Once I could get Rudy situated and
everything, then I can stay up late doing things. So having the access that
the laptops gave you, that was marvelous.
Being able to call in for your messages. You could stay in contact
with judges and people. When we got the beepers and pagers, yes. Give
the judge’s law clerks your beeper number so they could page you if
something comes up. That made it a lot better and easier for us and for
everybody. By the time my son went to law school, he told me that they
recorded even his law school lectures, and you could get them online if
you missed class. People take their bar exams or different exams on the
computers now. I bought twenty pencils for the bar exam because I didn’t
want to fail. I’d be afraid, what if my computer fails? All these issues.
So yes, it made a difference, and now all this electronic stuff in the
courtroom. I never did PowerPoint in the courtroom, but before I left,
people were doing PowerPoints, and I had created some for other usages.
All this technology that you can now use to present your evidence, I think
it’s a good thing. Getting discovery documents on a disc, I don’t know
what people do now, maybe flash drives, but that was such an
In one of my very big cases, you have to be aware of Brady. The
Office’s position on Brady and maybe less resistant to some things, but I
had a really big case that had gotten all these tips, people calling in, all
these tips. You can make charts on your computer, so I made this chart.
Every tip had a number. I said who the people were, the information,
what came of that, all of that. I gave this stuff in discovery. In the midst
of the trial, somebody made reference to some point, and defense counsel
made an objection. We went to the bench. She said she had not been told
about this, and I said to the judge I tend to think she was because I did this
chart and I gave everything. I don’t have my laptop here with me, but if
you want, we can stop now and I can go get it and produce what it was
that was given. I was able to do that that evening and give it. So that
really saved me. So I’m glad for the technology even though it was a
fairly simple thing. It was something I would not have done if it had been
a legal pad.
That’s the other thing. By the time you started using computers so
much, I think this is true of young people now, I was so into using the
computers and writing that if you just gave me a legal pad to write
something, that would then slow me down. So I virtually composed
documents or letters and stopped writing things out. I made that
transition, and I think it was a good thing. I know some people fight it.
People do electronic court filings now and everything, and that’s good.
MR. WEAVER: Do you have other memories or interactions with the subsequent U.S.
Attorneys at the Office after Jay Stephens?
MS. JEFFRIES: Eric Holder was U.S. Attorney. Eric had been a judge beforehand.
MR. WEAVER: Did he go straight from being a judge to U.S. Attorney?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. He came out of Justice, Public Integrity. But yes, he went from
superior court to being a U.S. Attorney. His period was good.
Let me jump back to Jay Stephens, When Jay was U.S. Attorney,
he hired a woman named Judy Smith to be his press person. This was a
difference in Jay. With prior U.S. Attorneys, we, AUSAs, could not speak
to the press. Jay changed that policy and allowed us to do so. So if I had
a case and they spoke to me after court, I could. But there are guidelines
on what you can say. That was a change that he made. I guess you could
say started allowing us to do some community outreach because at one
point, I was invited to speak at an elementary school to give their sixth
grade graduation talk, and I sent it up to Jay’s assistant who handled that
kind of thing, and her response to me was why do they want you to speak,
to which I believe I said to her I guess because I’m not any old crack
addict standing on the corner. I was perturbed by her saying that to me.
She was my classmate here at this law school. So I sent it to Jay, and Jay
had no problems with it whatsoever. So that was a change in attitude from
the prevailing attitudes of the office.
Jay hired Judy Smith, and Judy had worked with the guy who had
Iran-Contra. She had worked on that doing press things. Jay hired Judy to
handle press, and I guess back then, Jay had the Marion Barry case and
other cases. They were doing a lot of things. So from there, Judy went to
the White House as Deputy Press Secretary under Marlon Fitzwater for
Daddy Bush. While Judy was there, Judy is a Black woman, Judy
contacted me and she had some of us go over to the White House. She
invited us over for a tour, and we had lunch at the White House mess.
There were souvenir menus. We walked around. While we were there,
Mrs. Bush came down and was walking through so we saw her. But then
we went out back because President Bush was leaving by helicopter to go
to Andrews, so she had the White House photographer get a picture of our
group as the helicopter was rising above us. With Judy at Bush’s White
House, that’s probably the first time I had been to the White House. And
then, of course, she was there and they’d have those White House Easter
egg rolls, so Judy helped us get into the Easter egg rolls without being
with the public line. But then once you get in, there are lines everywhere.
So, yes, Judy was very helpful to us in that regard. And as many people
know, Judy has gone on to do many other things. She is the person for
whom the TV show Scandal was based, and she was an executive
producer with that. Now she has a new show on ABC called We the
People about AUSAs versus the Public Defenders up in New York. Jay
hired her, and that’s where she went with her career.
MR. WEAVER: After you were able to talk to the press after that changed in the office, did
you make it a habit of that or did you do it on limited occasions or was it
something you steered clear of?
MS. JEFFRIES: If they asked questions, if it was a question that I could answer, public
information, things said in open court, I would do that. I think the public
should know. I certainly would not do anything that would taint a
defendant’s right to a fair trial, and I wasn’t trying to gain sympathy or put
things out in the public, but if it was dealing with something that had
occurred in court, yes.
MR. WEAVER: Shifting gears a bit, how did your day-to-day responsibilities change and
the work you did change after you were promoted?
MS. JEFFRIES: It wasn’t so much that I was given per se specific duties, but certainly it
was known that I was Senior Litigation Counsel and people could come to
me and ask questions, and I did try to assist people when they had matters
and help them with strategy or sound things out. They didn’t give me a set
of things to do. They gave me more money, and I think I got a parking
space and had to fill out financial disclosure forms. I believe that now
they may have you do a little more with that.
MR. WEAVER: You had already been managing trial teams before this?
MS. JEFFRIES: No. I was just a line AUSA. I was never a supervisor. I think when I was
appointed, I was in Superior Court, maybe one person in District Court,
and somebody in Civil.
MR. WEAVER: After 1992, what were some of the more interesting cases you worked on
in the 1990s?
MS. JEFFRIES: I had a case, here’s what I say to people. Here’s a question I’ll ask you. I
had a first-degree murder case. The woman was shot, she was choked,
and she was punched. The medical examiner said that any of those things
independently could have caused death, but she had all three. It was a
first-degree murder case. My victim was named Debbie. Debbie came to
court. She would come to court on this matter. So how was it that the
murder victim could come to court?
MR. WEAVER: I am guessing that they brought her body into court.
MS. JEFFRIES: In a way. Debbie had been cremated, and they had her ashes in an urn.
She had a sister, and the sister’s girlfriend would come. They had Debbie
in an urn. So the first time we go to court, the sister came, and she had
Debbie with her. Well Debbie had been to glamor photos shortly before
the murder, and they had pictures of her. Nice pictures. She’s made up.
So on the urn, they had Debbie’s picture taped to the urn, and it said born
and the date and died and the date. She came to court, and then afterward
we’d go to my office to talk, and I’m sitting on this side of my desk as
you’re sitting over there. She’s sitting over there in a chair with arms, and
she’s got Debbie right here on the arm, and she’s holding it. And I’m
talking to her. Now, I will say this, the whole time I’m talking to her
about how things will play out and what we’ll be doing and all this.
What’s on my mind? In fact, I’m going to do this. She’s sitting there
holding Debbie like this, and I’m sitting there thinking the whole time I
hope she doesn’t drop Debbie and that lid comes off, and then Debbie’s
ashes are all on my floor because you could never suck Debbie up to my
satisfaction, and I was not going to be walking on Debbie’s ashes for the
rest of my career, so if she dropped that, that meant to me I was going to
have to pack up everything in this office and move to another location
because I was going to be out of there. So that what was really going on
through my mind. Fortunately for all of us, Debbie was never dropped.
So anyway, we were going to go to trial, and they wanted to bring Debbie.
I said okay, here’s the deal. You all really can’t do that because we only
want to do this trial once, and I don’t give people appellate issues, so we
don’t want to do that because if you do, the defense is going to object to
you having Debbie here, and I’m not going to fight that. So they didn’t
bring her for trial, but they brought her for other proceedings and for
sentencing. So then some time goes by, and the case was up on appeal
before the court of appeals, and I called and I’m talking to the girlfriend,
talking about life and stuff. I asked what they did with Debbie. Debbie
had teenage children back in Tennessee, and they wanted the children to
make the decision of whatever happened, so Debbie was upstairs in a
bookcase. I was telling the girlfriend that we were going to court on a
particular day, so she asked me do you want me to bring Debbie. I said
I’m not saying that, I’m just telling you. So on the day we had the
appellate argument, they came. They had Debbie with them, and while
I’m not sure, and I don’t think that the judges on the court of appeals were
aware or could see that, those law clerks saw it, and they kept looking.
Debbie also went not only to her trial but to her appeal. That case was
interesting because the defense attorney was Michelle Roberts, who you
probably have heard of. Michelle is now at the NBA Players Association.
Michelle was two years behind me at Wesleyan. She was this defendant’s
lawyer. It was a good trial, except that she had nothing to work with.
Nothing. Because I’ve never had a case that had more evidence in my life.
In this case, the defendant is named James Parker. He killed his girlfriend.
James was a married man with two children. They lived in PG County,
the wife, the kids, and him. Debbie worked for a management company,
an apartment building, so she managed a couple buildings in northwest on
Wisconsin Avenue, lived in one of them, but her office was in the other
across from the National Cathedral, and James would stay with her, then
he’d go over to his wife, whatever. Debbie was a white woman from
Tennessee. Then the wife maybe would call or write Debbie messages
and say things to Debbie. This is going back and forth. Debbie breaks it
off with James. Now he wants to get back together, so he’s calling her
and leaving her these messages and all this stuff, so he evidently calls and
wants to take her out to dinner the next night and evidently she said yes.
Now, I don’t know if she intended to go out to dinner with James or not or
if she was just saying it to get him off the phone, but the next day, she did
not go out to dinner with him. She and another woman she worked with,
also named Debbie, went down to Potomac Mills to go shopping and stuff,
and when they came back, Debbie, my victim, wanted to go by her
apartment. On Wisconsin Avenue, you turn right into the driveway and
you can kind of go into the garage and come back around like a U. As
she’s driving back there, she told the other woman she saw James’ car and
that spooked her, so she did not go. Well, James followed them to the
other building, and you had the gate, she tried to get in without him being
able get in, but he came on through. She told the other Debbie to act
normal. They parked, and James comes over to them and says good
evening, Ms. Debbie, whatever her last name was. The other woman gets
out and goes into the building, stopping by the laundry room where
another tenant is there with her baby and three-year-old. They hear a
scream, and they go back out into the garage, and at that point, James is
dragging Debbie, trying to push her into the car, and Debbie is screaming.
Debbie sees them and says to call the police. So then Debbie her friend
goes into call the police, and the woman with the baby and the three-yearold
stands there because she said she thought that if he knew somebody
was watching, he wouldn’t do anything, and then boom, she heard the
gunshot so she ran. So anyway, the police come. Debbie is on the ground
but conscious, and the police say who did this, and she says my boyfriend.
She says my boyfriend. I should point out that Debbie her friend knew my
defendant James Parker, so she knew him and she recognized him when
she saw him. I think that woman with the baby also knew him because
they had been at the building. So anyway, she goes to Georgetown
Hospital. They have to do emergency surgery. The detectives go there,
and the detectives get a window of opportunity before she goes to the ER
and says we think we know who did this, she says James Parker. They
said where would he be and she gave the wife’s address in Oxon Hill.
While the doctors were working on her, she also told them her boyfriend
shot her. So we have dying declarations. Now, MPD then notifies PG
County. PG County Police drive by the wife’s house, James’ house. His
car is in the driveway. The window is shot out. When they come by,
James runs out, gets in the car, they follow him. I think he drives around
the block and then runs back in the house. Now while he’s in the house,
he calls 911 in PG County. He tells them he did a bad thing; he did this,
he did that. He’s in there with his wife. His two boys are asleep.
Ultimately, James comes out with his hands up. The police ask the wife if
there’s anything different in the house from when James got there, and she
points to the sofa. The gun is in the sofa. So they recover the murder
weapon. They have the car that has the busted-out glass, and we have
glass on the scene, and we’ve got James calling 911 tapes in PG County
saying I did this. Then he goes to the detective’s office, and I think he
tells them he killed her. MPD detectives come, and he tells them he had
done this. He gets extradited back to D.C. James was a salesman for a
bottled water company, like you have water coolers in offices. One of his
clients was over at MPD headquarters, I think Sex Squad had a water
thing. So while he’s at MPD, he asked if he could see a couple detectives
that he knew from Sex Squad. They came up, and James tells all of them.
Okay. Then we get fingerprints, whatever. So we’ve got dying
declarations to the medical staff and to the detectives, we get the
identifications, she tells the detectives and the first one on the scene.
We’ve got the glass. The two women, they know James. James is telling
everybody. We get the gun and everything. So this is it. He goes to trial.
There’s really not that much you can do. So JamesError! Bookmark not
defined. took the stand, and Michelle examined him. That was the other
thing. While Debbie was out that day and he went to meet her, he was
calling her phone and her message machine. So I have this tape, and I still
have it, about ten minutes long where he’s just talking to her about how
he’ll do this differently, he could do that, they can get married. He said
the three of them, him and his wife, they can sit down and have a
conversation about how things will work out and the money will be this. I
guess she liked looking at TV shows because he said if she wanted, he
would watch Sisters with her, which was a TV show at the time, and all
this different stuff, and he missed her and just wanted to be with her. That
was the thing. She had told her co-worker that morning when they drove
to work, they lived in the same building, when she got down there, James
had left a note on her car. He had come by and washed her car, and he
said he needed to do something with the car but the equipment was in her
apartment and he didn’t want to come up there and spook her. The reason
why he didn’t want to spook her was because James told her if she ever
left him, he would kill her. He said they could just go for dinner and go
for a ride with the top down and all this stuff. So I had all these tapes. I
also had tapes of his wife calling Debbie and leaving messages, and
Debbie calling. They were going back and forth. James takes the stand,
he was saying how happy he was to see Debbie, and he said when he put
his arm on her, she started screaming, and he didn’t understand why she
was screaming. I understood, because he said he would kill her if she left
him. And then he said, as people will say, he said it was as if the evil in
her flowed into him or from him into her, and the next thing he knew,
because they never know, she’s laying on the ground and she’s been shot.
And he said she said to him, “JamesError! Bookmark not defined., help
me.” His help was he got in his car and drove away. Left her laying on
the ground because he heard the sirens. I think he was trying to get it
down to second-degree murder, and he didn’t, and because of the
circumstances, we filed life without parole papers. I think he got life
without parole.
So Michelle represented him. That was our trial together as former
classmates. As I tell anyone, if I got charged with murder or anything
else, I would hire Michelle if she were available and if I had the money.
She’s right good at what she does.
The first murder case I indicted, she was defense counsel. She was
at PDS then, and I went to trial. She never put on a witness, and she put
her whole defense in through cross examination. They were putting in
self-defense, and I think that guy was acquitted.
So that was my one trial with Michelle, which, a few years ago, I
got Michelle and Dee Marie Smith, who also used to be in my office and
who is now head of the NFL Players Association. I got them to do this
symposium that the Black alumni at Wesleyan put on once a year, so I was
able to tell everybody in the Wesleyan crowd that we had gone to trial
together and I had won, despite Michelle’s many talents.
That case occurred back then. Let’s see. In the 1990s, when I had
Debbie with the urn, you know, Dead Debbie, while we were in trial one
day, that’s when they had a shooting at police headquarters, and a female
FBI agent and Sergeant Hank Daly were killed, and maybe one other
person. They had that shootout over there. When I finished Debbie’s
case, I decided okay, June, you’re trying murder cases and now they bring
the victims to court. So I said you need to take a break from this because
now the dead people are coming to court. I told them in 1995 in the spring
that I was no longer going to try their homicide cases, and I wanted to go
to Appellate. The response to me was yeah, they can do that but it will be
fall or something because this, that, and the other. So I worded it to them
in a way that got their attention. So I was able to leave as I wanted to. I
left Homicide for about a year-and-a-half. So I left in 1995, I did about
six months in Appellate. I did a year in the Civil Division, and I’ll come
back to that, and then I went back to Homicide the first week of February
in 1997. Eric Holder was the U.S. Attorney. I go back to Homicide. Bob
Mueller was then the chief of Homicide. When I left Homicide to go to
Appellate, Bob took over my case load. He was a line assistant. When I
came back, he was the chief.
In my job, I look at the news in the morning to see who got killed,
shot, or whatever because maybe I’ll get a new case. That happened. So
I’m looking at TV Wednesday morning, Channel 4 as I would look at, and
a police officer had been shot and killed on Georgia Avenue near the
IBEX nightclub. So when I got to work that day, I got that case. Police
Officer Brian Gibson of the 4th District was sitting in his car at a light
around 3:10 in the morning on Georgia Avenue headed north at Missouri.
He was shot four times. The first one was in the neck, and the other three
were in the head. The IBEX was a nightclub where a lot of things would
happen. It was only one to two blocks from the 4th District headquarters,
and it was around time that they would be getting out, so there were police
in the area anyway. We got the radio runs. The call came out for the
sound of gunfire near the Ibex, so police went to the area. Brian was
stopped at a light. One of his colleagues was driving south on Georgia
through the intersection, saw Brian at the light, went past. He did
whatever he was doing, and then he came back to the intersection, and the
car was still there. So he got out to see what was wrong, and that’s when
he discovered the Brian had been shot. So he went over the air. I have
that radio run too. He went over the air. Then people were pouring out of
4D running down the street in the area. The defendant was running away.
What did he do? Either he had the gun or he dropped the gun while they
were chasing him. So the defendant was caught early on. A man by the
name of Marthell Dean and Brian died. So I got that case, and that was a
big one in the news, and that was one that was fought hard. Judge Fred
Weisberg was the judge. He appointed counsel for Marthell, lawyers from
Zuckerman Spaeder, so he got big-money lawyers. It was three of them.
Steve, Elizabeth Taylor, who had been at PDS and Blair Brown. He had
been at PDS too. Elizabeth and Blair had been at PDS. They put on a
substantial defense. At that time, we didn’t get second chairs, so I don’t
think I had a second chair. I was doing that one by myself. Certainly an
issue came up about his statement. Marthell ultimately gave a statement
that was videotaped. The problem was, and this is a problem with police
practice, they had talked to him for a long time before they went on video.
As MPD would say, they liked to talk to people, but they wouldn’t record
until they got “the true version.” And then they just have in their notes
what the person had said earlier. That was always a problem for me
because in this day and age, if you have taping capabilities, why aren’t
you taping everything. For me as a prosecutor, what the person said
before you got there was equally as important, and the circumstances in
what was going on. So there was issue over that, and the defense fought
big time, and they were making these other claims. I did find that if you
listened to the news reports or read the articles at the time, I felt that they
didn’t necessarily reflect things in the courtroom as I saw them and maybe
would be more sensational about things. Anyway, it was hard-fought, and
it was getting a lot of press. We won that case, and he was affirmed on
appeal. Subsequently, some years later, Marthell is doing life without
parole, but I want to say some years later, we found that Marthell was on
this website called Love Behind Bars. You can look for people, people
behind bars can say men seeking men, men seeking women, women
seeking et cetera. So Marthell was on there. He was seeking a woman,
and he wrote about himself. One thing he said was he didn’t like liars. He
also said that he’d be getting out in about five years. Well I found that to
be a lie since he was doing life without parole and it was affirmed. But
anyway, I didn’t know people did that, Love Behind Bars. Some
interesting posts.
So that happened, and that was in the 1990s. I should talk about
my time in Appellate. I had skipped Appellate because when I was
coming into rotation, about the time I was going into Appellate, they
needed people with experience in felony trials, so I had skipped Appellate
and had never done it. I started in the office in 1982, so I didn’t go to
Appellate until 1995, which was a really interesting experience, but it was
a very boring experience because you’re just there in your office reading
cases, writing briefs, or going to do your arguments. When I went to
appellate, and I told my son, so 1995 Rudy would have been ten, I told
Rudy I was going to Appellate, and he was like, what about TV or the
news. You’re not going to be on anymore? I said no. Because I would be
on TV and stuff and people would see it and kids at school would see me
on TV. One of Rudy’s classmates, he was on a softball team one time,
I’m at the game, and a girl in his class came up to me and asked are you a
lawyer? I said yes, I am. She said, Do you make a lot of money? So I
said yes, I do. Which I didn’t. I made government wages, but compared
to other people, I did. Compared to people making hamburgers at
McDonald’s. I said yes I did. But they knew because they’d see me on
Appellate, I would call that a dead and dry environment, but you
certainly learned a lot. I saw where things came from in the law and
arguments that people had made. I had my first and probably only
appellate argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
on a panel which included Judge Harry Edwards in a drug case. Now, of
course, crack was around back then, and I used to hear people talking
about the disparities in sentences between crack cocaine and powder
cocaine, so I was aware of that. One of my friends at the time was up in
District Court, and they did drug cases up there. She said that she thought
the officers went out of their way with Black defendants to get crack
cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine. I get up there, and the case I had
was one which involved a Brady violation where the prosecutor had not
given prior convictions of some of the witnesses and maybe the defendant.
That’s what it involved. So I had to defend this case.
At that time, because of something that had happened involving
another case, the Office had sent out a memo that if the trial attorney was
still in the Office when the appellate argument was done over there in the
Court of Appeals, the trial attorney would have to go and sit with the
appellate lawyer. So I had notified this guy when the argument was, when
to be there. I will note that he did not appear. My plan was, and of course
I would not have done this, if those judges had really pressed me on why
was it that he hadn’t given up that information, I was going to say to them
that’s a really good question, but he’s sitting right here. Why don’t we ask
him? But he didn’t come to the argument. When I got back, he had left a
message on my phone saying he didn’t know when or where. You know
that was such crap. The guy got reversed, and I’m glad he did because
here’s the deal. He was one in a co-defendant case, the only one to go to
trial. Others to pleas and had gotten reduced sentences. He went to trial,
and he was convicted of one count of distribution of crack. The value was
$300, whatever the weight was. So it’s not a lot of stuff. But he had prior
state convictions, like a burglary or assault or something. So this qualified
him as a career criminal. I think the minimum was thirty years. This guy
got like thirty years. He was in his 20s somewhere. I’m here to tell you I
had just come from Superior Court, I had murderers who were not doing
thirty years. I thought thirty years was outrageous. It was, and is, given
the circumstances. So he was reversed, and by the time of the reversal, the
trial assistant said whatever the witness issues were they probably would
not be retrying the case. So I believe the guy got out. I thought that was
fair, but I thought it was outrageous. I took my son, who was then, that
would have been in early 1996, to the argument. He was ten or eleven.
He hadn’t had his birthday yet, so he would have been ten. We were in
the lawyer’s lounge, which is four walls, so I said to him to look around
the room starting in that corner and to go all the way around the room and
to tell me what was wrong with this room. So he’s looking at the pictures
on the wall, and he’s going all the way around the room, and he says I
don’t know. I said okay, here’s the problem, Rudy. If you start right there
and go all the way around the four walls, it’s only when you get to that
little corner of the fourth wall do you see anybody who’s not an old white
man in the history of this court, and that’s when you saw Clarence Thomas
and Judith Rogers, the Court of Appeals Harry Edwards. So that was
striking. I took Rudy to that argument, which makes me want to mention
Judge Harry Edwards. He is also from Detroit. I didn’t know this until
years later, his father was George Edwards, who had been a state
representative or senator but was the husband of Esther Gordy Edwards.
Ester Gordy being the sister of Barry Gordy of Motown. She was judge
Edwards’s stepmother. So I didn’t know this until sometime later.
Anyway, when I was in the Office, before I had gone to Appeals, I
didn’t know Judge Edwards. He gave a talk at the University of
Michigan. I think it was called Reflections on Thirty Years of Law after
graduation. I guess he had gone to Michigan. I know he taught at
Michigan. Anyway, he gave this talk, and it was reprinted as a little
monograph, and I did not know Judge Edwards, but he sent me a copy,
which I was very appreciative of, since I had never met him. So I guess he
had heard of me, and he sent me this copy. But the remarks he made were
very interesting because he’s talking about the practice of law as a Black
man and things he had encountered. His wife at the time was a Superior
Court judge, Mickey Edwards. I think her name is Mildred. He sends me
this monograph, and I read it, and it was very interesting. He said he was
involved with some national legal organization that would give an award
to a lawyer, and they take the lawyer out to dinner, maybe the board
members, and they would make this presentation. So then one year he
said they chose a Black judge or lawyer to win the award, and then they
just had a certificate printed and gave it to him to mail to the Black
honoree. They didn’t do anything like they had done for other honorees. I
was once in front of his wife and had occasion to speak to her at some
point, and I said I read this monograph Judge Edwards gave me, and he
talked about this dinner. She said that’s exactly what happened. He
talked about other things over his career. I always appreciated that
someone like him would take the time to do that for me.
So I had my argument in front of him and whoever else was on the
MR. WEAVER: How was your experience arguing in front of him? My experience is that
he was a very lively questioner. This just seems like a case where he may
have had some pretty tough questions for you.
MS. JEFFRIES: You know what, I’m not an appellate person, and I like trial much better,
so that was really what I would call my frightening experience. I don’t
remember being frightened in other courtroom settings really, but I was
frightened by that such that in many ways it’s really a blur to me. I was
glad I lived through it. I remember him, I can’t remember the other panel
members. Appellate was not for me. But that was good, Judge Edwards.
What else. I did Civil. Civil is a totally different experience. At
that time, the Civil people were on the tenth floor of our office building,
and around that time, and up to that point, there had been very little
crossover between people in criminal and people in the civil division. So
you really didn’t interact with them much at that point in time. So I go up
to civil. Civil was totally different, and much more intense. You worked
much harder up there than you did down in the criminal stuff because 80%
of the caseload in the Civil Division is defensive, where they’re defending
the federal government in these lawsuits, and 20% was affirmative
litigation. I didn’t have any affirmative litigation. So everything’s
defensive. In federal court, you have in the civil cases all these timetables,
and you have to file this, you have to file that, you have to respond, you
have to do all these other things. These deadlines. So you could be in
court all day on a trial, but you’d have to go back and work because you
had to file your Rule 26 whatever it is, your pre-trial statements. So your
civil caseload does not stop. If I was in trial over there in Superior Court,
I could pretty much put things on hold while I’m doing my trial, but it
doesn’t work like that in Civil. Those people are in court all day and then
come back and have to work all night. It’s very hard for people in the
Civil Division taking a week off let alone two weeks. You have to have
somebody covering your box, you have this happening, you have that
happening. So Civil was very intense.
Civil you’re working very hard. I would tell them, you know, the
rest of us in this office don’t work like this, and we make the same money.
Number one. It was a good experience because you’re doing lots of
different things. You’re doing tort work, contracts, constitutional issues.
Some guy sued because he was in the Army deployed to a UN
peacekeeping force, and the UN peacekeeping force wore patches on their
sleeves identifying themselves, and he objected to putting the patch on his
uniform because he didn’t join that, he joined the Army. So different
issues were going on, people making FOIA requests all the time, all these
In affirmative litigation, now this was big back then. Janet Reno
was Attorney General. They were going after healthcare fraud, so if they
could do a criminal case, have a companion civil case, in the civil case, if
you win, you get treble damages. There was big money being made, so
one of my colleagues got some award, millions of dollars. I said this is
very interesting. If you were in civil practice and you got this award,
you’d be getting a third. You’re just getting your paycheck.
The work in Civil, it was a good experience for me. I was over in
U.S. District Court. And then they’ll get these emergency TROs, and then
you’ll get a Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve TRO, and if you’re low
person on the totem pole, yes you will. I had a TRO in front of Judge
Norma Holloway Johnson, and I’m glad I did because that was my one
experience with her. It was a Black woman employee at some agency,
they had a riff, and when you did the formula, whatever, she was the
person who got riffed, even though she had 25 years with the agency.
What happened was there were some men working in the agency who had
been in the military, and they had that military preference point or
whatever, so they were ahead of her. So she does this TRO. She said that
when she went to college or something, she would have gone in the
military, but they didn’t let women in whatever she wanted to claim, she
couldn’t do that because she was a woman, so that’s why she was unable
to have that, and it was unfair. With this woman, she also was eligible for
retirement, so it wasn’t that she’d just be destitute if she were riffed, but
the job said that when they tried to talk to her about it, she would not do
anything. She would not talk to them about it, she didn’t pack up her desk
or anything. We are there on New Year’s Eve until 4:30 in the afternoon
in front of Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, and I prevailed in that. Now,
in fact, her lawyer is a Howard Law School grad, and we were at a funeral
three weeks ago. We were talking and I said remember we had that TRO
together. So I did that in Civil.
I did one trial, which was a age discrimination and a national
origin. He was Italian-American, and sometimes he’d use Sicilian-
American. He claimed his supervisor was Irish-American and
discriminated against him in favor of other Irish-American employees.
One thing he said they would have Christmas parties, he worked for DEA,
and so you’re planning a party and the food. He said his supervisor put
him in charge of the food one time because the supervisor said because
Italians have good food. Okay. I’m not making light of that, but I think
you do. I’d rather have that than corned beef and cabbage at my
Christmas party. Anyway, he did not prevail. The other part was he had
gone on 60 Minutes to criticize the agency. He and some other people, to
criticize the agency, and in response the next day, the head of the agency
sent out an email to every DEA employee responding, and he mentioned
this guy by name, so then they were claiming privacy violations. But he
had been on 60 Minutes talking the night before. So then they wanted
millions of dollars. I think his lawyer wanted $1 million per employee or
something like that. So we did a two-week trial over there in U.S. District
Court in front of an older judge, who is very irascible, and he and I almost
would have had it out in court one day. It was my practice, whenever I
was going to try a case in front of a judge, I would ask the judge or at least
ask the courtroom clerk or the law clerk about the judge’s various
practices, and I had asked what time did the judge break at the end of the
day, and they told me that. Now our building, the Civil building was then
across the street on 3rd Street, and they had a parking garage which closed
at 7:00. So we’re in this trial this one day and it’s getting toward 5:00 and
the judge is like keep going. So I asked to come to the bench. I said I
need to know what’s going on because my garage closes and I need to get
my car. He said we’re just going to keep going. I was about to stand up
and announce to the courtroom, which is everybody, the jury, that I
needed to get my car and I would be leaving and I could come back, but I
was going to get my car because I’m very clear about this. I was Rudy’s
mother, and I was not going to be trapped without a car and go home and
have something happen and he needs to go to the hospital or whatever and
I didn’t have my car. I don’t play that, and I wasn’t going to play that for
some judge in the courtroom. But right before I got to where I was going
to do that, he then broke for the day. So I would have had a showdown
with him in the courtroom over that issue because Rudy was my
responsibility, and the judge, nor the marshals, were going to take me
home or come take us to the hospital if something had happened.
I did that trial in Civil. There were four counts before the jury of
which in those discrimination cases for incidents after I think October of
1991, they were jury demandable, but before those were not. So some of
his claims were before that date, and some were after. Then there was the
privacy thing. So he was entitled to a jury. The judge let the jury rule on
all the counts, even though that was of no moment for some of them. The
jury ruled in the defendant’s favor and gave him a total of $10,000, and
then afterward, we had post-trial motions and everything, got it down to
MR. WEAVER: This is the plaintiff, right?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. In the end, he got $2,500. The woman from the General Counsel’s
office, the lawyer over there I was working with, she felt if he got $1 that
was a loss. I got them down to $2,500, so ungrateful people that they
were. What happened is his lawyer was from Memphis, and the plaintiff
was from New Hampshire, so every time they came to court, they had to
travel here. They had to pay lodging and food and everything. We had a
settlement conference with the magistrate judge where we first went in all
together, and the magistrate talked to plaintiff, and then he talked to us.
When he brought us in, I said to him we’ve got $65,000. I had $75,000.
He said to me I’m not even going to tell you what the other side wants
because you all or so far apart, he said this won’t come together, and he
said sometimes people have visions of pie in the sky or whatever. I spoke
to plaintiff’s counsel by phone a week or two later, and I said to him the
magistrate never told us what you were interested in. I said, so I’m just
curious how much would you want to settle. He said not a penny less than
$3 million. I said you and I both know you’ll never get that out of my
client, you won’t take $65,000 and call it a day? He said no. I said okay.
So the award was $2,500, plus he could get attorney’s fees but he’d have
to parse it out and apportion it to what he won on. Not long afterward, the
attorney died, and I figured he was so disorganized and stuff, I didn’t think
anyone would be able to come behind him and come up with the money. I
don’t think they ever got attorneys’ fees. But for all that, he got $2,500.
That was affirmed. I did do that. I had a co-counsel. That co-counsel is
now a judge over there in U.S. District Court. He had never done a jury
trial before. That was the other thing.
MR. WEAVER: Who was your co-counsel?
MS. JEFFRIES: Rudy Contreras. Because of the change in the law, most of the civil stuff
was not jury triable, but because of the change in the law, they were then
beginning to do jury trials, and a lot of them did not have jury trial
experience, so I went up there with all this jury trial experience.
I understand one of my colleagues back then who later became
U.S. Attorney for the District, she had a completely civil background, and
I understand that when she tried her first jury trial with another lawyer, she
required him to work all day and all night and they could only sleep in
shifts. I’m like you people are crazy up in here. She became U.S.
Attorney. She had no criminal background.
MR. WEAVER: When did you decide to go back to Homicide?
MS. JEFFRIES: That whole Civil schedule. I had a kid. I needed to go home, and we need
to be able to take vacations. I need to be able to go to the school or the
doctor’s office. So I stayed a year in Civil, and then I told Eric I’d like to
go back to Homicide, so I went back to Homicide. That’s when I picked
up the case with Marthell Dean. If you drive by 4D, they named the
building after Brian Gibson. Brian’s mother, in particular, but the family
became very involved with police officers, the department. There’s an
organization called COPS that supports the families of police officers who
are murdered. Concerns of Police, I forget what the S stands far. It
supports the police, and she became very involved in that. I believe she
became the national president of COPS. Every year a couple of weeks
before Christmas they would have dinner for police in their home, and all
these people would contribute. They’d have fried turkeys, people would
bring food. And you could eat in or take out. I think they stopped it a
couple years ago because they’ve gotten older and other things. I think
there was hope that the FOP would pick it up. I don’t know if they did or
didn’t. I would go to that and see them and see other people in that circle
of folks. In fact, Brian’s former mother-in-law and I just became
Facebook friends last week because one of my church members said she
had gone to some event down in Clinton, Maryland, and met this woman.
I don’t know how they came around to be talking about me. I just hadn’t
talked to her in a long time, so now we’re Facebook friends.
MR. WEAVER: These are a couple of different questions, but sort of if anything comes to
mind, just answer it however you see fit. During that stretch of time
where you went to Appellate, you went to Civil, you had done some big
cases before that in the late 1980s and 1990s, are there any big mistakes
you made or regrets you have or cases maybe you lost that you look back
on that you learned a lot from during that time?
MS. JEFFRIES: I think that when a lot of people lose cases, and my experience as
colleagues would come back and they’d call the jury stupid or this
happened or the judge was wrong or blah, blah, blah, whenever I lost a
case, my thought was not that. My thought was is there something I could
have done differently. As I would tell my victims, survivors, when they
met me, I told them my promise was to give them the best possible trial,
but that I did not control outcomes, and the jury decides the case, and they
could decide the case for whatever reason they wanted to. Maybe they
liked the other lawyer better. Maybe they felt I was awful. It could be any
number of things that may or may not have to do with the evidence and
that I didn’t control that. But I would give them the best possible trial. So
I will say I didn’t have any real regrets if I lost a case because I hoped that
I had given it my best, and also, I just kind of believe in the jury system.
Let these people hear these facts and let them make a decision. I
prosecuted a police officer for killing her boyfriend, kind of ex-boyfriend,
a fellow police officer, and there were no witnesses. She took the stand
and essentially put on self-defense, and she was acquitted. I think that was
a fair verdict. My thought was the situation wasn’t such where we could
just say flat out this was self-defense, but I felt it was a situation where a
jury of her peers needed to hear the facts from either side, both sides, and
then make the decision. The case was such that she and he had been
together for some reasons but whatever was going on, she started seeing
this other police officer and broke it off with my victim. Well, she was
over the other police officer’s apartment one night, and the next morning
when she leaves and starts driving home, my victim was there, and he
starts following her. Something had happened while they were on the
road. When she got to work, she reported it to her officials. I think she
worked at 1D. So her officials called his officials, and then the two of
them got sent to the police chaplain. This particular chaplain was not only
a minister, but he was a sergeant on the police department, and he talked
to the two of them and counseled them. I guess their agreement was there
wouldn’t be any other problems, and so he let them go. He had the ability
to suspend their police powers and take their weapons from them, but he
did not. The next day, my decedent showed up at her home, and inside,
she said he had the gun. It was his gun, I guess. And they struggled, and
in the struggle, the gun went off, and he was shot. I think that she was a
credible witness. I couldn’t disprove that that’s what had happened, and I
very much think that it was a failure of the police department in how they
handled this because the sergeant should have taken their guns away from
them, and they could have done some other things. That was very hard for
the victim’s family, and I understood that. One of the sisters worked in
firearms where they did ballistics testing, and I would talk to her
sometime. Sometime later, one of my chiefs came to me to ask me if I felt
she was credible when she testified because she had applied for some
position or something, and they maybe were going to weight in. I told
them I thought she was entirely credible and they should leave her alone.
She had a young child, a daughter, who my decedent was the only father
that girl had known, and I felt my victim certainly didn’t wake up saying
she was going to kill him that day, and it’s not that she went after him, and
I know this was a tremendous loss for her daughter as well. So anyway, I
ended up talking to her one time in a later case of mine because she
worked in traffic, and I called over there and she answered the phone. I
told her about that.
MR. WEAVER: What was that conversation like?
MS. JEFFRIES: It was okay. She wasn’t hostile toward me. I told her that I had told them
I thought she had been truthful and to leave her alone. So yeah, I had that
I once called a unit in the police department and talked to a
woman, another police officer, who was actually the mother of a child that
had been murdered, and I had gone to the trial. When I was pregnant with
my son, Amy Berman Jackson, who is now U.S. District Judge, tried a guy
named Paul Jordan for a double homicide, killing a woman, I think
Mrs. Barnes, and the three-year-old girl she babysat, Crystal Fletcher,
Crystal was the daughter of two police officers, and Mrs. Barnes was a
retiree, and she would babysit the girl. It didn’t matter what shift the
parents were working. So this case was going to trial. This case started
trial the same day as the 8th & H murder trial, which is a big, infamous
case here. Amy was trying this one by herself. It was statements which
were contentious. Anyway, I would go to the trial. I was very interested.
The father would be at the trial, and I would talk to him. It went up on
interlocutory appeal. When they really started testimony, the mother was
the first witness. When she came in the courtroom, it was clear she was
heavily medicated. She testified, and that’s the only time she was there, so
I never interacted with her, but I called her. She answered the phone at
least fifteen years later, and I told her I know who you are because I used
to go to that trial, and she and I talked.
I wouldn’t say that I felt bad because I felt that I had done what I
could, and if I had seen a personal failure, then I would hope I would learn
from that. I’m sure there are things you could do differently. My
approach was different from what I felt the approach was of many of my
MR. WEAVER: When you left Civil to go back to Homicide, did you go back as Senior
Litigation Counsel again?
MS. JEFFRIES: No. Senior Litigation Counsel is just a one-year appointment. So I was a
line assistant. I went back to Homicide. You know how we do baby
MR. WEAVER: I was going to ask at what point, were you already known as the go-to
person for child homicide at that point?
MS. JEFFRIES: After doing Linda Cannon, I don’t know, maybe I was asked early on. I
may have heard of cases and asked for them, and then they started giving
them to me. As I said, Jay Stephens, that’s when the money flow began,
and you could do training, so I found some outside training. One
conference I went to, they did it as a three-year cycle, so I went for three
years. It was pediatric forensic issues, and I went to three different places
for that. That was a very good one because pathologists and different
people would be presenting on various aspects of child homicides and
child deaths in general, which I would point out ones that were the worst
were the farm equipment deaths. Homicides, accidental, a lot of evidence
about trauma. And, of course, during that time period, shaken baby was a
big thing. You had that case up in Boston, Louise Fletcher. The nanny
was prosecuted for shaken baby. What I would say about shaken baby is
anecdotally for me, in all of the cases that I had where the children had
been shaken and had injuries consistent with that, mine also had blunt
force trauma as well. I never saw a case in my time period that was purely
shaking by itself causing death. I never saw that. But that was a big thing.
I don’t hear about shaken baby as much now, and a lot of people challenge
that. I did go to conferences and things dealing with that and pediatric
forensic issues, and that was good.
MPD created their special victim’s unit, and the police officers
were getting training and doing things as well, so that kind of thing
occurred in tandem. I would do baby cases. A lot of people, of course,
will say I don’t know how you can do that. Well those children didn’t
have anybody usually, many times in life, to stand up for them, and I felt
that I was standing up for them in death. Like I said, Gregory Cannon, I
doubt that anyone thinks of him now. She kept him locked away in a
room by himself. Other people weren’t seeing him or interacting with his.
I have his pictures.
MR. WEAVER: Are there other cases like that that stick out that are hard to shake?
MS. JEFFRIES: In doing that, I was also on the Child Fatality Review Committee, which
would meet monthly, which brought many players to the table. So you’d
have people from the police department, from the hospitals, from different
medical centers, the school system, CFSA, the court counsel, my office.
You could have twenty to thirty different agencies and people around the
table going through these cases, and we reviewed cases which were not
just homicides, but also natural deaths because it was deaths of children in
the District of Columbia, as well as children who were wards of the city
but in placements outside of D.C. because they send some kids away. I
can see this. Generally speaking, for instance, some of those cases would
be cases I had or knew. Every time you’d go to that, it would be one
messed up family after another. And every time you’d think you’d heard
the worst and it couldn’t get any worse, it would. In that realm, I had a
mother who took her three-month-old child down to the Anacostia River.
Right there at Benning Road, crosses over the river, and there’s a PEPCO
power plant, and then on the northwest corner would be Langston golf
course, but on the south side, there’s parkland and you can go down there.
She went down there and threw her kid in the water, and she went in too.
The problem is, and I went out in a boat with the water police, or whatever
you call them, harbor police, the water isn’t all that deep, and in many
places, you can just stand up in it. I think it’s hard to drown in water that
you can stand up in, and that’s apparently what happened with her, such
that there were men playing golf, and one of the men was a U.S. Deputy
Marshal. He’s playing golf, and he said he kind of thought he heard
somebody screaming, but there were trees between him and the water. He
kept playing golf, but then he heard some more, and there were no longer
trees. He looks and he sees this woman in the water, but he can see her
head and shoulders. There are some grounds people, they go out, go in
and bring her out of the water, and then they’re standing there like what
now, and they say something to her. She doesn’t say anything and then
they say something to her again, and she says to them, “Well I have a
much bigger problem,” and they said, “What is it,” and she said, “My son
is in the water.” She then took them to the location where she had pushed
the child in, but they said she was so quiet and not saying anything. He
said at one point they asked her was she pulling their leg about this. So
they called the police. The helicopter goes up. There’s an inlet near the
power plant, and Eagle Park police helicopter saw the child’s body in the
water. He died. That woman, I prosecuted her. Her name is Michelle
Francis. She was out on release during the pendency of the case and
represented by PDS. So in doing these cases, an obvious question is why
would you do this. Is something wrong with her? She was herself the
child of a mother and father who both had mental health histories, and in
fact, her parents had met when they were both patients at Saint E’s. When
I was prosecuting Michelle, her mother was in prison for killing a fireman
who had befriended her and taken her into his home, and the mother had
stabbed the man and killed him. So she had a family with a mental health
background. Her child’s father had been her high school sweetheart. She
got pregnant. I think she wanted to get married and be a family, but he
wasn’t there yet, and he was maybe seeing someone else. She had this
baby. At some point, she had told him and his mother that she had put the
child in the microwave but whatever happened, he wasn’t harmed. So
they had taken the baby for a while and cared for the baby, and then she
seemed to be okay and they let her have the baby back. So the paternal
grandmother was very kind toward Michelle, and they thought she’d had
post-partum depression or something. And then, of course, while the case
is pending, counsel said to us that she had been diagnosed as bipolar and
they made some representations about that which later were problematic to
me for various reasons. But anyway, one thing that happened, Michelle
got pregnant while my case was going on, and that was a problem for me
because she’s out on bond. She could have had the baby and gone to any
hospital and not told them that she had this order where she could not have
contact with children, and they give her the baby. So that was an issue
that we had to deal with in court.
I don’t know if I said this before, but back then on those child
cases, you often couldn’t charge first-degree murder. You had to charge
second-degree murder. The penalty then was only fifteen years to life, and
if a woman went to prison, if she got the maximum penalty, if you got
fifteen years to life, after you’ve done about 85% maybe 12 ½ years, you
get parole, and unless you’ve killed a prison guard or something, you’d
probably get parole, which meant that the mother would get out and she
would still be in her childbearing years, and then if she had other children,
they would have been taken from her, and they come out and they want to
have more kids. So I was very concerned because I felt we had a duty to
the protection of these future unborn children. What do we do with the
mothers? The mothers needed help. So there were times when we did
these sentences where she was incarcerated but also would come out and
have strict probation. With Michelle, we did that. She came out and I
think we were doing quarterly reviews before the judge and we had these
reports. I know reports are good, this, that, and the other. So another
thing that happened is she was working for Roy Rogers, so she started
working at Roy Rogers near me, first at Georgia right at the D.C. line,
Eastern Avenue, and then up at Wheaton Plaza. So sometimes when I
would go to work in the morning and ride the subway at Wheaton, she
would be getting off the elevator when I would be getting on, and I’d see
her, and we would speak. She told me, because the baby who she had
been put in foster care and she would have visitation, she told me one time
the woman wanted to adopt her child, and she told me that she had agreed
to termination of parental rights because she thought this was good for her
son, and she wanted to do that. I thought that showed insight on her part.
Also, when she had that baby, she had her tubes tied, which is a big thing
to do, and I thought that showed insight on Michelle’s part as well.
So we would have conversations. At one point, she would be at
the Roy Rogers on Eastern Avenue, and I’d go through the drive-thru and
I’d order my food from her. I told my son who she was. I talked to my
son a lot about my cases. Rudy would be like you’re getting food from
this woman, and I would say she’s not going to do anything. So I would
see her sometimes.
People had life situations. She came from a background of mental
health problems. As I said, the baby’s father and paternal grandmother
were very compassionate toward her.
I had another young woman had her niece, and she was beating the
child so violently in her apartment, people could hear her outside, so those
people called the police. She got the maximum. She got fifteen years to
life. I think since I stopped working, I was reading the paper one time,
and maybe the Public Defender Service or somebody was having some
kind of fair, not an exoneration fair but something for people, maybe
women, back in the community, and they quoted my defendant, Darnella
Adams, in the paper. So I said oh, I see she’s out. I hope she worked on
that anger she had. I hope they were dealing with that.
So, yeah, I had a lot of those baby cases. When I said I left
Homicide, I had a case where an 18-year-old guy – he was either 18 or 20
– killed his 18-month-old cousin. He was there, and the mother was a
crack user, and in pursuit of crack, she left her four kids with him at 11:00
at night so she could go off and do things with men and get crack cocaine,
and then he ended up killing the child. I will say this, the death of that
woman’s child was a life-changing event for the mother. Her name is
Valerie Morse. I’m free to talk about this. Life-changing event. She went
into rehab. She totally changed. With her other children, she started
working. When I left Homicide, Bob Mueller took over that case, and he
finished it out, and he and Valerie got along very well. Valerie holds him
in very high esteem. Since he was Special Counsel, what is it, the Daily
Beast, they contacted me talking about Bob one time, and I told them
about Valerie and how she felt, so they contacted her and interviewed her.
She’s quoted in the article. Both of us were quoted in the online article.
She held Bob in high esteem.
So, yeah, I had a lot of those cases. I call them my babies.
MR. WEAVER: Did he take over your whole case load at that point?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. He did.
Oral History of June M. Jeffries
Fifth Interview
July 22, 2019
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Monday, July 22, 2019. This is the fifth interview.
MR. WEAVER: During our first four sessions, we covered your early life, your family,
your time as a law student, and a significant portion of your career at the
U.S. Attorney’s Office. Today we’re going to try to pick up at a later
stage of your career at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then potentially fill
in any gaps or hit anything that we missed in the last session, and then our
plan is to wrap up this part of the interview today, and then we’ll review
the transcripts of the five interviews and then reconvene for a sixth kind of
capstone session.
We left off talking about some of the bigger cases that you handled
at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, particularly some of the child homicide and
abuse cases, and I wanted to pick up there. Were there any major cases
that we didn’t discuss or that you thought of after the session, either child
cases or other types of cases?
MS. JEFFRIES: I certainly had some cases that were covered a lot in the news. Some of
the child cases were covered in the news. Here’s a big case I did handle,
which goes back to around 1987, I do believe. I prosecuted a guy named
Ricky Brogsdale, who was called the Peeping Tom shooter. There was a
series of shootings in Southeast D.C., and at some point, the media
became of aware of them, and there was a lot of concern, certainly in
Southeast amongst citizens and others about what was going on. These
people were being shot, it seemed randomly, and probably once this
coverage became very intense, the last shooting occurred, a woman in her
parent’s apartment building. She was packing a suitcase in the bedroom,
evidently heard something out the window, went to the window, and was
shot once in the neck. The daughter went in to see what was wrong, saw
her on the ground, ran outside. At this time, I guess where they lived was
two blocks down from the old Seventh District Police Station. Some
police officers were driving by, and she flagged them down. So that case
resulted in his arrest. When we prosecuted Ricky, not only did he have
these shootings where most of the people survived, we also prosecuted
him for four flat-out first-degree murders of folks he was avenging crimes
and things that happened to him. So that got a lot of publicity.
I would say this. In prosecuting Ricky, I was with him longer than
any of his defense attorneys, because it took a few years to resolve all of
this. At one point, there was a potential of an insanity defense, and so you
do a lot of work and interviewing a lot of people, friends, family, relatives.
I knew a lot about Ricky by the time we went to trial. They did not pursue
the insanity defense.
The last matter we had was a homicide. He was going to plead
guilty, but right when we were going to do it, a cousin of mine was killed
in a car accident, and we had to put the date over a week so that I could go
to the funeral. Well his lawyer told him why the date had been changed,
and Ricky made me a sympathy card and sent it to me, which I thought
was very interesting. Then we took that last plea, and his lawyer said to
me that Ricky would like to speak to me. I said why does Ricky want to
speak to me, and he said Ricky thought I hated him. I said I don’t hate
him. No. But I was intrigued, and I did want to speak to him. Back then
we could bring prisoners up.
We brought him up, the detectives were there. I had some of them
come, some of the mobile crime people. Ricky had been affable on the
day he was arrested, and when they took pictures of him, he actually posed
for some pictures and did different things, and he disclosed at least one
shooting that we hadn’t connected to him where victims survived, so we
found that out. Anyway, so I had the people up there, and I made
refreshments, and because we could then have prisoners in our office, they
brought him up. I told Ricky that they could uncuff him, and that was
okay with me, but I knew he had not seen Silence of the Lambs, but I had,
and I told him there was something that happened in that movie that was
not going to happen up in my office. This is so true. I said so they’re
going to uncuff you, but if anything happens, I’m ducking underneath my
desk. Ricky was quite fine. We had a good conversation. We talked
about his life, and this is what I feel like so many of my defendants they’re
just born into bad circumstances and had they been born into different
circumstances with parents who could do better, then they would be
different people as well.
So I knew that Ricky had lived in Delaware in his early years and
then they had moved back to D.C. He said when they were living in
Delaware, he said one night some men broke in with weapons and shot
and killed his stepfather in front of him. So he was six years old at that
time, and if you could imagine what that would be like for a person. Then
I knew there were issues about his mother, and he confirmed some things
about her. I know that having had her as a mother would be an extremely
difficult thing for a child. We had a very good conversation.
In our case, Ricky had written some letters to a woman inmate at
the jail, and we came upon these letters because one of the corrections
officers was walking around outside, and he saw something float to the
ground. He picked it up, and it was a letter that Ricky had written to this
woman, and in the letter, he wrote in the corner, upper right-hand corner,
please destroy this letter. So I think her way of destroying it was to
somehow throw it out the window. So anyway, we then identified who
she was, and she had more letters from Ricky, and he’s talking about the
crimes and what he did and why he did it, and he said the police really
didn’t pay attention to him until he shot that policewoman. Well he had
shot a policewoman who was in her bedroom talking to her father on the
phone, and he shot her one time in the head. She survived. It did not
penetrate the skull, and so that’s really when a lot of publicity came about.
Anyway, we had those letters. Ricky and I talked about a lot of
things. He actually wrote very well. He wanted to have a correspondence
with me, but that wouldn’t be good. I told him he should write a book and
I’d read a draft of the book. He also was very artistic because in the cards
he made me, and he sent me another card, he drew a woman, and he
colored pencils. He was very artistic, very, very smart and artistic.
So after that session that we had, he wrote me this card and stuff.
But anyway, he said that he partook of my refreshments because he was
fasting because of Ramadan, and I didn’t know that, but he wanted to take
part, and he had done that. Anyway, Ricky was interesting, as I said, and I
think a big example of how lives could be different but for the
circumstances that they’re in.
I prosecuted the murders of two police officers, and so those
certainly got a lot of attention in the media. I viewed the death of any
person to be significant and did not approach my prosecutions of those
murders differently from the way I approached others, and I gave them the
same zeal and attention, but you can imagine that in the law enforcement
community, these were important matters to them and also the media
focused on them a lot. One of them I had was the death of Officer Brian
Gibson, which happened at Georgia Avenue and Missouri Avenue, right
across from what was then a night club, the Ibex night club, which a lot of
things happened at the Ibex. He was shot in his car around 3:10 in the
morning of February 5. Brian was shot four times in the head. He never
saw it coming. He was stopped at a light. When he was eventually found
and the officers pulled him from the car, his foot was still on the brake, so
when they pulled him out, the car kept going. He was never able to call in
on the radio or go for his weapon or anything. Subsequently, the Fourth
District Police Station was named for him. That was a big prosecution.
One of the things that happened is that in my work I met a lot of
really nice people and enjoyable people, but the reality is that they would
have preferred not meeting me at all and certainly not meeting me like
that, and I always keep that in mind. But I also continue to have
relationships with witnesses, family members of my victims.
I had another case that happened in 1989 or so, a 41-year-old
woman and her 8-year-old daughter were murdered in their home. The
parents came up from Richmond because they were not able to get in
touch with the daughter. The mother, grandmother, actually found the 8-
year-old victim in the bathroom in the bathtub. So that was a very sad
case, but I got to know that family very well and some of their friends very
well. At the time I prosecuted that case, the victim, Holly Kincaid, her
sister, Janet, was then a Supreme Bacillus of Alpha Kappa Alpha, and,
through my friendship with Janet, I later pledged the sorority. Holly was
divorced then and had a son who was living with the father. I’m still in
touch with the father and ex-husband who lives in Memphis. So he has
remarried, and one year he and his wife and grandson came out to my
family farm, my husband’s family farm, and visited with us. Jimmy will
call me when there are political things going on, and we’ll talk.
I had another large case that got a lot of attention. I prosecuted a
guy named Henry Little Man James for the murder of a woman, Patricia
Lexie. She and her husband were in a car driving south on Interstate 295
in D.C. when a single shot was fired through the window of the driver’s
side. Freddy, the husband, was driving. It missed him, but it entered her
left temple, and it killed her. So what happened was, of course, the
shooting occurs. He didn’t realize at first that his wife had been shot. He
came off on the next exit, Pennsylvania Avenue, but he did soon see she
had been shot and stopped at a gas station and that’s how the police and
everybody got involved. That happened like a Saturday night, so this was
all over TV on Sunday. Well, as it turned out, the shot had been fired
from another car on 295 that was full of young men who were on their
way to a club somewhere off of Branch Avenue in PG County. I now
forget the name of the club, but one of the guys in the car was Henry
James, and he had a gun, and the evidence was the testimony was that he
pulled out his gun and said he felt like popping somebody. After he fired
the gun, the guys came off that exit too, going to Branch Avenue, and
when on about their business. I believe them. They said they didn’t
realize that anyone had been shot because they said the driver kept driving
and wasn’t erratic or anything. Well after they leave the club, then they
hear this on the news that a woman had died, so some of them talked. One
of the guys called the police from a phone booth. We ultimately were able
to, I forget how they either got him to give up contact information, but we
ultimately identified him and the other men in the car. I prosecuted Henry
James for that. That got a lot of attention because especially in those early
hours, at least some people speculated that the husband did it. Well how
could he shoot through the window when he’s driving the car. In any
event, that was I think in the early 1990s. As it turned out, he and I had at
least one mutual friend, and while I hadn’t heard from the husband in a
long time, I had been thinking about him periodically so I looked him up
and found him a couple months ago on Facebook or something and saw
that he had remarried. He remarried last year. I sent him a message on
Facebook and said if you’re the person who I think you are, then you
know who I am. He responded. Not looking for anything lasting, but just
to connect. I like to know what happens to people.
I had another prosecution where a man was killed by his
girlfriend’s 18-year-old son. This man was divorced, had an ex-wife and a
couple kids. The ex-wife and I got along very well. She was a nice
woman, originally from the Sandy Spring area of Montgomery County, or
at least her family was, which had kind of a historic Black population up
around Sandy Spring. They have a museum up there and everything. She
and I were very friendly. She worked for the government agencies, and
when the snipers happened here in D.C. that first day, she’s the person
who contacted me. That’s how I first heard about the snipers because she
knew I lived in Silver Spring and that my son was in school. Either she
called me or sent me an email, and that’s how I found out what was going
on. I do have these continuing relationships.
I had a prosecution of a man named Eddy Mathis, who is from the
I guess late 1970s early 1980s, but he was a big dope dealer, he and his
people in D.C. Heroin and stuff was big back then. He was prosecuted
for a murder. It was felt by the police department that he or his people had
done like twelve murders, and I believed that to be true knowing the things
that I know. He had been prosecuted by another prosecutor in my office,
and originally it was three defendants, Eddy, a brother of his, Larry, and
another man, Harry. They killed a man named Moxie up on 9th Street
right below U Street. Moxie was sitting in his car, and three gunmen came
up and shot him. Eddy was convicted. I would say Eddy was convicted in
large part because he wasn’t wearing a mask. The other two people were
wearing a mask, and even though our witnesses were involved with them
and knew who it was, I think probably for that first jury, it was okay, they
knew it was eddy because the ID really. He wasn’t wearing a mask. So
Eddy had been convicted, and his two co-defendants were acquitted. The
case was reversed on appeal because one of the arguments, I don’t have
this straight right now, but I know one of the arguments was over I guess
when the judge would make rulings, the prosecutor would say thank you,
your honor. Somehow that was part of the appellate ruling. But the other
thing was during the trial, I guess Eddy had been represented by Ken
Mundy who now has been dead about ten years, but Ken Mundy was a
very big defense attorney and a very nice man in D.C. He was a very big
defense attorney. During the course of the closing argument, the
prosecutor had referred to Ken Mundy as the leader of the pack just as
Eddy Mathis was the leader of the pack out on the street, so it got
reversed, and I prosecuted that case. Well, all of my witnesses were like
Eddy’s fellow criminals, and so when we went to trial in this case, all of
my witnesses came from various federal penitentiaries, institutions, around
the country, and they’re all wearing those orange jumpsuits coming from
the penitentiary. Eddy didn’t take the stand, so the jury knew nothing
about him, never heard his voice, and at this time, the Cosby Show was on
TV. Eddy would be in court for trial every day wearing a nice pullover
sweater like he was Dr. Cliff Huxtable, and just sitting there. All my
people are coming from I don’t know, El Reno, Oklahoma, and someplace
in Texas and here and there. So Eddy was acquitted. Now during the
course of the trial, Eddy’s brother, Larry, his former co-defendant, got
shot, and Larry was at Howard Hospital. So Eddy gets acquitted, and you
know the process, and he was released. My understanding was Eddy went
up to Howard Hospital later that evening and then Larry died because they
probably took him off life support. So there was a woman who would
come to the trial, her name is escaping me, but she was the girlfriend of
Eddy’s former co-defendant Harry. I think her name was Irma. That
woman would come to trial. She wore really nice clothes. She was
always very finely attired. They said for the first trial she would come to
court every day in a limousine, and she had like six or ten kids, but she
looked really good. Anyway, I prosecute Eddy Mathis, and he was
acquitted. Not surprisingly, since I had a cast of characters. The next
week I was in the courthouse standing there in the first-floor atrium area,
and this man comes up to me and starts speaking. I’m looking at him. He
had on a track suit. I’m looking at him, and I’m thinking to myself, wow,
he looks like Eddy Mathis. I never heard Eddy’s voice before. And I’m
like oh my God, it is Eddy Mathis. I think Eddy was saying he was there
to pay some parking tickets. So anyway, we spoke. I went back and told
people I just ran into Eddy Mathis, and they were like were you scared? I
said not really. It wasn’t a dark corner, but I don’t think Eddy holds
anything against me.
I subsequently prosecuted one of Eddy’s sons successfully for
first-degree murder. Anyway, Eddy called me because the police were
looking for him, and he was going to talk to me the next day in court but,
of course, that didn’t happen because he got arrested the night before.
Eddy has had a charmed history with the court system because he got
arrested in that case having these guns. He had a 10 millimeter. They all
had guns and wore bullet-proof vests. He pled guilty in federal court on a
gun charge, but he was viewed as an armed career criminal and got all this
time. So then it goes up on appeal, and he was successful because one of
his convictions was robbery pickpocket on the Metro, and the Court of
Appeals said that wasn’t a crime of violence, so boom, his sentence got
cut short. So Eddy had a way with the court system. I was sorry Eddy
and I didn’t get to talk because I really wanted to talk to him. Before my
case, he had been out in Marion, Illinois, which was then supermax and
stuff. I just wanted to talk. And we would have talked. It was okay.
Just different things with my cases. I had a lot of them.
MR. WEAVER: Once you started doing a lot of child cases, did that become a big
percentage of your caseload or did you continue to prosecute other types
of cases?
MS. JEFFRIES: We would have to prosecute other kinds of cases because thankfully not
that many children are murdered every year, so I’d hate to have a whole
caseload of that, which is a good thing. As I would tell people, far more
children are abused than children who are murdered, and so my small
cases just represented the worst of all of that happening. Children suffer
greatly with these cases.
The first case I ever had of a child even being abused involved a
four-year-old boy whose father had put his hand under hot water in the
bathtub for like thirty seconds or so. That child’s hand was gravely
burned. He ended up being in Children’s Hospital for two months because
of the burns. Every day they’d have to come in and describe his burns,
which was incredibly painful. The nurses and doctors said that all they
had to do was show up in the doorway and he would start screaming and
wailing. And then because when you have burns of the hand, the fingers
will contract, and they don’t want you to end up with claws, they put his
hand in a device, almost like a baseball mitt with spokes and it would
straighten his hands. So he went through that for two months in the
hospital, and then when he came out, he may have been with a relative,
like an aunt or he was in foster care, and he was certainly a witness for me.
So in all this time, he had not seen his father. We were getting ready to go
to trial and had to bring him in. We were probably doing a motion for his
competence as a witness, and he came in the courtroom and he’s following
my directions to come forward and go up to the stand. His father was
sitting on the side of me. He saw his father for the first time, and he
looked at his dad, waved to his dad, and said, “Hi daddy.” That’s the
thing about it. These children love their parents, even when the parents
had been abusive. It really often has to be something really, really bad
even for the kids not to feel that way. That father ended up pleading
guilty. I remember that case and the child because one of the things was I
went up there to Children’s to the burn unit. I went to the burn unit, and I
met with the doctor who it turned out was a fellow Wesleyan alum. He
took me around, and I saw children there, and it was amazing to me how
many children had burns from a variety of things, and I learned a lot from
that, as I learned a lot from my cases. For instance, there was a child who
grabbed the barrel of a curling iron and had hand injuries. Another child
had gone camping with the parents and there was a hibachi or something,
grabbed that. We had a toddler who was there, I think with burns of
maybe 65 percent of the body because the five-year-old sibling had set the
crib on fire, and the doctor told me that child was probably going to die.
On the day I was there, there was certainly nobody there with the child,
and he was wrapped up and very sedated. Seeing all that was certainly
very impactful to me and just other things, children getting burned by hot
water in the tub. Which brings me to another case with a child who died.
I want to say this child was older than six. They lived in public housing,
and let’s say the mother had six children. The mother was a crack addict.
She had hidden money or crack in a shoe, and she believed that this child
and a sister had found it. The testimony was that she hit this kid over the
head with a tire iron and made him stand still in the hallway, so the other
children said that at some point, he relieved himself and he called out to
the mother and told her. She was in another room. The mother told him
to take a bath. He went in the bathroom to take a bath, ran the water, got
in the tub or whatever, and even before then, they said he was beginning to
be drowsy and things, but he got in the tub. The water was too hot, and he
calls to the mother that the water was too hot. She told him I don’t know
run cold water, get out, whatever it was, she wasn’t in the room. Well he
passed out in the water, and he got burns, plus he had the head trauma. So
this child died. I would certainly say it was never the mother’s intent that
he would be scalded to death in the bathtub. That was not her intent. She
did intentionally hit him on the head and caused those injuries, so she’s
responsible for all of it. One of the issues for me was the water
temperature when it came out of the office was 165 degrees, and if you
read the literature, the recommendation for households with children and
elderly people is to have your water set at no more than 120 or 125
because of burns. This was a city-owned property where coming out of
the faucet, it was 165. It was probably hotter down at the boiler. So that
was an issue for us, and we wrote the city agency responsible a letter
about this, that they should turn down the water in these public housing
units. So from that case, I’m always telling people when their water is too
hot in their houses that they need to be mindful of that.
One of the things I found with my child cases is that, and I don’t
know if I said this before, back then in the early years we couldn’t charge
first-degree murder. It would be second-degree murder, and even if you
maxed the mother out, she often would be still in her child-bearing years,
and I was very concerned about that because I felt we had an obligation to
those future unborn children. They often come out want to have kids
because they lost, even if they had more children, those children are now
gone through the system, so I was very concerned about that. So in those
situations, I tried to work with them where we could do a sentence where
they’d be incarcerated but also have very specific terms of probation and
monitoring of the case because I felt we had a real duty to those future
unborn children. Over the course of my career, they created a new law
where you could do first-degree felony murder on the basis of child abuse,
and that changed the kind of sentencing options. But I was concerned
about the children and what happens.
I prosecuted a mother and father, and I was harsher toward the
mother. Defense counsel told me I should let go of my middle-class
values, but I didn’t think that was the case. I was harsher toward the
mother for very specific reasons. Their child essentially starved to death
at 59 days old. This was their second child, and they had maybe a threeyear-
old. The mother was late teens or twenty, in that age range. Well she
was in the WIC program for herself and the older child. WIC, Women,
Infants and Children, is a supplemental food program the federal
government and the states have. She had signed up for WIC with this
infant, which at that point in the child’s life, she got a voucher. She could
get a voucher each month, which would give her thirty cans of formula
supplement, and if each can was 13.5 ounces, you mixed it with equal
parts of formula, and that would be enough for one day’s supply of food
for the child. So it was nutritionally complete for the child’s needs. Then
you get every month a new voucher. So she already was in the program
with the three-year-old, so she knew about it. And then with herself, you
could get food for the mothers as well. I think the mothers could get food
up to age five, the youngest being five, and the children could be in the
program up to age six. As the children get older, then you get other kinds
of foods over the course of time. So she was in that, and also children’s
Hospital had a program for teen mothers, which would also give care to
teen fathers as well, so she could get free medical care there. In this
particular case, the mother went to Children’s to sign up for WIC for the
infant. While she was there, the receptionist with the teen program saw
her. They were in the same wing of the building. She saw her with the
baby and knew she had not been in with the baby, so the receptionist told
her you need to come in. Let me make an appointment. She went to get
the appointment book. When she came back, the mother was gone. Now,
at that first WIC meeting, they had a nutritionist who weighed the child.
The child had lost weight. The nutritionist told the mother that she needed
to take the child to the doctor. Then, of course, when the child was born I
believe at Providence, the nursing staff works with you, and then when
you’re discharged, you’re given instructions, and the instructions were to
take the doctor, probably within two weeks. None of that happened. On
the day the child died, and they find the child died in the crib and they call
9-1-1 and the police come, well the police find in the cabinets, and this is
like October 10, she had gone to WIC for September and gotten a full
amount for the month of September. She had not gone for October. When
they get there, in the cabinets, she had nineteen cans of formula
supplement and about six boxes of baby cereal, which the cereal did not
come from the WIC program. So that came from another source. The
mother also had a part-time job, so she had some income. The father lived
there as well. Ultimately, they were going to go to trial. We were doing
voir dire. The father had wanted to plead guilty, but we called it a wire
plea offer, both of them had to plead guilty, and she wouldn’t do it. They
ended up pleading guilty because during voir dire, several other potential
jurors said that if the baby died and starved like that, they really would
hold the mother accountable. So after hearing this, they ended up pleading
This case took, I don’t know, it seems like it took a couple of years
to come to trial, and here’s what happened during that time period. The
mother got pregnant twice, so with the first child, of course, that was
against the release conditions. They could not have contact with children
under a certain age. That first child, she got involved with some kind of
church, and the minister and his wife took the child. By the time she pled
guilty, she was pregnant again. I kept saying please stop getting pregnant.
But anyway, she was pregnant again. She had that child in prison, did not
have anyone to take it, so then, I guess that was West Virginia probably,
those people took the child.
The father was doing the bulk of the childcare, and he was,
according to him, super-diluting the formula, and instead of using a can,
he was using maybe two cans, so then that would diminish the nutritional
value, and then he wasn’t giving the baby enough bottles during the day.
That case was always very curious to me because they had a food
source. They knew they could get more food. They had foodError!
Bookmark not defined. in the house. She hadn’t gone to get the October
food, so that was always very curious to me. Because of the mother
having access to medical care, having access to food, having a job, having
been given specific instructions and not doing any of that, I was harsher in
my viewpoint toward her. When defense counsel said I need to suspend
my middle-class values, I said I see news stories on people starving
around the world, and the limits to which mothers will go to get food for
their children, so I did not find that to be a middle-class value that I need
to suspend.
MR. WEAVER: One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about during this conversation and
before, particularly when you were talking about Ricky Brogsdale earlier,
is that I think that there’s an amount of compassion you have even for the
perpetrator, some of the crimes you’re prosecuting, so I was wondering
how does that impact, when it comes to sentencing, the approach that you
take? Is it something where you kind of have to put blinders on and go out
there and do your job and fight for a harsher sentence or does that kind of
change your approach, having that amount of compassion and
thoughtfulness about the circumstances of the perpetrator’s life? What
kind of impact does that have on the way you approach the sentencing?
MS. JEFFRIES: I would say it was more like a case-by-case thing that depended upon a
number of things. Now, the homicide rate skyrocketed starting around
1989, and over the course of my career prosecuting homicides, the bulk of
my defendants were young, Black males, and that’s just true. The bulk of
my defendants were young, Black males, and in those times, it wasn’t
unusual that one defendant may have committed two, three, four murders
and be like 19 years old. And you’d read these reports, and I would have
empathy for them, but if by age 19 you had killed three people, you were
not a candidate for probation. And often I didn’t have that flexibility,
especially if it was an armed offense, but really to try to create things, and
with the sentences that I was going for, the anticipation was they wouldn’t
be out for a long time, if at all. So in those situations, I’m constricted.
With Ricky, I felt many things about him, but Ricky, before my case, he
had been in Lorton for a while on a gun case, and he didn’t get out as soon
as he could have gotten out because of infractions, things he was doing
there at Lorton. Back then, pretty much anybody could get out as long as
you didn’t kill a prison guard or something. But he did things, and then
when he came out, he embarked on those specific murders. He avenged
the death of a sister or the rape of his mother and some other things, and
then those Peeping Tom things which involved sexual stuff. So I couldn’t
do anything for Ricky in that regard.
I guess I talked about this, I had a case early on where a woman, I
prosecuted her for killing her husband. She stabbed him one time, and she
ended up getting probation, which I’m sure I agreed to when you looked at
all of the facts, and I believed what she said at sentencing. But these were
two people who drank. They were probably both alcoholics, and in their
relationship, they argued and fought a lot, but they loved each other. This
is how some people relate in their relationships. On this particular
weekend, she was going to go stay with her cousin and go to a cabaret or
something, and as she was packing her bags, she and Jackie were arguing.
She said when she was going out the door even, he threw her leather coat
out the doorway after her. But anyway, she comes home on Saturday to
pick up something, and when she opens the door, Jackie is seated in his
chair in front of the TV, he’s slumped over, and like you, he had on a
button-down shirt, and there was a dot, a small circle of blood. He had
been stabbed once, and it penetrated an artery. He had a high blood
alcohol count. I think that one, Jackie was very drunk, and two, as he
began to become disoriented or whatever, he didn’t even realize what was
going on because, like I said, there was no blood. He didn’t try to call or
get help or anything. One of the things she said, and I believed her, is she
said she loved Jackie, and she said if she had known that she had really
hurt him, she said she never would have left, and I believed that. She said
during the course of whatever had gone on, she picked up a steak knife or
something, and she swung it one time, and it impacted. She was
represented by PDS, which has a lot of resources, and on their team, they
had a social worker who worked with this woman. She got into AA. She
got a job while the case was pending, and different things. So she got
probation, and I thought that was justified. Periodically over time I’d see
the social worker and ask her how she was doing because, you know, I
wondered about that.
Like I said, it was difficult with many of my defendants just
because of what they had done, but there were times when I took matters
into account.
I had to do a retrial of a young guy who I can’t remember how
these facts played out, but there was an earlier shooting, and then maybe
my defendant set out to avenge the shooting, and something happened,
and people shot him. I guess he ended up being paralyzed and was in a
wheelchair. But he gets convicted, and it got reversed on appeal, and they
gave it to me. So he’s paralyzed, and he had spent some time in jail.
There were some issues with the case, the people involved. We ended up
taking a plea that was essentially kind of like time served with some
conditions. Well he got violated because he was smoking marijuana and
also not making his appointments. But here’s the deal. He was in a
wheelchair. He lived with his mother and sisters, maybe in a second-floor
building that didn’t have an elevator or something, so he really couldn’t
get to the appointments, but maybe when he did, if they test you, he had
been smoking marijuana, which was against the law. Okay. Well I didn’t
want to violate him and send him back to prison because he paid a price
once those people retaliated and shot him and he was paralyzed, plus he
had already been in prison. So we go to court, and we’re going to have
this hearing. He, his lawyer, and I are talking beforehand, and I said to
him I can appreciate your situation, and maybe if I was in your situation, I
would want to get high too, but you’re using marijuana, you’re using
drugs in a murder case. I don’t want to have to ask to send you to jail.
Maybe you could just do something else. Why don’t you drink beer or
something that’s legal? And then PDS was trying to get some better
circumstances for him, get him a unit where he could live and do things.
No, I didn’t want to just send him back to prison. I try to be mindful with
I had a young man who killed his mother. I do believe it was an
accident. I do believe that. I believe he panicked when it happened, and
he got arrested. But the mother was raising three of her grandkids, his
niece and nephews, who the oldest was in high school, then maybe junior
high and elementary school, and they all lived in the household together.
When we had a preliminary hearing, the kids skipped school and came to
court so they could see Frank, and they waved at him because they loved
him, and they said that he loved the grandmother and things had been fine
in the home. The grandmother was maybe the youngest of eight or nine
siblings, and all of them were alive. I talked to one of the sisters, and she
said they had all talked, and they didn’t want him to have to go to jail, and
they felt the sister would have felt the same way. And as I said,
everything indicated to us that it was an accidental discharge, even though
guns were then illegal in D.C.
I met with defense counsel and his lawyer at the coffee shop
Firehook off the record one time because I wanted to hear what he had to
say. In the end, whatever our plea was, we fashioned it, and he got
probation, and I thought that was the right thing. He was always going to
bear the burden of having killed his mother.
It’s hard. So yes, I looked at my defendants, and I did have
compassion because you have to wonder how is it that somebody got this
way. If you heard the news recently, there was an eleven-year-old boy
shot and killed in southeast D.C., and I’ve seen that news. Bruce Johnson
from Channel 9 has a Facebook thing, and he will post things, and he
posted something about that case. I responded to that. I said we had
children being killed when I was prosecuting, and you’re still having
children being killed. But we as a society, as a community, have to stop
raising people the way we raise them such that they come out and kill
children and other people. We have that responsibility. What are the
circumstances and environments that we create that people come up
thinking this is the way to behave, and that’s a failure that we have and
that we continue to have.
MR. WEAVER: Did you ever have any conflicts with either your co-counsel or a superior
in the office or someone about something where you thought we’re going
to push for less, or we’re going to push for more, and there was a
disagreement about what that should look like?
MS. JEFFRIES: I didn’t have that happen within the office. Certainly there were defense
counsel who felt whatever. I didn’t have it within the office. I think that
over the course of my career, at least this is my impression, and I can be
totally wrong about this, I think that if you talk to defense counsel who
had cases with me, I would imagine that most of them say that I was an
okay person to deal with and that I was not like rabid and crazy. I
certainly never had a Brady motion filed against me or things like that.
When I asked for big time, it was because people deserve it. Like you’re
driving down 295 and somebody just shoots through your car or you killed
four people for first degree murder and then shot a lot of other people or
doing things to children.
MR. WEAVER: What were some of the big cases that you did that got appealed? You
mentioned a few today, but are there appeals that stand out? Did you
work on those when they went up on appeal?
MS. JEFFRIES: I didn’t work on them. I might read the brief. Only one case of mine was
reversed, and I call this OJ before it was OJ. I guy named Stevie Patton,
which probably if I look Stevie up now, and I should look him up to see if
he’s still locked up. This case happened in 1987 or 1989. Stevie, I
prosecuted him for killing his 33-year-old girlfriend and her 13-year-old
niece. The reason why the niece was at the household makes this a more
compelling tragedy. The girlfriend was stabbed thirty-two times and hit in
the head seven times with a wooden chair leg or something. The 13-yearold
girl was stabbed thirty-seven times and hit on the head twice with a
metal barbell pole from within the house. We prosecuted Stevie, two
counts of first-degree murder, and he was convicted. Stevie took the stand
the first trial, which was his mistake. Stevie took the stand, and he
claimed that he had been out that morning, came home, and this was going
on in the household and that the person who did it was a drug dealer
named Jesus, to whom he owed money. He said he got into a struggle
with Jesus, and it was like a fight for his, Stevie’s life, and he kind of got
knocked semi-unconscious, and when he came to, Jesus was gone. I
found a number of problems with that story, certainly that day it happened,
he never told the police who it was or anything like that. He had a single
injury. I think he had a cut to the hand, which when you’re using knives
to stab people repeatedly and you’re holding on and the blood is getting
things wet, it’s not uncommon for the blade, your hand to slip, and get a
cut. He had that. There were lots of other things that I talked to him about
in our conversation on the stand.
One of the things that happened during closing arguments was that
we had that metal barbell pole. Defense counsel took the pole and said
here’s this barbell pole, and Mr. Patton, Stevie, he said he’s about the
same size as Ms. Jeffries and he had a cut hand. Do you think he could
take this barbell pole and swing it around? Well I thought that was an
interesting question, and I had faith in myself and my abilities, so I got up
on rebuttal and said well let’s see what happens. I picked it up, and I
started swinging it with one hand, and I would bang on the floor down
below. The courtroom below called upstairs to see what was going on. So
Stevie was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. He got twenty
years to life per count. He got the max, forty years to life. With his
offense, there was no mandatory time because there wasn’t a handgun.
Anyway he got that. He went up on appeal, and they argued something
about some question I had asked his mother because I called his mother as
a witness, and the court of appeals said I was wrong. Here’s my
viewpoint. I wasn’t wrong, but they had last word. So I had to try Stevie
The second time, Stevie didn’t take the stand, but my co-counsel,
we read his testimony. So second time, he was thirty years to life. He got
second-degree murder, fifteen and fifteen. So since that case was in 1987
or 1989, thirty years have gone by. He may well be out. I need to look
that up just out of curiosity.
By the time I left work, because the D.C. parole board had been
abolished and D.C. prisoners were going before U.S. parole, the U.S.
parole people were holding them much longer than they would have if
D.C. people had done it, which I think for those defendants was unfair
because I think they should have been held to the standards which were in
place when they were sentenced because people contemplate these things.
But anyway, he’s the only one I got reversed on.
MR. WEAVER: Did any cases ever get up to the Supreme Court?
MS. JEFFRIES: No. None of mine. He’s the only one I got reversed on.
MR. WEAVER: Did you read his testimony, or did you ask the questions in the second
MS. JEFFRIES: I played myself, and my colleague, Steve Bunnell, played Stevie. I told
him, okay, you’re playing Stevie, how come you didn’t just confess. He
stuck to it. So I think what happened is with that second trial, they heard
what Stevie had to say, but they didn’t really hear the interplay as between
him and me, the live testimony, and I think that accounts for the
difference. He was OJ before OJ because the question was how could one
person do both? I have answers to that if I had tried OJ. I think it was a
poorly tried case. I don’t think they were ready for prime time, and I think
they got caught short because I think the prosecution thought the defense
wouldn’t be ready and would ask for a continuance, and I don’t think that
crew was ready for prime time.
MR. WEAVER: Did you watch it at the time?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m sure I watched parts of it.
MR. WEAVER: What was that like as a young prosecutor and you’re watching this.
MS. JEFFRIES: I thought they were doing an awful job. Chris Darden. Then when he
does that closing and he tries on that glove, like are you crazy. No, he had
OJ try on the glove. Number one, OJ is a criminal defendant. He has an
interest in what happened with the glove, but not only was he a criminal
defendant, he was an actor. He can act. So he tries on the glove, and it’s
like the glove didn’t fit. Well here’s the deal. My recollection of the
testimony is that the ex-wife had bought the gloves in New York, so it
wasn’t like OJ was standing there at Bloomingdales trying on the glove
and saying oh, this one fits and I like how it fits. Okay. It wasn’t like that.
And number two, a glove doesn’t have to fit for you to wear it and still be
able to function. So that was all ridiculous. But it was ridiculous that he
ever even did it. Number one. If you thought that was the thing to do,
you’re just not ready for prime time. So number one, I thought that was
ridiculous. And then after they lost, he cried on TV. Now I’m not crying.
No. So I thought you people just aren’t ready. Now I did see both of
those OJ programs that were done a couple of years ago, the People
against OJ, and there was another one done by Peter Adelman and Marian
Wright-Edelman’s son. I thought both of those were very interesting in
just retelling the case, or with the Edelman one, which was a documentary,
in talking about LA and the times and the history of LA and the police
department. I thought both of those were very interesting. But here’s a
question I would say to people. Okay, Marcia Clark and Chris Darden lost
those cases and they’ve gone on to make, well I guess he teaches, but she
writes books. She just had a TV show that did not get renewed. I said
now she lost, and she got that. I’ve won cases, and I get my little
government paycheck. How does that work, people? I was reading
yesterday a New York Times Magazine article about Judge Judy, and I’ve
heard this before, but the article reaffirmed it. Judge Judy makes
$47 million a year. She films 52 days a year. That’s 52 days a year of
work, you make $47 million.
MR. WEAVER: I want that job.
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m like wow. You go, Judge Judy. So I guess those others must make
good money too. Judge Mathis. I look at him sometimes in the morning.
I just can’t believe people. He’s kind of a regular guy, person, judge. And
he’s also from Detroit, so I’ll look at him sometimes and just shake my
head. He’s making more money than June.
MR. WEAVER: Did you follow other national prosecutions around the national media
throughout the years? Did you like to think about what you would be
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. Because when I was working, that’s when all this stuff came of age.
They started bringing in the lawyers to do commentary. Greta Van
Susteren. When I started, Greta was a defense attorney, and she was just
defending cases in Superior Court. Greta was also stalked by somebody
that we all knew about it, but back then, they didn’t call it stalking. So
anyway, she started doing commentary I think with the William Kennedy
Smith case where he was charged with rape down in Palm Beach. So
you’re watching those cases, and then Court TV came around and
different things in the news. So yeah. And watching OJ was significant.
Here’s my view on OJ. Number one, June believes OJ is guilty.
Okay, I believe that. And I can’t recite all the evidence and everything
now, but here’s what I do say. OJ won fair and square. America needs to
own up to that. OJ won fair and square. OJ Simpson did not write the
laws of the state of California. OJ Simpson did not write the case law of
the state of California, and he most certainly did not write the U.S.
Constitution. But here’s what OJ did. OJ was living the American dream.
So the American dream for many people is to make a lot of money, have
the nice house, have good family, vacations, eat at the best restaurants,
buy the best clothes, go to the Mayo Clinic or the Cleveland Clinic if you
get sick, or anyplace else you want to go, and if you have a legal matter,
the American dream is that you will have the money to get the best
representation that you could get. And that’s what OJ did. He hired the
best lawyers that he felt he could get, and he went to trial for that case in
the state that it was in, it’s a probable cause standard. They went in and
there were questions about probable cause. All the defense had to do was
agitate, and they did. Not only did they agitate, they were super agitating.
So they won. So get over it, America. OJ Simpson won. As I also point
out, people who killed Emmett Till and other people, they walked, and
many of them didn’t get prosecuted. So the man went to trial, he did what
people do, and he walked. Now OJ just himself is not bright because if
having walked, he should realize that he needs to lay low and be simple,
but no he did stuff.
Sentencing him on that robbery matter. I’m with my mother. If
some people had his stuff, OJ couldn’t just call the police and say can you
help me get it because no police is going to help OJ Simpson. Number
one. So when she gave him thirty-three years for that or whatever he got,
he didn’t deserve that for the robbery, but he got it for the murder.
MR. WEAVER: One thing I was thinking about as you detailed different prosecutions,
what was your most difficult prosecution? What was the hardest case for
you personally that you worked on?
MS. JEFFRIES: Let me say this. Number one, this is especially true of my murder cases,
and that’s what the bulk of my time was. I did not prosecute anyone I did
not believe was guilty or that they hadn’t done the act. Now, I prosecuted
maybe a couple where the defendants had a self-defense claim, and I felt it
was fair for a jury to make that decision, and in those cases, I thought
trying them was the right thing. It wasn’t clear enough to not prosecute,
but I did prosecute a couple that I can think of where they did in selfdefense
and they were successful.
I had one in particular which they brought to me. They had
arrested the guy on a warrant, and I thought that was very flimsy, and what
the evidence was based upon, it was based upon one fingerprint on the
mirror in a bedroom. A person who probably had reason to be in the
bedroom before and other stuff that was going on. I just didn’t go
anywhere with that because I wasn’t prosecuting anybody. For me to
stand up in front a group of twelve people or when you’re arguing, there
are really more like fourteen or fifteen because I’m talking to the
alternates as well, for me to say to these twelve people that this person has
committed first-degree murder, and here’s why you should vote that way,
I’ve got to believe it. And if I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t ask other people
to do it. So that case, indict, and that would be it. If I was trying cases,
then number one, I believed it and believed I had the evidence for it.
Some of my cases were very hard-fought, and in particular, like in the
news a lot when we did the trial of the Brian Gibson murder, the police
officer, I saw some news coverage, and to me, having been in the
courtroom all day long with the trial, I felt that they didn’t necessarily
accurately present what was going on in the courtroom, so winning that
case, I don’t know, the perception that people may have gotten was
different from what I felt was really going on. So I just stopped looking at
the coverage. And like I said, I always have defense counsel who were
fighting zealously for their clients, and I don’t fault people for that, and I
don’t fault the defendant for that. As I would tell my victim’s family
members, I could not guarantee a conviction. That was out of my hands.
What I would guarantee them was the best possible prosecution, which
would mean the evidence, which would mean my handling of the trial. So
that’s what I would say. Some of them were just more difficult. Even
with that case, the Brian Gibson case, the defendant in the case, the judge
appointed counsel to that case, a big law firm in town, and so we’re in
trial, there were three lawyers from that law firm on the case and they had
the other people back in the office doing things. But that was okay with
me. It was them against me. I won. They did not.
Another story I like to tell people. Michelle Roberts was a
prominent defense counsel, she’s now head of the NBA Players
Association. Michelle started out at PDS and she and Mark Rochon had a
firm on their own, then she went with some big firm, I think Arent Fox.
But most definitely, if I were to commit murder, I’d be calling my girl
Michelle Roberts to come to my side. I can’t afford her. And she’s doing
that basketball thing. I did try a case against Michelle, and I won. As I
tell people, I won. That case had more evidence than you could ever
imagine having in one single case. When I heard Marcia Clark or
somebody say something like OJ was the best case evidence she ever had,
I said then she didn’t have any real evidence because my case had
everything you hear of. Identifications by people who knew the guy, we
had eyewitnesses. I had dying declarations to the first officer on the scene
to the hospital staff to the detectives. I had the defendant calling 911 and
saying stuff. We recovered the murder weapon in the house where he
was. He gave a confession to the police. I had all this stuff, and he took
the stand. So anyway, I tried this case against Michelle. Her client was
convicted, and so Michelle was two years behind me in college, and I got
Michelle and Dee Marie Smith, who is head of the NFL Players
Association who used to work for me, I got them to do a program for me
up at the college. When we did the program, I pointed out to people I beat
her so people would know.
MR. WEAVER: Another thing, shifting gears a little bit, you talked a little about pledging
AKA, and I think we touched a bit on civil and political types of
organizations. What other organizations were you involved in throughout
your career here?
MS. JEFFRIES: When I was working, I was in the sorority, and in my church, at one point
I was on the board of an organization called the Black Women’s Agenda
which does interesting things. In any event, while I was working and
certainly while Rudy was a kid, I didn’t do a lot of other things because
my time was precious to me. But throughout my career, I have tried to
help people when I could, whether it be a student, an intern, speaking to a
school, talking to a group, giving people ideas, college students. I have
done that. And since I’ve stopped working, I try to do other things. I’ve
done a variety of volunteer things, though the volunteer things I do have
not been real legal volunteering. Although you should call what I do up at
Harvard volunteering since Harvard has $34 billion and they don’t pay
me. I’m a Harvard volunteer, or at Emory, they don’t pay me. They pay
expenses, but I don’t get a check for that. Once I retired, I retired in 2008,
which was perfect timing because I did political volunteering and
campaigning. I’m glad that happened for me because I’d never done
anything like that before. I will say, I even ran a phone bank once a week
for about six weeks. I hate phone calls, but I did it every week. My
mother and I would go. That’s how important it was to me. I made phone
calls. I hate that. I won’t do that again. But it was all good.
MR. WEAVER: What were some of the last cases that you worked on at the office before
you retired?
MS. JEFFRIES: I know I had some kid cases. I had one guy, I can’t remember his name,
but he killed his child. I went to trial, and I lost that one. A few years
later, I think he got murdered. I read something about him. He was up to
no good. I remember that specifically. The mother and her family were
interesting people. The child’s mother would call my phone. I’m not
going to use her real name, but she’d call my phone and leave a message.
She’d say this is Patricia C. Smith. Patricia C. Smith. I’m like okay, I got
it. I guess if it had been Patricia M. Smith I’d be confused. But then her
mother was an alcoholic and had really been hitting the alcohol. Her
mother would call and leave a message. Now my name is June Jeffries.
J–E-F-F-R-I-E-S. She would call and leave a message, June Fries, this is
Betty Smith. I’ve been reduced to French fries. But I would say this
about her. I was once profiled in The Washington Post, on the front page
of the Style section on a Sunday above the fold. If you’d ever have that
experience, you will hear from a lot of people and get a lot of reactions.
She called and left a message. She had read the article, and she said told
people that I was her prosecutor and she was telling her friends about it.
So that was interesting to me. That was one of my last ones.
I think the very last autopsy I went to was of a five-month-old
baby boy, and I remember being at that autopsy and thinking this is it. He
looked very sweet except that his chest was cracked open and his organs
had been removed, but otherwise.
That’s what I can think about the last few years.
MR. WEAVER: Did you see the autopsy as kind of a pivotal moment that maybe it’s about
MS. JEFFRIES: I knew I wasn’t going to be seeing this.
MR. WEAVER: You were already on your way out.
MS. JEFFRIES: This was probably in that time period. When the Department sent out an
email in late 2007 about an early-out, that’s the first time I thought about
it, but then somebody said to hold on because they heard they were going
to offer more money the next time around. I had them run the numbers for
me in personnel, and I decided not to take the early-out then, but the way
they had been doing it, they’d usually send one out in the summer. I said I
would wait. So that was late 2007. January 31st, 2008, I had my twentyfifth
anniversary in the office. Twenty-five years is a quarter of a century.
When that day occurred and I could say I had been there for a quarter of a
century, I was so through. I told my friends if the email ever came out and
I was not there, they were to let me know. So it happened that August, I
was going to Houston for the office. The email went out. A friend of
mine called me. She read it to me, and I said email personnel, and when I
get back from Houston, I will be up there to sign the papers. So when I
got back that Monday and I went to sign the papers and do it, I said to the
woman what if I change my mind. She said you could always withdraw.
What happened, because I was feeling a little nervous, her printer
wouldn’t work and she couldn’t print the papers, so she said we can do it
tomorrow. I said okay. I went home, and I came back and had no
hesitation on Tuesday about leaving. I had done all that I could. That
office offers a lot of opportunities. I was never a supervisor, but there
were other opportunities, but the thing I really liked was Homicide. I had
done that, and I had trials, I’d had insanity defenses, I’d had cooperators. I
had all these different things, different issues, and types of killings. So
that was it, and I decided to go. But in that spring, when I went to that
autopsy with that child and I saw that, I’m like yep. No more. I’ve had it
of that. The children cases, of course, move me, and many of my
colleagues would say I don’t know how you do it. Well yes, because like
I said, those children often in life did not have anybody to advocate for
them, and in fact, the person or persons who should have been the ones to
protect them were the ones I was prosecuted. It also made those
prosecutions kind of lonely because usually with my cases I had the family
members and next of kin, but if I was prosecuting the mother and father, I
was there by myself. None of them were there.
I had one case I never did meet the mother because she was off
doing her whatever thing in her life, whatever her condition was. So yeah,
that was the last one of my cases. In those last years, I really felt I didn’t
need to go to trial just to be going to trial. I had been to trial and done
what you could do in trial, so for me to go to trial, there should be a
reason. Often, the cases they take a plea and I wasn’t selling the cases out,
but I was just like if I’m going to trial, there should be a reason here. So I
didn’t do on a yearly basis those last few trials. I’d maybe do two or three
trials a year, and that was enough, and then handle my cases in other ways
and do other things.
MR. WEAVER: Do you miss it, or have you since you left the office, has there been a
moment where you’ve missed it?
MS. JEFFRIES: I have not per se missed it because to me it’s like a book and that was part
two, and I’m onto part three. When I’m in part three, I’m not pining for
part two all over again. Now, if there were a way that I could be like
genie and just wiggle my nose and boom be in a courtroom and be doing
it, that’s one thing, but it’s all that stuff you have to do to get to that point.
I’m not interested in that, and I got what I wanted, and you know, there are
younger people there who need that kind of experience and can do the
work. I have some cases have happened, nationally or not, I wouldn’t
mind being there. People might be offended by this, but when they had
the shooting in Las Vegas and all those people got killed, that’s a massive
crime scene. I was thinking about those things. What I do do now that
I’m retired is I go to Supreme Court arguments, and I go to maybe four
arguments a year. I like to go the opening day in October, which is the
closing day as well. I go to the last day of arguments. I go in between. I
may hear cases that are of interest. And then I like to go for decision days
in June, especially like the last week if my schedule allows. So since I’ve
been retired, I was able to go to the arguments of the Windsor case, samesex
marriage, Shelby County. I went to the Affordable Care Act. They
did three days in a row, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Tuesday was the
big day, the mandate, and I went for that argument. On that day, I was
sitting in the very first row of the lawyers’ section, that first seat right next
to the press box. I was right by Nina Totenberg and Pete Wilson of NBC.
I was there for that argument. Now when that happened, Trayvon Martin
had been killed some weeks earlier and was in the news, and that
afternoon, the House Democrats on their Judiciary Committee were
having a hearing on that case, so that morning, I went to the Affordable
Care Act argument. I went to lunch, and then I went and got in line. I was
the first person in line at that hearing room, and then I ended jump inside
the hearing. I was sitting right behind Trayvon Martin’s parents and the
lawyer, Benjamin Crump. If you had seen the clips on NBC News, you
would have seen me sitting there. I said wow, on this day, I’ve been at the
two biggest legal events in America, and I don’t think anyone else could
have said that. But I did those. So this year, I went to an argument in
March, the Mississippi case, Curtis Flowers, who was tried six times by
the state of Mississippi, my mother’s home state, for a quadruple
homicide. He’d either had hung juries or the case had been reversed for
nascent reasons. So I went to that argument, which was a very good
argument, certainly of eight people who asked questions, eight Justices. I
would say all eight seemed, I’ll call it, disturbed, and along the disturbed
spectrum. I thought the questions were very good, and I thought Justice
Kavanaugh’s questions were good. Questions don’t necessarily mean
what’s going to happen, but I felt that way. During the rebuttal by
Flowers’ attorney, a ninth Justice on the Court chose to speak up, so I
guess he felt he needed to say his little thing, which my hope was that he
would use that in his dissent. I haven’t read his dissent, but I’m sure he
probably did. So I was thinking then that could be 8-1, although 7-2, and
it ended up being 7-2. With that case, I had listened to the podcast. I
think it’s called In the Dark or something. I listed to podcast episodes
about the case, so I went to that argument. That was really good to go to.
Everybody knew that was such an unusual thing. Who does that, tries
somebody six times? There are so many things you can say about it. But
even Justice Roberts said to the person from the Attorney General’s
Office, could your office not have taken this case away from the
prosecutor and maybe moved it to a new county or something. I think that
person admitted that they could have. They had not done it. I don’t know
what they will do it this time around, but they need to just dismiss the
case. If I can’t get you six times. I tried a case once that had been tried
three times before me. I did it the fourth. Trying retrials like that is a
nightmare because you have all this prior testimony. All these transcripts.
You have to remember what everybody said in every one, and there are
going to be differences because they can be innocent, or they could be not
innocent and keeping track of all that. So if you think I want to keep track
of six different trials plus everything else in my mind, that’s a nightmare.
You can’t win that kind of nightmare really if you’re doing things the right
way. So going to the Supreme Court is something I very much enjoy. My
son had worked there for two-and-a-half years. My son worked for
Justice, and that Justice and his wife came to my son’s wedding, stayed
longer than we thought because we thought they’d leave after cocktails.
They stayed through dinner and dancing because when I saw the
videotape, the Justice was dancing with my daughter-in-law. I had missed
that part, so I think my mother to have been born in Mississippi as she
was, a Black girl in 1924 growing up in the Mississippi Delta, a rough
place, to have a Supreme Court Justice at her grandson’s wedding. One of
my cousins came up to me at the wedding and said do you have the Secret
Service here? I said it’s not the Secret Service, but they have their own
security detail. After my son worked there, he then went to law school,
and the Chief Justice came up to his law school for the inaugural
Environmental Law moot court, so his chambers knew that my son was at
that school, and when the Chief came out, they had the moot court and the
reception, and then they had a dinner for some people with the Chief.
They arranged for my son and his wife to be invited to the dinner, and then
they also went to the moot court, which my son said that each student
could get one ticket, but he was allowed to get two tickets. His friend, or
whoever he was with, wanted to know how he got two tickets. Then when
they went to the argument, they were seated in one place, but then
somebody came and got them and put them in the second row. He said his
classmates were looking at him. At one point during the reception, one of
the Chief’s security people came over and said if you want to see the
Chief, you should come over. His classmates were like how do you know
these people? Why are they talking to you? So I thought that was fun.
Also his law school has a lecture series in the name of his Justice, so his
first year when they did the lecture series, the Justice didn’t come, but they
had my son represent the Justice and he was on the printed program. I
have that. I thought that was special. I was proud of that.
MR. WEAVER: You’ve been spending time with your granddaughter now too.
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes, I have. As I tell her, she is three-and-a-half, we are strong. We are
invincible. We have courage. We are smart. I tell her those things.
MR. WEAVER: Excellent. Well I think we will go ahead and wrap up for today, and we
will reconvene here in the next few weeks.
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. We know our plan.
Oral History of June M. Jeffries
Sixth Interview
November 5, 2019
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. This is the sixth interview.
MR. WEAVER: Good morning, June. To start off, we’ve kind of gone in depth about this
the last couple sessions, but you became a highly regarded and successful
prosecutor in one of the toughest cities at the time in the United States,
during a pivotal period where we saw crime skyrocket, come back down
again toward the end of your career. Kind of thinking about your body of
work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office which we’ve discussed in detail, I was
hoping you would talk a little bit more about how your work fits into that
broader story and the sort of historical context in which you worked.
MS. JEFFRIES: I guess I have some things I could say. I went to what was called Felony
Ones in 1987, but it was probably in late 1988 early 1989 that our gun
violence rates skyrocketed, and with that, homicides skyrocketed, largely
due to the arrival of crack. Crack was a drug I had been hearing about in
news reports in other cities, but it had not hit D.C. yet. But once it came,
it came with a vengeance and with an unprecedented level of violence.
Most of that violence, of course, was done by Black people, and the
victims of the violence were other Black people, which is a distressing
thing for me. It is a distressing thing for me, but it was out of control and
Along with that, and I don’t mean to disparage these people or this
nation, a lot of drug dealers came to town who were Jamaicans. Often,
and around then, the weapons were getting more powerful. They had
automatics, and they didn’t shoot just one person. It would be multiple. I
think we had one shooting where women and two children were killed,
maybe four people were killed. So that was a very difficult time.
I would also like to make clear that in my work, I did not and do
not now take joy in the fact that persons were convicted and then sent to
prison to live their lives as people live in prison. So that was not a joyful
thing for me. With many of my defendants, they were young Black males,
and I was a mother of a son. I was doing this work before he was born. I
went to Felony One when he was 2, and the bulk of all that was during his
childhood and into high school.
I would look at my defendants and think of them as I do my son
but with the understanding that their lives could have been different if
many things had been different, if their mother’s pre-natal care had been
different, if her diet had been different, if their home environments had
been more serene and more nurturing, if the schools they went to, the
conditions were different, if there were more activities and things in their
neighborhoods. Because all the while, like I lived in Montgomery County,
and you have all kinds of activities and facilities in Montgomery County.
Well if it’s good for the kids in Montgomery County, it’s good for the kids
in Washington, D.C. And if they’re all in the same year of graduating
from high school, the ones who do graduate, generally speaking, had
different experiences than the ones at some of those Montgomery County
schools and are not able to compete when they go out into the world and
their lives are just different.
So I didn’t take joy in that, and I can also say this. My work was
doing homicides, which I think almost everybody’s going to agree that
those were serious crimes, and in doing homicides, I didn’t have that much
leeway, so from my point of view, you couldn’t kill two or three people
and then want me to agree to probation. That’s not happening. And yes,
it’s also true if you read the pre-sentence reports of my defendants that
almost all of them came from distressed backgrounds, if not many of them
downright awful backgrounds, and I had sympathy for that. But at that
point, if they’re standing there and they’ve got, two, three, four homicides,
I can’t focus on fixing that person. That was not my role. The defense did
that quite adequately, and sometimes they got some success, got some
what they wanted, so that’s how that was. And that wasn’t a good thing.
And I wish that wouldn’t be true.
The other thing I feel deeply is for instance I could have a case
where I might have a young woman come in, a witness, and she could be
25 and have like four or five kids, and each of the children had a different
father and all the circumstances that were going on, and you could see the
way that the mother others might interact with the children, so it was no
surprise that 15, 20 years later, those children end up in the system as well.
And everybody knew that, so I consider that to be a failure of society not
to be addressing that, both external government forces and the people
within. We have failed to address that, and things are still going on now.
The most recent discussion I had on my way here with my son,
there was a killing yesterday over one of these Popeye’s fried chicken
sandwiches. And that’s nothing new because we’ve had kids killed over
boom boxes, over North Face jackets, over Air Jordan shoes because
people take great validation in these things, and violence comes about over
acquiring these things. It’s not as if other people don’t value things. As
my son said, people get Mercedes or they buy art and stuff, but they tend
not to get into arguments at the dealership, or if they’re driving down the
street and another rich person doesn’t come and just take it from them.
They do other kinds of things, as we know. They’re not perfect. But this
violence to me is very troubling and continues to me. But as you noted,
the homicide rate has gone down considerably.
MR. WEAVER: I want to jump off on that. You typically in our interviews have been
modest about your prior work, and I want you to maybe suspend that for a
moment. Do you feel that the work you did, and the work other people
did at your office, help to make D.C. safer, help to bring crime rates
MS. JEFFRIES: I don’t know that we brought crime rates down. I don’t think that locking
people up per se brings crime rates down. Here’s an observation I would
make, and then maybe I’ll talk about the work. When I was in law school
in D.C., they changed the gun laws and they made these guns illegal, so
people had to turn in their guns. That was amazing to me because all these
people, they had them on the news, lines of people turning in their guns,
which I personally thought was stupid. Anyway, they did to comply with
the law. I lived in Montgomery County the whole time I was at the U.S.
Attorney’s office, and in Maryland, on some level, you can own and carry
weapons. I don’t know the intricacies of Maryland laws because I never
sought to own or carry a weapon, but I know that you can. I don’t think
you can argue that during the years of the heyday when things were so out
of control and we were having 400 or more homicides a year, I don’t think
you can say that D.C. was a safer place because of the gun laws that made
guns illegal than Maryland was where people could actually legally own
guns. If you say population-wise, Montgomery County was probably
around the same size as D.C. D.C. might have 400 murders in a year, but
in Montgomery County, maybe we had 10 to 20. So it wasn’t those guns
or the lack of guns that made you safer. Of course now since I’ve retired
and the Heller case and all that, all the gun laws have changed, and I can’t
keep up with what you can and can’t do, but apparently you can have
guns, and the people who want them in D.C. their workers are pushing to
expand the limits of that.
I think that our work, though, served a purpose because I worked
closely with my victim’s family members. Some of my cases I had people
who had been injured but survived, so sometimes I also had survivors I
was dealing with. I know the impact that these murders had on spouses,
on parents, on siblings, on children, and I know that there are people in
that group who if D.C. had had the death penalty, they personally would
have wanted that in their cases. I know they want people locked up
forever and a day, which isn’t necessarily what was going to happen.
Some people did get life without parole, but there is that side of it when
people are the victims of the crimes.
I also know what it’s like to live in neighborhoods that have been
ravaged by drugs. I know what the neighborhood I grew up in in Detroit,
we moved in in 1955, and then particularly after the riots and stuff
happened, I know what it was like there and the impact that drugs can
have on a community and people. So, yes. We did work that did
something. It didn’t necessarily stop other people from going out and
breaking the law. And for that matter, the death penalty, I don’t think the
death penalty really keeps people from committing crimes because they
already know they can go to prison or get life without parole and they do it
anyway so I don’t think the death penalty prevents that, and I’m not a
death penalty proponent either.
I think that in my work, and there are people who may disagree
with this, but I did have compassion for my defendants, it’s just that I felt I
wasn’t in a position to focus my attention on them. Although there are
defendants who I tried to work with the court and defense counsel in
fashioning a sentence that I thought would achieve some specific goals,
and I would for any of my defendants, whatever happened with them. In
my heart, I wished good things for them. Would they be in a situation
where that would happen, and could they come out a better person. I
hoped that they would, but that didn’t always happen, I’m sure.
MR. WEAVER: Looking back on your career, what do you think was your biggest
MS. JEFFRIES: A lot of people talk about me and the child murder cases that I had, and
when I did those child cases, I tell people okay my kids are like 8 and
younger, but they were really younger, but really 18 months and younger.
The youngest child killed was 59 days. The first child murder case I had,
that child was 10 months old. For those children, very often the person
who killed them was the person you would think would protect them more
than anyone else. It was a parent, or it could be some other relative or
somebody. I felt that those children so often did not have anyone standing
up for them in life, and I felt that it was my thing to represent them in
death and try to get justice for them. That first child that I had who was
ten months old and I had those blowups from his autopsy, I have kept
those blowups, and sometimes I look, and I think I’m the only one who
remembers them. So I probably think that was important work because
my colleagues would say I don’t know how you could do that. I could
never do that. Well I was a parent, and I did do it. I may have said that I
would go to autopsies of my victims. The very last autopsy I went to was
of a five-month-old baby boy, an African-American male, with a full head
of hair, very sweet looking, except he’s lying there on the table with his
chest cracked open and his organs removed. So yeah, I thought of those
children a great deal, and I still do.
I also think another part of my work is I have relationships with
some of my survivors or family members to this day I have relationships
with them. We’ll talk, see how they’re doing. I appreciate that, and I
think they appreciate me.
MR. WEAVER: Is there a moment in your career that you look back on that makes you the
most proud?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m proud that I was able to do my career, to have these successes that I
had, but also raise my son with the success that I have had because my
personal bottom-line feeling is this. It doesn’t matter what success I
would have achieved in my career. I would have achieved at the U.S.
Attorney’s Office if I had short-changed Rudy, and that was my number
one concern. I am glad that I worked in an office where I was able to do
both. I’m glad I worked at a time when I did because over the course of
time, advances in technology made that a lot easier. I could take stuff
home and use a computer and do things, so I could be home and work in
the evenings. I’m glad for that I would say.
I think back about my job, especially working here, but of course
in other aspects of my life, other things I’ve done, and I think of all the
interesting people that I have met or worked with and people whose names
you hear in the news, people who have done all these amazing things.
Because I consider myself to be a regular person who just did a regular
thing, but through that, I got to meet so many really cool people, as I say,
doing really cool things. And also other aspects of my life, like I told you
knowing Mrs. Parks, I’ve had a lot of good experiences because of that.
MR. WEAVER: Are there any other anecdotes about these folks that we see in the news
and people that you had significant interactions with during your career,
any good Bob Mueller stories or anything like that?
MS. JEFFRIES: Here’s what I like. I like the summer they did the public reading of the
Mueller report over at the Arena Stage. I went over there, and I did a
reading. My friend Deborah did. I will say that I never bought a copy of
the Mueller report, and when it came out, I think I was traveling and didn’t
really focus and read stuff. But of course my son would tell me, or I
would see the news or other things, so I was aware of many things
generally, but I never read it myself. I may have discussed with you how
now in retirement I like to go to the Supreme Court, and I go for
arguments. I went to two days of arguments last month. I go the opening
day of the term, and they did two criminal cases that day which were
interesting. Then I went back two days later because they did the cases
involving the gay employees who were fired and then the transgender
woman who was fired. I went for those arguments. I put my purse in a
locker downstairs. Well I went to one locker and opened it up, and there
was a copy of the Mueller report. So now I have a copy of the Mueller
report because I didn’t turn it into lost and found. I took it home.
Knowing Bob. Through my job I got to meet Stevie Wonder. You
people call him Stevie, but friends call him Steve, so I call him Steve. I
got to introduce my son to Steve. That was good, and that’s through my
job. I’m happy that right now, across the street, or down the street, at U.S.
District Court, the Roger Stone trial is going on and my former colleague
and friend Judge Amy Berman Jackson is presiding over that, so I’ll
probably go over there one day and look at that trial.
Some years ago, our former colleague Judy Smith, she was the
press person under Joe DiGenova. She left there and became Deputy
White House Press Secretary under Marlin Fitzwater with Daddy Bush.
So when Judy was at the White House, she had a group of us come over.
She contacted me, and I got a group together. We went over to the White
House. She gave us a little tour. That’s when I got to see the Oval Office.
We had lunch in the White House Mess. We got to keep the printed
menu. While we were inside, Barbara Bush was walking around, and we
saw her. Then we went outside and had our picture taken by the
White House photographer. President Bush was going someplace, so the
helicopters were taking him to Andrews, and we got a picture of his
helicopter rising above our group there. Judy Smith went on to NBC and
other things. Most famously, she is the inspiration for the character Olivia
Pope on Scandal, so Judy had a very excellent career. I’m happy to have
worked with her.
I was trying a case one time, and George Stephanopoulos was then,
this was during Clinton’s presidency, he was on the jury panel, so he’s
sitting there acting all important on his phone looking at stuff, like we got
the impression he didn’t want to be there for my murder trial. So we’re
doing voir dire, and he comes up and said whatever he said, and we struck
him. Okay, that’s fine. I went on and did my trial. Later on, I wrote
George Stephanopoulos a letter at the White House, and I said you know
what, I was the prosecutor on the case that you came for jury duty, and we
let you go, and now I want a favor. I want to bring my child to the White
House and see President Clinton. So Rudy and I went to the White House
one day. We had a tour, and then what was happening is President Clinton
was leaving to go somewhere, there was a group of people there from
Arkansas, and he was going to come out and work the crowd and shake
hands before he got on the helicopter. So we were back there, and Rudy
was about 8 to 10 years old, and I got pictures of Rudy shaking Bill
Clinton’s hand that day.
Now also there that day was the Dali Lama. So then I see the Dali
Lama and his people, and I say to Rudy, that’s the Dali Lama. Of course
8-year-old Rudy is like who, what? I said just remember he’s Richard
Gere’s friend, because Rudy knows I like Richard Gere. I’ve liked
Richard for a while.
So we did that. That’s because of my job. I liked that with my job
I’ve been shooting at the FBI range. I’ve been down to Quantico to the
labs to see the work they do. Of course I thought a lot of their work was
irrelevant. I felt what they did was interesting, but I wasn’t going to put
all that in my trial. They could tell you the bullets were all made at the
same time and stuff like that. But it was interesting listening to it.
I’ve been up in police helicopter a few times flying around. The
last time I went up I was in a rickety National Guard helicopter. The first
thing the pilot is telling us is instructions in case of an emergency. I didn’t
go up again, but I’d go up in a nicer helicopter if offered.
Things happened. I told you I liked going to the Supreme Court.
One of the things I used to do when I was working is I would arrange
group admissions ceremony and take people over, and I’ve done
individual ceremonies. I was there one time and talking to the man in the
admissions office, and another man was standing nearby wearing the
morning attire that some of them wear at the Supreme Court. Eventually
he introduced me to that man. Well, that man is named Gary Kemp. As it
turns out, Mr. Kemp had been in the clerk’s office in D.C. Superior Court,
and he recognized me from my days at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Mr. Kemp has an interesting story because his grandmother is from
Georgia or wherever, and it turns out his grandmother was the midwife
when Clarence Thomas was born. And then Mr. Kemp started his job as
deputy clerk of the Supreme Court on Clarence Thomas’s first day. When
I retired, Mr. Kemp and the other gentleman, Perry Thompson, came to
my retirement party. They gave me an autographed copy of Justice
Thomas’s book, and I tell people this to this day. I encourage people to
read his book, not because I’m seeking to change anyone’s opinion. It
certainly did not change my opinion. But I think it’s important to hear
what he had to say that explains himself and his actions. Before I actually
read the book, I was at the library and they had it on CD. I listened to it.
He read the book himself on CD. That was interesting.
So, I would also say that through my career, my son ended up
working at the Supreme Court, and after he finished college, he got the
first and only job that he applied for. He worked first as a Marshal’s aide.
They are there to assist the court, and one of his functions was he would
work the courtroom, especially they have the lawyers seating area, and
sometimes the Marshal’s aides, well any time the Justices are on the
bench, they have maybe three aides who sit behind them, and they do
things for the Justices. So you call that bench duty. Sometimes my son
had bench duty, so during those arguments, you’d have the nine Justices
facing the audience as well as those three law clerks. Only twelve people.
Then you have the clerks. A small group of people would get to look out,
and my son would be one of them.
Ultimately, my son became personal aide to Justice Kennedy for
two-and-a-half years. That was a tremendous experience for my son. My
son left to go to law school, so on his last day of work for Justice
Kennedy, they had “a working lunch” with my son and the law clerks, and
they all gave him tips for law school. The Justice told him to call back if
he had an issue or a question. I said Rudy, how many people do you think
get tips on their last day of work from a sitting Supreme Court Justice and
his set of law clerks about law school. So I was very appreciative for that.
I thought that was very special.
Justice Kennedy and his wife came to my son’s wedding. They
stayed way longer than I would have thought. They stayed until the
dancing. I didn’t even realize that until I saw the wedding video and he
danced with my daughter-in-law. Justice Kennedy was a very gracious
person. He’d walk up to people and say Hi, Tony Kennedy, and I’m like
yeah, right. I’m not calling you Tony. But he was very gracious. What I
was thinking at that moment was my mother came from the Mississippi
Delta, the daughter of sharecroppers, and she had a Justice of the U.S.
Supreme Court at her son’s wedding. So I was quite taken from that.
Subsequently, his first year of law school, his law school
inaugurated an environmental moot court competition. The Chief Justice
came out for the competition. Well Justice Roberts’s Chambers knew that
Rudy was at the school, so they arranged for Rudy and his wife to be
invited to a dinner with the Chief that was being held at the law school for
a small group of people. Rudy and his wife got really good seating, like
they were in the second row of the moot court competition. Each law
student could only get one ticket, but Rudy got two, and one of his friends
wanted to know how do you get two tickets, but Rudy didn’t tell him.
When they were at the event, there was a little reception afterwards and
one of the chief’s security people came over and said something to Rudy,
then his friends wanted to know why do these people know you? He
didn’t really tell them at that point.
So anyway, he had that experience, and that comes from me
working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and I’m glad for that. I’m glad to
be able to say that I worked for Eric Holder, and I know Eric Holder. My
mother was always a very big Kennedy person, and Bobby Kennedy at the
Justice Department, so when Eric was the Attorney General, I contacted
Annie in his office and arranged for my mother and me to go up and see
Eric. He had his official photographer take pictures with the two of us,
then he sent us a couple of 8” x 10” that he inscribed. I told Eric as we
were standing there that next to meeting President Obama, there was
probably nothing bigger for my mother and how much I appreciated that.
So I’m glad for my career that I could have an experience like that. I
always shared those things with my mother because she was the one who
really got me through after my father died.
So I think I had a lot of good things in my career. I’d also like to
think that I was respectful of my defendants and their families because I
saw the humanity in my defendants, and I can’t say that that was
necessarily true of all of my colleagues, or I certainly can’t say that that
was historically true of them. When I dealt with my defendants’ family
members, I endeavored to treat them with respect as I would want people
to be respectful of me or my family. I would always think of this. When I
stood there as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice and my client
was the United States of America, I took that to mean I represented
330 million people, of which my defendant was a part of that mix, and I
was there to do the right and fair thing. So I would tell myself in some
ways I was the defendant’s lawyer too. I wanted to do the right and fair
thing for them, and what I represented, there was no way that they could
match in resources. There was never a case that I had where I needed an
expert, I needed some kind of investigation, I needed blowups or models
made. There was never a case I had where I could not get what I needed
for that prosecution, and that’s not true for the other side. I had the whole
government at my back, and I was mindful of that with them. I like to say
that. So I would like to think if you ask some of my defendants how did I
treat them, I think they’d say well. I had a notorious murder defendant,
and yes I do believe you killed those people, Eddie, you and I both know
you did. He called me. Something happened, and I think I talked about
that already.
MR. WEAVER: One thing that comes up again and again talking to some of your former
colleagues and talking to judges who you’ve argued before, is you as a
prosecutor, cool and unflappable, but you’ve also discussed the emotional
tug of prosecuting defendants who committed crimes against children,
what it meant I think your words were stand up for them in their death
because no one stood up for them in their lives. Can you speak a little
more about how advocating for children gave meaning to your career?
MS. JEFFRIES: I did feel that way because yes I was a mother during all of this time, and I
was attuned to what children are like. You see some common themes in
child murders. A lot of kids get murdered because people think they
should be something they’re not. So an 18-month-old knocks over a glass,
and they take that as a personal affront and that the child is being
obstreperous and obstinate, and then they take out and they react violently
toward the child. Okay I know what an 18-month-old child is like. I
know what a four-year-old is like and how you should discipline a child.
That does not include kicking the child in the abdomen with your booted
feet. That does not include burning a child with cigarettes. So I knew all
these things in particular because I was a mother but also because I’m just
a person and I’m an adult.
Another thing I would also say is I’m sure for many of my
defendants in those cases, I think that many of them were treated badly as
children, and maybe they did not have the same examples as well, and
sometimes I was mindful about that.
MR. WEAVER: What do you think and kind of hope that we as a society can do to avoid
some of the same tragedies and to avoid the cycles of abuse and then the
abused then becoming the abuser in some of these horrific crimes that you
dealt with?
MS. JEFFRIES: It goes back to what I said. We’re really not dealing with these issues.
For me, I think so much of this is often just breakdown in familiar
relationships and family, households. As I said, I could have a young
woman who had four or five kids and they all had a different father. You
think about that. Each child has a different set of relatives, and each child
may be treated differently, but they’re all in the same one household, but
Child A knows his father and knows the grandparents, aunts, and uncles,
and those people recognize that child and give him gifts or take him places
and do things and maintain a relationship. Child B does not know who the
father is, does not get any of that, but he sees that happening with the older
brother or sister. Then over here maybe the child knows the daddy, maybe
he comes over like once a year and gives something. You have all of that
going on. Then with the mothers, all these different men are coming in
and out of the children’s lives and being exposed. I think that’s not a good
way to go for children. By the same token, I had one pre-sentence report I
always remember, a defendant reported that he had a three-year-old child.
He knew the child’s first name, but he didn’t know the child’s last name
because he didn’t know the mother’s last name. I think that’s a very
profound statement, and he’s not the only person like that. It’s very
I would say over there in D.C. Superior Court or any other similar
court in this country, most cases that I had drugs and or alcohol played a
role in it some way, and it didn’t have to be that it was a drug case because
most of my cases were not drug cases. But the defendant may be an
alcoholic or drug user or the mother was when he was born, and he grew
up like that or the boyfriend is and he’s beating people and doing things.
Drugs, drugs, drugs.
I had a case where a woman killed her six-year-old son because
they were living in public housing, she had a number of children, and she
was a crack user. She felt that the six-year-old and a sister had taken
money she had hidden away in a shoe or something for her drugs. Her
response was to hit the child on the head with a crowbar and make him
stand in the hallway and stand still. She’s off in another room. The other
children said he began to behave kind of funny. He ultimately relieved
himself on himself because she wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom, so he
told her that. She told him to take a bath. She’s in another room. He got
in the bathtub. The water was scalding hot. He called out to her that the
water was too hot. She’s in another room. She told him to put in cold
water, turn it off, or whatever. Well the child passed out because he’s
already been hit on the head, then he’s in the hot water. He passed out, so
he died from the head trauma as well as burns from this water. Well
here’s the deal. It was public housing. A Mobile Crime Officer measured
the temperature of the water. The water coming out of the tap was 165
degrees, so you figure at the boiler it was probably hotter and it’s traveling
through the pipes. If you read Dr. Spitz I have his book, whatever it’s
called, I don’t remember, but anyway, everybody uses Dr. Spitz, the part
in there about burns, I think they say if a household has elderly or
children, that the water should be set at no more than 120. But there was a
chart in there that would tell you how quickly you’d get burned at certain
temperatures. So he’s in 165-degree water. That water was very hot. We
wrote a letter to the housing people telling them they needed to turn the
water temperature down. Now, that woman did intentionally hit him in
the head and that put everything in motion, and she was guilty. I’m not
saying she ever intended for her child to get scalded, but she did put all
this in play.
So you know children grow up in these circumstances, and drugs
and alcohol have something to do with it. One of my defendants, Ricky
Brogsdale, I had met his mother and she was a long-time alcoholic to the
point where I think it really was affecting her brain. I could imagine how
difficult it was to be Elaine’s child.
As I said, drugs and alcohol play a role in almost any case that we
have over there. What is society doing about that?
MR. WEAVER: One of my favorite anecdotes that I read in news articles about your
career, and I think this captures something about your personality and your
approach to your work really well, but it’s the one about the letter you
wrote to J. Edgar Hoover when you were 13 years old. In the letter, just
for some brief background, I think you told him that you knew at the time
that the FBI didn’t hire women or African-Americans but that it wouldn’t
matter because, and I think this is a direct quote, “You will be dead by the
time I’m old enough to work there anyway,” and then of course you go on
to have this long career at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then at your
retirement ceremony, you have this letter from a well-respected director of
the FBI with glowing praise of your work and thanks for your service to
the country. We’ve talked a lot about your path from childhood to your
later career and family, but where does that audacity of the 13-year-old
June come from?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m going to put a lot of that on my mother because like I may have said,
from the time I was five, I was going to be a lawyer because of Perry
Mason and stuff, and my mother was always exposing me and pushing me
to do things. I had by then seen that movie with Jimmy Stewart, the FBI
story. Okay, it’s propaganda, but I like Jimmy Stewart. I looked it up,
and I think back then they said to be an FBI agent, you had to be a lawyer
or a CPA. Well I wanted to be a lawyer, so I thought I could do that. I
wrote him. And they told you what happened when I wrote him back. I
wrote him, and the response I got back was a little flyer about being a
clerk, a typist or file clerk. June Jeffries wasn’t going to be nobody’s
typist or file clerk for the FBI or anybody else. So when I was retiring,
and they ask you if there’s something you want or whatever, probably I
can’t remember if I said a second thing, but I know I most definitely said I
wanted a letter from the FBI, and I mentioned that in my remarks, and that
letter was from Bob Mueller.
The other thing I want to say about this is when I look back on my
life and just being who I am, I think it’s entirely weird that I would grow
up and be able to say that I knew the director of the FBI or that I’ve been
to Quantico or that I’ve worked with FBI people. I think that’s weird for a
Black person growing up in Detroit like I did, but it is what it is. I’m able
to say that. So that’s something I would not have known. There’s so
much about my life I would not have known. I wouldn’t have been able to
predict really any of this. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I thought
I’d live a nice life. And I probably thought that meant I was going to be
living in Detroit. I hadn’t thought beyond living in Detroit, but once I
went to, right before I started college, that program in New York for six
weeks and then going to college in Connecticut, well that opened me up to
other places. I saw that you could live someplace besides Detroit and
Belzoni, Mississippi and be happy.
I couldn’t have predicted any of this, the specific things or people,
but I’m glad for it, and I look back on it and I think like wow. And I
consider myself a low-level regular person. In our conversation before we
started taping today, I talked about going to the Emmett Till sites and then
about having coffee with James Meredith a few weeks ago. One of the
things I forgot at the time, and I’m sorry I did but I’ll bring it up next year,
is one of the deputy U.S. Marshals who was assigned to protect him back
then was Kirk Bowden who was here in D.C. during my career and had a
very distinguished career with the U.S. Marshals Service. I think last year
over in the Federal Courthouse they dedicated the Marshals’ training room
in his name, and I went to that program. I know Kirk’s widow, Shirley.
Kirk probably died a couple of years ago. Kirk is also a part of this
project and has an oral history, and I would say to anybody you need to
hear his oral history about his career and experiences.
I went to the portrait unveiling for Judge Norma Holloway Johnson
which occurred after she stepped down. Judge Norma Holloway Johnson
was not a person who was going to put these things out there herself. She
didn’t make remarks, but her husband, Judge Julius Johnson, made
remarks for her. Subsequently, I got the transcript of that proceeding, and
it’s probably packed away with things I brought home when I retired, but
in it, he talked about her career. She worked at Main Justice at some
point. She had a case that was over there at that Federal Courthouse,
333 Constitution Avenue, Northwest, right near the Capitol, so she went to
court and the white male judge her case was assigned to would not
recognize her as a lawyer and certainly not as a lawyer for the United
States of America. She had to call back to the office and get a white
colleague to come over there for her. She went on to become chief judge
of that courthouse. I don’t think you’re going to have that experience now
in that courthouse, but racial things are happening all the time, and I think
a lot of our younger lawyers, I hope people will listen to these oral
histories because there’s a lot to learn about what people experienced.
What she experienced as a judge was in my lifetime. So I think about
those kinds of things when I go to the courthouse.
The bench over there over the course of my career, the lineup of
that bench over there now is so different from when I started. Diversity,
gender, race, ethnicities. That’s not what you saw when I first started
working, so that makes me very happy and proud to be able to experience
that and see that.
MR. WEAVER: After your retirement, I know you spent some time volunteering with the
Obama campaign in 2008 and that was a very meaningful experience. I
think you mentioned phone banking was not quite your cup of tea.
MS. JEFFRIES: Not quite, but I did it. But did I also say the thing I would not do is
knocking on doors because the idea of knocking on the doors of strange
white people is unsettling for me. You never know when you might knock
on the wrong person’s door, and at that point in life, I just didn’t need the
MR. WEAVER: We’ve talked about that before, and today I think you’ve mentioned a
couple times some of the really meaningful experiences that you got to
have with your mother based on your career, meeting Eric Holder, having
Justice Kennedy come to her grandson’s wedding and dance the night
away. I know you also got to take your mother to the inauguration after
working on the campaign, so I’m hoping maybe you could say a little
more about the meaning that you’ve derived and the meaning that your
mother got out of seeing your career and getting to see some of these
things that have happened in history along with your time in this role at
the U.S. Attorney’s Office and afterward.
MS. JEFFRIES: I think this was all very I would like to think good and special for my
mom who went on to become herself a grocery store cashier and being a
grocery store cashier you don’t get the same kinds of experiences that I
got, but since she got me there, I endeavored to include her. I know it
made my mother very happy to be able to meet these people, to go to these
things. Here’s a story. My mother used to look at Greta Van Susteren on
TV. Greta had a show, and my mother would look at Greta. Well I know
Greta from her days when she was a defense attorney over there at D.C.
Superior Court, and then Greta’s on TV. I didn’t really look, but one day
I’m lying in bed and I’m channel-surfing, and I happened to land on
Greta’s show, and she said you can email me at whatever. So I sat there
and emailed her and said Greta, my mother just loves your show. I said
something about either that day was her birthday or the next day was her
birthday. So Greta said give her number and I’ll call her. So I gave her
the number, and Greta called and talked to my mother. My mother really
liked that. Then when my mother came to town, I took her to Greta’s
show once or twice we went down to the show and watched the taping.
That was like really cool for her. Like I said, she wanted to know how
much money Greta made. Does she make a lot of money? Yes, mother,
she does. Greta changed jobs and then went to CNN or something and
they wrote about her in People magazine, so then People said she made
$3 million. So I called my mother up and I said okay, mother People
magazine said she makes $3 million a year. My mother’s response was
maybe something good will happen for you too. I’d say oh she’s just like
me, ma. She used to be chasing cases in Superior Court. My mom liked
that. I was able to take her to meet Willard Scott because a former
reporter, who is now the press person for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is
married to Doreen Gentzler, so I knew Bill and Doreen, and I wanted my
mom to see Willard Scott, and I can’t wait until she’s 100 years old. So
Doreen told me what to do, so one morning, my mother and I went over
there when he was doing his birthday greetings for the 100-year olds. I got
a picture of mom and Willard Scott. She liked that too.
Oftentimes, for some things, she’d want if we were in Detroit or
something, she wanted to take somebody with her or get extra copies of
programs or do whatever so she could give to other people. I’m like mom,
I’m doing this for you, okay. I’m not doing this for everybody. So she’d
be very happy to go to those things. She was very happy the night we
went to the Democratic party election night in 2008 and we were there
when Obama won. She was happy. And we were able to go in 2012 that
election night, and that’s when she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and I
didn’t know if she’d be around by Election Day, but she was.
So, yeah, all of that. My mom. And like I said, my dad too, but
my dad died when I was 18, so I was a sophomore in college. But my
mom, yeah.
I want to say this. Back in my first year or so in the office I was in
Misdemeanors. One of my colleagues she was a Jewish woman from New
York. Whatever we were talking about, I said my mother was from
Mississippi and they were sharecroppers or something, she then says to me
she must be very proud of you. I said she’s no more proud of me than
your mother is of you. Why does she think her life was different from
mine? We’re people too. You think what the real deal is it’s unusual that
someone like me would end up here. Oh no it’s not unusual. I know lots
of people like me who have these jobs.
MR. WEAVER: In our last session, you mentioned that you talked about thinking of phases
of your life as chapters of a book and that you were on to the next chapter
after you decided to retire, that was it. That’s what you decided to do, and
it was the next chapter. My question is what’s the next chapter for
June M. Jeffries?
MS. JEFFRIES: Well, this is the chapter. I read one of Jane Fonda’s books a few years ago
that she wrote, and she divided her life in three parts, and she was in the
third part of her life. You know, I’m like that too. Here’s the big part of
my life. The big part of my chapter is to do and be whatever I want to be
without delay because I fully realize that. The example for people I use a
lot from my homicide days is like we’re sitting here, I could take a bullet
and be dead before I finish this sentence or be dying before I finish the
sentence. But certainly, your health can change at a moment’s notice,
injuries, your body, something can happen at a moment’s notice, and I
don’t want to live with regret, so that is my thing. I’m living every day
without regrets, and I’m open to new things, trying not to dwell on the
past. Whatever good things happen, whatever good people that I’ve had in
the past and many of them are now gone, I’m not dwelling on the fact that
they’re gone. I salute the fact that I had them for whatever period of time
it was, and now there are new things and even new people, but I’m also
fortunate that I’ve got a good circle of people I’ve known for years in my
life. Like I told you about the junior high school people. I’m happy for
that. So that’s what the next phase is. I think about little Clara, and I’d
like to see her when she’s 18. That means I’d be 80. Okay. I hope to live
to be 80. My mother lived to be 90. I also know this. When I turned 60 a
few years ago, that’s the first time in my life when I thought ahead to the
next birthday, the next big one being 70. The next decade birthday and
realizing that I might not be here at age 70 because at this point in time,
my contemporaries have started dying one a year or something. But for
the rest of my life, that pace is going to accelerate. And that’s the course
of the rest of my life that people that are meaningful in my life are going
to be dying way more than I’m meeting new ones. So I might not be here
in ten years. My plan is to be here, so therefore I’m trying to do those
things. I’m trying to be is my goal, to be the person that I feel June
Jeffries was born to be. So I’m trying to be kind. I’m trying to be
principled. I’m trying to speak out about things that I think are wrong.
I’m trying to be strategic in how I allocate my energy and time and how to
be efficacious at the things that are important to me. I try to identify, and I
have a good idea of what institutions are important to me and how I
support them and the advancement of ideas and positivity. I also am
trying to spread love in the world. I’m trying to spread love, and I
encourage people to be loving and approach things that way. There are a
whole lot of people who are not loving and kind. I’ve seen a lot of
violence and bad things. Vestiges of my job. I may be out and see
somebody treat a child roughly, and that’s an issue that I grapple with. I
haven’t gotten to a point or seen something where I’ve actually had to
intercede, although sometimes I might speak to them and smile to both
them and the child. One problem I’m aware of is when people are treating
kids badly out in public in front of you, it’s worse at home. I don’t want
to say something and then make them mad and they go home and take it
out on the child. It’s a very big conundrum for me, but fortunately I don’t
get to see a lot of that kind of thing.
MR. WEAVER: One thing we talked about in one of our earlier interview sessions was
your trips to Belzoni in Mississippi as a child, and I know another thing
we talked about today before we turned the recorder on is you were
organizing another trip to Mississippi for friends and colleagues and others
I think next year. Could you talk a little about that trip and how you got
the idea? I know you recently went to Mississippi. Do you want to talk
about how that fits into this next chapter?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. That’s important to me. So here’s the deal. Like I said, I’ve been
going there my whole life, and I will always have fond feelings for
Belzoni and for the state of Mississippi because I associate it with my
childhood and special people to me. The Mississippi Delta was the
Mississippi Delta is the Mississippi Delta always will be a rough place.
That said, it still is a special place in my heart. Here’s the deal about
Mississippi, and this is deservedly so on the part of the state of
Mississippi. I’ve been to 44 states in this country. Mississippi is the only
place that I can say to people I’m going, or I just went, or I’ve been going
there, and their reaction is visceral, like oh my god, why would you go
there? I never wanted to go there. I’ve never been. That’s the only place
in the country where I get that reaction. I’ve been to Georgia, Tennessee,
Alabama, Louisiana. People react to Mississippi. As I point out,
Mississippi is the poorest state in the union, and there are a lot of reasons
for that. Usually on most lists that you look, Mississippi is at the bottom,
except they lead in vaccination rates, or at least that was true a few years
ago. But still, there’s a lot to see in Mississippi. So much of our history,
civil rights history, which is American history. There is the cultural
history, the Blues Trail, there’s food, and there’s just the people.
Mississippi has changed in many ways since I was a child because when I
was a child I could not go to the places that I went to, and if I tried to go,
they could have killed me and maybe would have, and that’s like a real
statement, people. I could have been killed. Like I went to the Gulf Coast
a few years ago and I was sitting in that hot tub, and the thought in my
mind when I’m in the hot tub is they would have killed me for this in
1965, and I don’t mean that lightly. I mean killed me. And it wouldn’t
have mattered that I was a girl or that I was eleven, because that’s the way
they rolled down there.
I went last year, and I’m going to send you this article. I was
going to go to Mississippi anyway because I’ve hooked up with this
woman and these other people who were from that area, and she invited
me to a program, but then The New York Times Travel section had an
article about the civil rights trail, and they talked about two things in
Mississippi. One, sites associated with Emmett Till, and two, Belzoni and
the Reverend George Lee who was murdered, and many people consider
him one of the first martyrs of the civil rights movement. Well he got
killed on the same street that my aunts lived on and my cousins where I
would go to their house in Belzoni, and two doors down from my very
good friend, Loreen, who is a retired judge up in Detroit. My mother
knew Reverend Lee and knew his wife. This article talked about that, so
since I was going to Mississippi, I said to my cousin let’s go a day earlier
and go down and see these Emmett Till things because through my
friendship with Mrs. Parks, Rudy, my son, and I met Emmett Till’s mother
when Rudy was 14, the same age as Emmett. I have a good picture on my
phone of Rudy and Mrs. Mobley. Her name was Mamie Till Mobley. So
we went to these Emmett Till sites, including these sites that are in the
news, the river sites where they keep shooting up the signs because that’s
the way they roll down there, and it’s two different signs in two locations
that are being shot up. My son never has wanted to go to Mississippi, and
when I try to say to him you should go, we can all go, let’s go to
Mississippi, you would like it, you should see things. My son’s response
would be why would I ever want to go to a place like that? So he called
me in the spring this year and said he wanted to go to Mississippi, just the
two of us, to do two things. Go to the Emmett Till sites and go to the
Mississippi State LSU football game. So that’s why I just went to
Mississippi two or three weeks ago,. However, when I went last year, and
I’m on Facebook, I post pictures and everything and you always get the
same reaction, and I said to those people on Facebook, I said you know
what, I’m going to organize a trip to Mississippi, and you people need to
come to Mississippi and see things. I’ll take you around, and we can do
things. And people seemed to be interested, including two people. One of
my college friends, Randall Pinkston, a retired CBS news correspondent,
and then my friend Patricia Ice, who is an immigration lawyer in Jackson.
She and I are from Detroit. So Randall is originally from Yazoo City, and
he had taken a couple friends around Mississippi last summer, so they
were interested in putting together a trip, although we did not move
forward on that. I had hoped to do it this year. Anyway, my son and I
went, and I posted pictures and I came back and I said okay people I’m
really going to do this next year, and this is how June’s trip will be. Now
one of the things I told folks is for whatever reason, Harvard is confused,
and they send me emails, Harvard alumni travel and other Harvard alumni
emails. Harvard put together a trip of the Delta last year, and the Harvard
trip for alums was $4,900 double occupancy. A friend of mine who you
talked to probably for this is a Vassar graduate, and Vassar is offering a
trip in March to Little Rock and then places in the Mississippi Delta, and
the Vassar trip is like $3,600 or $3,900. I’m telling my friends you can go
with June for $1,200 and have a really good experience. So that’s what
I’m working on now, and I have people who want to go. I have a tentative
plan of where we’ll go, and I know some other people, a good friend of
mine, Joyce Ladner, who is from Hattiesburg and was a SNCC (Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) worker and worked with Medgar
Evers and worked on the March of Washington, and she and her sister are
both in the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. I think she might
participate and lead us around. As I said, we had coffee with James
Meredith three weeks ago. I’m going to ask Mr. Meredith can we have
coffee, if not a meal, with him. He was very talkative. So that’s what I’m
going to work on.
MR. WEAVER: We are close to wrapping up here. I think I have one more question.
We’ve talked a lot I think about your grandchildren and aside from being a
loving grandmother and recently a circus ring master, what stories do you
hope that your grandchildren carry on? What do you hope that they will
say about you and carry on with future generations?
MS. JEFFRIES: I want them, and you know Clara’s a girl, I want her to say that grandma
was strong. I want her to say that grandma was courageous in at least
some ways, and grandma was encouraging, and that I was fun, and that I
exposed her and stimulated her interests and encouraged her to pursue and
that I hope she realizes she comes from a good legacy. I always teach her
when we go to the grocery store and we see the grocery store cashiers, I
tell her that my mother was a grocery store cashier for 33 years and my
mother’s name was Bettie, so now if you ask Clara what was my mother’s
name, she will say Bettie. My son said they were at the grocery store the
other week and when they went through the line, Clara told him that Bettie
had been a grocery store cashier. I hope she will realize and Isaac too that
they came from really good people and loving people and that they can do
those things in life that they want to do, and I hope that they will instill
those values. Clara saw me at the circus. She saw me do that somersault
thing at the circus. So yes, that was fun and good too.
Then the lawyer stuff. I hope she knows about that. About the
part where her grandma was a lawyer. I’m going to take her as she gets
older meet some of those people that I’ve met and let her see those places.
I brought her here to Georgetown Law School. Why were we over here. I
don’t know, but I got a picture of her right outside at the sign. It says on
the corner Georgetown Law Center. I have a picture of her with that
because I tell her that I went here in my travels when I go up to Harvard or
go anyplace, I always get Harvard gear. She has Wesleyan gear. Her
Yale family members had not been generous, but one finally gave her
something last year, plus I went through New Haven, and I went to the
Yale bookstore and bought her some things. And now there’s Isaac too.
My girlfriend’s grandson is at Princeton, so she has the Princeton gear.
She has stuff from her parents’ colleges. Clara will wear any of your
school stuff, so if people want to send it. But I talk to her about colleges.
I told her she could go to Georgetown. I went here. Her grandfather went
to Georgetown Medical School. We talk about Yale. Sometimes we’ll be
running. Clara and I are now health buddies, and when we were running
the other day, she declared us health buddies. So sometimes when we’re
running I tell her that she’s running for Yale or she’s running for
Wesleyan. Her parents were swimmers and her mother and aunt and uncle
were all on swim teams, high school, college, neighborhood swim teams,
so I tell her she’s swimming for Yale because I tell her Yale is her legacy
school. She can go there if she wants to. I believe in legacies. I also
believe in acknowledging that you get over sometimes if you’re a legacy
admission and that other people have reasons for being admitted to these
colleges too that don’t necessarily depend on absolutely your grades, and I
acknowledge that, but people are disingenuous and don’t acknowledge
that, and some of their kids got in because they’re legacies, not because
they’re brilliant people. But my kids are brilliant. So yes. I’m trying to
instill that, and I want them to go to the college that feels good for them,
whatever that college is, but I want them to know that there are places in
their lives that they can go to that we’ve helped pave the way for them.
That’s what I want.
MR. WEAVER: Excellent. Well thank you to the Georgetown Alumni Association for
letting us use this space and the D.C. Historical Society.

Oral History of June M. Jeffries, Esq.
60 Minutes(television show), 242
8th & H murder trial, 249
Adams, Darnella, 256
Adams, Lee, 125
Affordable Care Act, 296
AKA (sorority – Alpha Kappa Alpha), 206. 291
American Red Cross, 106
Anderson, Leslie, 95
Banfield, Edward, 100
Barry, Marion, 29, 221
Bass, Karen, 156
Beal, Deborah, 51, 95, 130, 223-31
Bell, Iris, 158
Belzoni Mississippi, 1-4, 17, 18, 22-30, 33, 42-5, 322, 329, 331
Beverly Hills Cops (movie), 75
Bieben, Betsy, 196
Bing, Dave, 137
Biros, Mark, 210
Black Bottom (Detroit area), 5
Black Klansman (movie), 156
Blair, Bonnie, 83
Blake, Rick, 95
Blatty, William Peter, 112
The Exorcist (book/movie), 112
Blues Trail, 330
Bowden, Kirk, 322
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 174, 219, 235, 282
Broderick, Patti, 187
Brogsdale, Ricky, 197, 201, 205, 210, 258, 276, 320
Brown v. Board of Education (case), 44
Bruce, Blanche, 186
Bunnell, Steve, 284
Bush, Barbara, 310
Bush, George H. W. (“Daddy”), 221, 310
Cahalan, William, 149
Canada, 45, 48, 54, 62, 64-65, 85, 102, 128, 138
Cannon, Gregory, 212, 213, 251
Cannon, Linda, 211-12, 250
Caputy, Vince, 192
CARE (care.org), 68
Carroll, Morgan, 113, 133
Chambers, Julius, 106
Charles Wright Museum of African American History, 140
child murder and abuse, 178, 213, 218, 250-51, 254, 256, 258, 274-75, 292-94, 307, 313-17
Churikian, Sam, 1333, 179
Clark, Marcia, 286, 290
Clayton, Louis (cousin), 36
Clinton, William (Bill), 311
Concerns of Police Survivors, 245
Contreras, Rudolph (Rudy), 245
Cook, Julian Abele, 140
COPS. See Concerns of Police Survivors
Cox, Wendell, 158
Crump, Benjamin, 297
Daddy Bush See Bush, George H. W.
Daily Beast, 257
Dali Lama, 311
Daly, Hank, 231
Darden, Chris, 285-86
Day, Doris, 86
Dean, Marthell, 232
Detroit, 1-2, 4, 6-7, 11-13, 15, 17, 21, 23-25, 29, 31, 34, 39, 40-48, 50, 52-58, 60, 61, 64-69, 71,
74-75, 78, 80, 85-86, 88, 90, 92, 114, 117, 121, 124- 28, 130, 132-35, 138-40, 144, 149-50,
153, 155, 158-60, 164, 177, 179, 183, 186, 188, 200, 237, 286, 306, 322, 326, 331
Detroit Recorder’s Court, 113
diGenova, Joseph (Joe), 117, 154, 157-58, 214, 310
diGenova, Victoria Toensing, 154
Dillinger, John, 17, 18
District of Columbia Superior Court, 158, 312, 318, 325
Dozier, Lamont, 115, 136
Ebony (magazine), 15, 53
Edwards, 237, 238
Edwards, Harry, 235, 237-38
Edwards, Mildred (Mickey), 238
Eilperin, Stephen, 190, 192
Evans, Sherri Harris, 187
Evers, Medgar, 333
Ferris, Jay, 218
Fitzwater, Marlon, 221
Fletcher, Crystal, 249
Fletcher, Louise, 251
Flowers, Curtis, 297
Ford, Geraldine Bledsoe, 51
Ford, Yvonne, 198, 203
Francis, Michelle, 253
Fulwood, Isaac (Ike), 199
Gentzler, Doreen, 326
Gibson, Brian, 232, 245, 262, 289, 290
Gilman, 117, 146, 153
Gilman, Lenny, 117, 145, 146, 147, 151, 152, 154, 156
Gilman, Leonard (Lenny), 117
Gold, Robert, 133
Gordon, Allen, 124
Gordon, Richard Allen, 112
Gordon, Steve, 183
Gray, James
transplants, 39
Gray, James (cousin), 39
Great Migration, 42
Great-Aunt Hun, 26
Greene, Henry, 214
Greenwood, Mississippi, 3, 4, 18, 45\
Hadding, Henry, 146-47, 156
Harris, Stanley, 118, 154, 157
Harwood, Pam, 128
Heady, Henry, 117
Heller (case), 305
Hobson, Donald, 160
Holder, Eric, 215, 220, 231, 315, 324
Holland, Brian, 115, 136
Holland, Eddie, 115, 136
Howard, Roscoe, 215
Hubbard, Orville, 69
Hudson, Rock, 108
I Love Lucy (television show), 34
Ice, Patricia, 332
In the Dark (podcast), 297
Invictus (poem), 55
Jackson, Amy Berman, 249, 310
Jackson, Moxie, 210, 266
Jacobson, Stewart, 108
James (cousin), 29, 31, 37, 264, 265
Jeffries, Bettie Wade (mother), 1
Civil Rights Movement, 25
Pig (nickname), 3
Jeffries, Rudy (son), 3, 16, 21, 29, 33, 46, 66, 72, 77, 108, 165, 167, 172-73, 187, 207, 209, 213,
219, 256, 298-99, 304, 308-10, 313-14, 331-32, 334
Jeffries, June M. – Personal
bar exam, 95, 126,-28, 133-34, 147, 219
bicycle accident, 70
Black Women’s Agenda, 291
Brookside Gardens volunteer, 23
Cass Technical High School, 72
Civil Rights Movement, 162
compassion for defendants, 306
Critical Thinking Club, 16
discrimination, 44, 241, 243
Dixon Elementary School, 51, 56-57, 59, 68, 79
empathy, 175, 177, 276
Facebook, 22-23, 59-60, 73, 130, 246, 265, 281, 332
failures of society, 304
Federal Trade Commission, 105, 111
genealogical research, 19-21
Georgetown Law School, 72, 103-05, 109-13, 119, 124-25, 132, 140, 163-65, 171, 209, 334
Black students, 110
Gilbert & Sullivan Society, 72, 119
racism, 118
Georgetown Medical School, 143
Girl Scouts, 46, 49, 64-65, 79, 127, 184
Golden Rule, 173
high school honors program, 71
horseback riding, 66
Mettetal Junior High School, 51, 59-60
Mexico City, 46, 85
Montreal trip, 36-37, 45, 78, 80, 85, 157
Motown, 10-11, 14, 54, 61, 115, 136, 150-51, 162, 237
National Archives, 18, 19, 21, 105
National Merit Semi-Finalist, 78
piano, 65
PREP (summer pre-med program), 81
racial discrimination, 29, 67-68, 106
relationships with survivors or family members, 308
role of religion in family, 46
serendipity, 156-57, 160
sewing, 65
Southern food, 27, 31, 45, 273, 330
Temptations, 61, 115, 117, 136, 150-53
Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, 12, 47
typewriters, 15, 52, 135, 218
violin, 65
volunteering with the Obama campaign, 324
Wesleyan University, 18-19, 78-80, 82-109, 125, 129-30, 132, 206, 225, 230-31, 270, 334-35
Jeffries, June M. – Professional
Child Fatality Review Committee, 252
Detroit Misdemeanor Defenders, 179
Detroit Recorder’s Court, 133, 144-45
guardian ad litem, 116, 145
Misdemeanor Defenders Office, 133-34. 162, 182, 214, 326
staff attorney, 114, 134
Harvard Trial Advocacy Program, 160
Patman & Young, 114, 136-37, 139-41, 143, 153, 158-59, 164
racial discrimination, 140
role of drugs and alcohol in crimes, 320
Street Law, 73, 119, 120, 123, 177
United States Attorney’s Office, 96, 116-18, 125, 141, 145-47, 152, 154-57, 160, 165, 169,
172-75, 178, 187-88, 218, 258, 308, 312, 315, 320, 324, 326
Felony One section, 183, 210, 213, 301
Senior Litigation Counsel, 132, 209, 217, 223, 250
Superior Court Division, 215
United States Tax Court, 136
Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, 116, 146, 160
paternity division, 147
Public Defender Service, 171, 175, 256
Jeffries, Malcolm Sylvester (father), 1-2, 5, 8-9, 11, 13, 17, 20, 25, 42, 44
death, 8, 39, 75, 88, 90, 92-93, 104
Jet (magazine), 135
Johnson, Bruce, 281
Johnson, Julius, 323
Johnson, Norma Holloway, 170, 241, 323
Johnson, Ramsey, 209, 214
Jones, Van, 156
Jordan, Paul, 249
Kemp, Gary, 312
Kendricks, Eddie, 117, 152
Kennedy, Anthony, 313
Kenny, Tim, 150
Kimberly Clark, 107
King, Patricia, 112, 124
Kluger, Richard, 44
Kramer, Noel, 169
Krisciunas, Rich, 155
Krisciunas, Richard (Rich), 150
Ladner, Joyce, 333
Leary, Mary Lou, 215
Lee, George, 331
Lee, Spike, 156-57
Lemon, Jack, 86
Lewis, Wilma, 215
Long-Doyle, Deborah, 186
Martin, Trayvon, 296-97
Mason, Thomas, 55
Mathis, Eddie, 210
McFadden, Cecil, 15, 48, 52, 114, 135
McFadden, Ulysses, 135
McQuarry, Thelma, 114, 135
Medicolegal Investigation of Death Guidelines for the Application of Pathology to Crime
Investigation by Werner Spitz, 319
Meredith, James, 322, 333
Miranda (case), 112
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, 333
Morrison & Boyd Organic Chemistry (book), 94
Morrison, Truman, 183-84
Morse, Valerie, 257
Mueller, Bob, 231, 257, 309, 321
Mundy, Ken, 211, 266-67
Murphy, Eddie, 75
Murphy, Russell, 100-01, 103
New York Times, 138, 163, 331
New York Times Magazine, 286
Nixon, Richard, 96
Obama, Barack, 119, 163, 315, 324, 326
Ockershausen, Andy, 110
Our Town (podcast), 110
Oxford, Mssissippi, 31
Parker, James, 226
Parker, June Marie Jeffries. See Jeffries, June M.
Patterson, Paul, 217
Patton, Peter, 100
Patton, Stevie, 282
Peeping Tom Murderer. See Brogsdale, Ricky
People (magazine), 108, 325
Perry Mason (television show), 66, 104, 134, 321
Perry, Beverley, 125
Pinkston, Randall, 332
Reno, Janet, 240
Richey, Larry, 112
Roberts, Michelle, 225, 290
Roberts, Richard, 187
Rochon, Mark, 290
Rogers, Judith, 237
Rosenwald, Julius, 4
Roy, Tommy (cousin), 35, 36
Ryan, April, 156
Scandal (television show), 222, 310
Schulman, Jerome, 112
Scott, Curtis, 125
Scott, Willard, 326
Seymour, Robin, 54, 61, 151
Sheffield, Horace, 51
Silence of the Lambs (movie), 203, 260
Simmons family, 2,-3 22-23
Simple Justice (book), 44
Simpson, OJ, 282, 285-88, 291
Sisters (television show), 229
Smith, Dee Marie, 230, 291
Smith, Judy, 221, 310
Smith, Ralph, 188
Smith, Roger, 107
Smith, William Kennedy, 287
Spitz, Werner, 319
Stephanopoulos, George, 311
Stephens, Jay, 214,-16, 220, 221, 250
Supreme Court of the United States, 122, 284, 296, 309, 312- 14
Swinging Time (television show), 54, 61, 151
Taylor, Jeff, 215
technology, 215, 217, 219-20, 308
Thomas, Clarence, 79, 237, 312
Thomas, Faith, 125
Thompson, Perry, 312
Till Mobley, Mamie, 331
Till, Emmett, 288, 322, 331-32
Tobias, Sheila, 82
Totenberg, Nina, 29
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 165, 235
Van Susteren, Greta, 287, 325
Vietnam War, 25
World War II, 5
Wade, Barbara (cousin), 36, 63
Wade, Betty (aunt), 76
Wade, Bit (uncle), 35, 37
Wade, Edith (couisin), 34, 36, 38-39, 63
Wade, Fredericka (aunt), 2, 34
Wade, Hugh (uncle), 38
Wade Larry (uncle), 76
Wade, Lessie (aunt), 2
Wade Pat (uncle), 2
Wade, Phyllis (aunt), 4, 5
Wade Richard (uncle), 9, 92
Wade, Ruth (aunt), 2
Wade, Sadie (aunt), 2, 26,-7, 34, 36-37, 40, 43, 63
Wade, Sadie Ruth (cousin), 34, 36, 40, 63
Ward, Willis, 116, 131, 144
Washington Post (newspaper)), 98, 138, 159, 293
Washington, Walter, 123
WCHB (Detroit radio station), 151, 158
We the People (television show), 222
Weber, Doris, 163
Weisberg, Frederick, 190, 195, 197, 232
Wesleyan University
ethnomusicology, 98
gamelan (musical instrument), 99-100
WGPR (Detroit television station), 159
What’s My Line (television show), 53
Whittaker, Claire, 187
Wilmot, Dave, 110, 163
Wilson, Pete, 296
Windsor (case), 296
Windsor, John Allen, 191-92
wire plea offer, 274
WJLB (Detroit radio station), 151, 158
women and minorities, 147, 165
Wonder, Stevie, 310
Woody’s, 161, 185, See Woodward & Lothrop
Wright, Charles, 139-40
Oral History of June M. Jeffries
Table of Cases and Statutes
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 44
District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), 305
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), 112
United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013), 296
Affordable Care Act, 119 P.L. 111-148, 296

June Jeffries, Esq.
Biographical Sketch
June Marie Jeffries, a Detroit native, is a graduate of Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and
the Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC. Following law school graduation, she
worked in Detroit for four years.
Her first job was a short stint in the Misdemeanor Defender’s Office in Detroit Recorder’s
Court. Next, she was an associate at Patmon and Young, P.C., a small law firm of black lawyers
doing a variety of civil work including probate, litigation, entertainment, and family
matters. Before returning to the Washington area, she also was an assistant Wayne County
Ms. Jeffries was an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for over 25 years. During
this time, the bulk of her career was spent as a homicide prosecutor, her interest when she joined
the office. Additional assignments included misdemeanors, grand jury, and appellate plus a year
in the Civil Division. Formerly a member of the State Bar of Michigan, she is a member of the
D.C. Bar.
She has appeared in Detroit Recorder’s Court, Wayne County (MI) Circuit Court, Oakland
County (MI) Circuit Court, and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of MI, D.C.
Superior Court, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. On
multiple occasions, she was an invited guest of the D.C. Circuit Judicial Conference.
Ms. Jeffries has been a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1983
and frequently attends oral arguments. She has taught in the mandatory trial training program at
Emory Law School since 1992. She has also taught in the Trial Advocacy Workshop at Harvard
Law School for 20 years, and with NITA programming held at Georgetown Law. In 2007 she
was advocate-in-residence at Washburn School of Law in Topeka, KS.
For several years, Ms. Jeffries has led the legal module of the annual Ethics Day program for the
senior class of Langley High School, McLean, VA. She has participated at various times with
alumni groups of her college and law school alma maters. Since retirement she has actively
volunteered with a number of programs in Montgomery County and the District of Columbia
including the Mansion at Strathmore.
Ms. Jeffries is married to Bobby Parker. She is a mother and grandmother and relishes spending
time with her grandchildren in ways that she could not do with her son when she was working.

William Weaver, Esq.
Biographical Sketch
Will Weaver practices in the Government Controversies group at the law firm of Jenner
& Block LLP. He represents clients facing challenges at the intersection of investigations,
regulation, and litigation, helping clients respond to sensitive government inquiries and highstakes
litigation on matters of public concern. He regularly litigates cases involving the
interpretation of federal law and has represented clients before the US Supreme Court and US
courts of appeals.
Will has also represented clients in numerous congressional investigations and hearings,
including preparing witnesses for hearings before committees of the US Congress, the European
Parliament, and US state legislatures. He has prepared witnesses for hearings before the House
and Senate Judiciary Committees and has advised political nominees in their personal capacity
on their nominations and confirmation hearings. He also represents clients in criminal inquiries.
Will also maintains an active pro bono practice, including representing public advocacy
organizations in a constitutional challenge to a state juvenile justice system, asylum seekers in
proceedings before an immigration judge, and a criminal defendant challenging a search warrant
on appeal.
Will clerked for Judge Robert Wilkins on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
from 2017-2018 and for Judge Madeline Haikala on the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Alabama from 2014-2015. He graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 2014. Prior
to law school, Will received his undergraduate degree from Samford University and taught high
school government and economics at the Soulsville Charter School in Memphis, Tennessee
through Teach For America.