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Oral History of Elizabeth Sarah (“Sally”) Gere
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 Barbara Kagan, and the
interviewee is Elizabeth Sarah Gere. The interview took place by Zoom on Thursday,
August 27, 2020. This is the sixth interview.
MS. KAGAN: Good afternoon, Sally. We’re here for another installment of your
MS. GERE: Good afternoon, Barbara.
MS. KAGAN: Do you want to do the recap that you had suggested on where we left off?
MS. GERE: Sure. I believe when we last left off in this story, I had, through serendipity,
been given an opportunity to give back to the city and go to work for
Irv Nathan, who had been named as the city’s new Attorney General by then-
Mayor Gray. I jumped at the chance. First of all, Irv Nathan is a lawyer who
is unparalleled in terms of intellect and public service, so the opportunity to
work for him was very attractive. Second, I wanted to close my career in
public service. The time was getting near.
MS. KAGAN: How well had you known Mr. Nathan before?
MS. GERE: I knew Irv professionally. Not a close friendship, but professionally. I also
knew his wife professionally. She and I were, and still are, very active in the
Girl Scouts, and we worked together on a board. So I knew both of them and
was very impressed. Judy Walter, Irv’s wife, is a force of nature herself in
her own field and is a truly remarkable woman. So, Irv made me an offer. I,
as I said, was very excited about the opportunity. I was not particularly
excited about the pay cut, which was enormous, but it was an opportunity
that I really did not want to forgo, and I guess maybe the luxury of having
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reached a point in my career where I was at the twilight zone, money was not
the paramount interest.
MS. KAGAN: How old were you when you made the switch?
MS. GERE: Let’s see. I left the firm in 2011, so I was 64, almost 65, when I left. I’ll tell
you the other thing, and it may sound a little strange, and I hope that I
mentioned it earlier on in my conversation with you, Barbara, but my very
first job in the law while I was still in law school was at what was then called
the D.C. Corporation Counsel’s Office. So the D.C. Attorney General’s
Office was in fact just a new name for the former D.C. Corporation
Counsel’s Office. To me there was something, I don’t know, poetic might be
the wrong word, but something that felt right to close my career in the law
where I had begun it.
MS. KAGAN: Before the opportunity arose, had you set a date for retirement?
MS. GERE: I don’t know that I had set a date particularly, but as with most firms,
Troutman Sanders was sort of keeping an eye on people’s age and
encouraging the older partners to begin transitioning clients to younger
partners and start decreasing their activities in the firm. So certainly that was
part of what was going on, and frankly, I had kind of done everything that I
had hoped to do in a law firm, which was to establish myself as a good
lawyer and one who served her clients well but also who served her firm well
from the management committee, recruiting, ethics, general counsel, and my
paramount interest in mentoring young lawyers, men and women. And I
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thought now was the time while I still had some wits about me to go to a new
position, and I thought this job at OAG was made for me.
MS. KAGAN: So, was it difficult to transition out of the firm? Did you have a lot to wrap
MS. GERE: I had a fair amount to wrap up, but probably unlike some people, I had
always made an effort to work with other people, so there were very few of
my clients that had not worked with other people in the firm, so when I left,
they were able to make a transition. It was hard to transition away from the
comfort of the firm, comfort both in terms of the people that I knew and
worked with, not just the other lawyers, but the support staff, my secretary,
paralegals, the messengers. The people who really, I worked with them as
people, not as nameless, faceless co-workers. And so going to OAG was an
entirely different experience. It was not different if I looked back at my days
at the Department of Justice. It was just that there had been 25 years in
between, and I had been much more self-reliant at Justice and then was
certainly expected to be when I was at OAG. OAG was underfunded. The
city was still coming out of the very grave economic problems that it had had
with the oversight of Congress and the Control Board. So there were no frills
at OAG. The office had gotten beyond what I had heard about as the not-toodistant
horrors of lawyers being expected to buy their own copy paper and
bringing toilet paper into the office because it was not being supplied. So
things were pretty grim. I got there when things were beginning to right
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themselves, and I give Irv Nathan credit for having a good relationship with
the mayor and helping to right the office.
The work was on the one hand no different from what I had done pretty
much my whole life which was to litigate. It was much more focused on
litigation locally in the Superior Court and the District Court as opposed to
my prior practice that had been nationwide. It was very different though in
terms of the subject matter. I now was going back to my days of being a
government lawyer where my client was the people. So my client was at
OAG the people of the District of Columbia, which was exciting and
gratifying, but it took a bit of time to transition to those being my clients.
And, of course, the law had changed in the 25 years since I had been a
government lawyer, so a steep learning curve. But at least I had had the
fundamentals, so I understood things like sovereign immunity and qualified
immunity, tort actions against the government, which is where I started out
initially when I joined OAG. I started in the Civil Litigation Division, which
was responsible for defending all of the civil litigation filed against the
District of Columbia that was a tort action or a government contract,
essentially those. It was a pretty broad spectrum.
MS. KAGAN: Wasn’t that a lot of your caseload at the firm?
MS. GERE: It was a lot. The other Division in the office which was newly created
shortly after I started was called the Public Interest Division, and that was
created, or reconfigured, by Irv Nathan, and essentially that Division was
responsible for the consumer protection actions, the affirmative litigation,
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and defense of the litigation that involved class actions. So it was more
programmatic challenges to the District’s actions as opposed to individual
actions, which were being handled in the Civil Litigation Division.
It was a transition for me honestly to go to the Civil Litigation Division
because I went in as an assistant deputy to George Valentine, who was the
Deputy of the Division.
MS. KAGAN: He had been there a long time?
MS. GERE: He was an institution in the office and frankly in city government. But for
me, I had been my own independent agent pretty much for 25 years, and now
I was officially somebody’s assistant deputy. That took a bit of adjustment.
George, and I’m sorry. This is a little difficult. George was brilliant. I
learned a lot from George. I think I helped him become a better manager.
He gave his heart and soul to the office and to the District of Columbia, and
he was, of course, one of the first people who died of COVID here in the
city. It was a blow to me because, although I had retired several years
earlier, and George had gone on to be the right-hand lawyer to the Mayor, so
we weren’t working together any longer, but we remained friends, and we
would get together regularly for brunch and to chat. I was texting with him
the night that he was admitted to the hospital, and he died the next day. It
was very shocking and a great loss for the city because George had been
there so long, and he knew everyone, and he knew everything about the law.
He graduated from Harvard Law School, so he was definitely no intellectual
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slouch and kept everybody else who worked for him jumping. He did not let
things slide.
MS. KAGAN: He had been working for the District government for his entire career?
MS. GERE: Ironically, he had started out as an associate at Troutman Sanders in Atlanta.
He and I never overlapped, but it was sort of like one of those strange
coincidences. George was a very private person, but he chose to leave
Atlanta and come to D.C. and was interested in public service, as I
understand it, and began his D.C. career in public service, which is where he
remained. He had multiple people who tried to get him to come to their
firms. I know Judge Sullivan tried for years to get George to apply for a
judgeship, and George always said I’m doing what I like to do, and I’m going
to continue to do it.
MS. KAGAN: Did he have a connection to D.C. before moving here?
MS. GERE: Not that I know of. He ended up having nephews here. He had some
relatives. I don’t know, they probably came here after George did, given
their age, but I’m not sure about that.
So anyway, I spent probably about three or three-and-a-half years working
with George in the Civil Litigation Division under Irv Nathan, who was then
the Attorney General.
MS. KAGAN: Did you handle any individual cases yourself?
MS. GERE: Well, I did. Because that was one of the requirements that Irv gave me when
he made the offer to me. There was, and still is, it’s probably now I guess the
oldest, because I think one of the older cases just got resolved, but it’s one of
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the cases that has been pending for the longest time in the District of
Columbia. The case is Salazar v. District of Columbia. It was, and still is, a
case that was brought against the District of Columbia in the 1990s and
related primarily to the provision of Medicaid services to children, the
EPSDT program. The District at the beginning of time was not handling the
program as it should have. A suit was filed, and the case went through a
couple of judges and ultimately ended up before Judge Gladys Kessler.
Judge Kessler kept a close eye on the case and was always very concerned
about the welfare of the children of the District of Columbia. Irv wanted me
to be lead counsel on the case, so I was for years, until I left OAG.
At about the same time that I came to OAG and became responsible for
the litigation, the Department of Healthcare Finance in the District of
Columbia, which was where DC government involvement in the EPSDT
program oversight resided, had identified a remarkable woman, Colleen
Sonosky, to be the contact person and oversee the administration of the
program. She and a couple of her staff members really just made remarkable
strides, remarkable, in getting the program to where admittedly it should
have been.
MS. KAGAN: So she wasn’t an independent monitor?
MS. KAGAN: There was a settlement, I assume?
MS. GERE: There was a consent decree that was entered many years before. Well,
without talking out of school, was one that was written in a time where
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everything had been very different, everything from what was computerized,
what there were statistics about, what other states, what other jurisdictions
were doing. And Judge Kessler, I think in one opinion, acknowledged that it
no longer was serving the purpose because it no longer spoke to the world as
it was, particularly after the Affordable Care Act was passed. After that was
passed, we were able to get some parts of the consent decree removed
because they simply were no longer applicable. But the case remains. It was
open, despite Judge Kessler’s best efforts as she too retired with the case
unfinished. As she frequently told us, she had an unusual way of handling
the case. Nothing was ever done in open court. Everything was always done
in the jury conference room. No members of the public were permitted even
to observe the proceedings. She thought that it facilitated more civil
conversation between the parties. It, though, kept a lot of stakeholders out of
the process, and I think that was unfortunate. Some of them asked to have
everything heard in open court, and the Judge never ruled on the motions.
The District government firmly supported the motion because we thought
more heads are better, and more ideas and more thoughts and more
involvement might produce more solutions.
MS. KAGAN: They’re part of The District’s constituency.
MS. GERE: Yes. So Judge Kessler’s was a less formal process. The judge would tell us
when we met with her that this case was the most important case that she had
while she was on the bench. She handled the tobacco litigation, so I think
that’s quite a statement about how strongly she felt about the Salazar
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litigation. It unfortunately took on a life of its own because what started to
drive the litigation was the issue of attorneys’ fees and how much the lawyers
were charging the District to advance the case.
MS. KAGAN: Who was it that brought the suit?
MS. GERE: It was a law firm, a boutique firm called Terris, Pravlik and Millian, and they
made millions from the District of Columbia, and I’m sure still are. It was
from my perspective not a good use of money. The money could have much
better gone to the programs about which the complaints were being made,
particularly when there were processes and people in place at that time by
2011, 2012, to assure that problems were being addressed. So that part was
very unfortunate. We ended up in fee litigation, went to the D.C. Circuit, and
it was not a good chapter in the litigation or, I think, on the issue of
attorney’s fees that the District of Columbia citizens have to pay. I could talk
for hours on that.
MS. KAGAN: The unfortunate thing is that it’s not that dissimilar from a lot of other class
actions that were brought against the city.
MS. GERE: Yes. And at some point, it becomes counterproductive, and you’re paying
more for someone to “monitor” than to actually staff the programs that need
to be run.
In any event, that took up, leading that case, took up a significant amount
of my time. It was a very steep learning curve for me about how the
Medicaid program worked, the various D.C. agencies that were involved,
because there were a host of agencies that had their fingers in things. But it
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was a big piece of litigation. It was not unlike things that I had done at the
Justice Department, and I sort of felt like I was back in the U.S. Attorney’s
Office. Part of my life then also was doing fast-paced litigation because
George and I supervised all the lawyers in the Civil Division, and they were
the ones who would go to court on a daily basis. If a case went to trial, that’s
the Division where the trial was going to be coming from. The Public
Interest Division, because of the types of cases they did, tended to handle
more summary judgment, large summary judgment motions, and very few
So I spent time watching people in court, trying to advise people, moot
them before they went to trial, debrief after they went to trial.
MS. KAGAN: Were the two of you the only supervisors in the section?
MS. GERE: No. There was a deputy, an assistant deputy, and then there were, at the time
I was there, four sections, and each one of those had a section chief. So that
was the first-level supervisor, and then me and then George.
MS. KAGAN: So did your group handle appellate matters as well?
MS. GERE: No. The D.C. Attorney General’s Office has, I want to say, an awardwinning
Solicitor General’s Office with very, very savvy appellate lawyers.
So everything that went up on appeal would be handled by the SG’s Office,
and they would work with the trial divisions in discussing whether OAG was
going to affirmatively appeal a case, and the SG’s office would make the
final decision. Obviously if the other side appealed, then it was kind of off to
the races.
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When I started at OAG, a fellow by the name of Todd Kim was the
Solicitor General. Todd is a remarkable, and I keep using the word
remarkable, but in my life, I think I’ve had the good fortune of working with
a lot of remarkable people, but Todd was very, very bright. He had clerked
for Judge Judy Rogers on the D.C. Court of Appeals when she was there. He
was unflappable, creative, thoughtful, very quiet, and when he spoke, the
room would go to a hush, and you would say wow, why didn’t I think of that.
But in any event, Todd was Solicitor General when I started. I can’t
remember how long after, it might have even been a year later, Todd hired an
assistant deputy or a deputy solicitor general, a woman by the name of Loren
AliKhan, who came out of private practice. She is another truly remarkable,
brilliant lawyer, who, upon Todd’s departure, and this goes fast-forward, but
Todd left the office to go into private practice. After a long process, Karl
Racine made Loren AliKhan the Solicitor General. She has done a terrific
job, both internally in terms of marshalling and really professionalizing the
entirety of her staff and achieving some excellent outcomes in litigation, and,
I think, improved perception by the courts and what they expect of the
Attorney General’s Office.
MS. KAGAN: Yes. I have seen that. So how many attorneys were there in the office when
you joined?
MS. GERE: In all of OAG? There were probably several hundred, probably close to 300
maybe. It was a big office, and, of course, the office had not only civil
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litigation but was responsible for criminal work, juvenile, and certain other
designated local agency enforcement activities.
MS. KAGAN: Right. And then the maximum sentence was changed for certain
misdemeanors and those cases were transferred from the U.S Attorney’s
Office to OAG. So that upped their caseload significantly.
MS. GERE: That’s a perennial issue, and I am confident the current Attorney General still
is trying to wrest local control over local crimes, but so far, Congress has not
seen fit to do that.
But OAG also had not only criminal and commercial work, it had child
support, a whole group of lawyers that ensured payment and collection of
child support orders, responsibility for the welfare of children. It had a labor
and employment section that handled internal employment issues. It was a
busy office and one that Irv, through dint of his reputation and his work,
elevated the office.
OAG has been exceedingly lucky to have had in leadership people like
Chuck Ruff, Judge John Ferren, Judge Judy Rogers, Judge Inez Smith Reid,
Judge Vanessa Ruiz, some of the really outstanding lawyers of the city who
agreed as public service to go in and run the office. Bob Spagnoletti came in
from the U.S. Attorney’s Office more recently and really reorganized the
office to elevate its own self-image. He’s the one who decided we’re going
to be called, as other states are, an attorney general’s office, and we’re going
to act like one and start teaming up with other state AGs and forming teams
to take advantage of assistance from other jurisdictions. So I think Irv was
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one more in that category of people who was giving it his all, and he too, just
as I was, was close to the end of his active legal career and had been a partner
at Arnold and Porter, had been very high up in the Justice Department, had
been the General Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives and had done
a lot of significant legal work, but I think he too came to the conclusion he
wanted to close out in public service.
MS. KAGAN: When did he join the office?
MS. GERE: He would have started in January of 2011, and I joined the office in May of
2011. He was still assembling people and trying to snag people from other
parts of his life to come in and work at OAG.
MS. KAGAN: Did he increase the management team?
MS. GERE: I believe he did, probably more in some reorganization ways because I think
he recognized the volume of work. He did not have enough money to take
people out of doing on-the-ground work and make them managers or
supervisors. I think he tried to look at the office and make some changes that
made sense without taking away from the people who were actually on the
ground doing the work.
MS. KAGAN: But it sounds like he brought in a good number of people.
MS. GERE: Yes. As many as he could in the Civil Litigation Division. He was able to
bring in, I don’t know if you ever knew him, Jon Pittman, who was a partner
at Crowell and Moring. Jon’s younger, but he hadn’t been in public service,
and he was looking for an opportunity and somehow Irv prevailed upon him
to apply, and he did. I worked in a supervisory position with Jon for a year
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or so, and he then became George’s Assistant Deputy when I moved. Jon
now is a judge on Superior Court, which I think speaks well of him and
OAG. There was another lawyer that I worked very closely with in the Civil
Litigation Division, Shana Frost Matini, who also now is a judge on Superior
Court. So I think the office has done very well for itself, and I think the
community is the luckier for it.
It was very interesting work. As I said, I loved the hustle and the bustle,
and all these different teams of lawyers going to trial and preparing. As a
trial lawyer, you prepare, prepare, prepare, but there’s always something that
happens that makes you go oh my gosh, now I’ve got to pivot and do
something else. So, it was pretty much day-by-day doing that, which was
exciting, and the people who work in the office are very dedicated. They,
almost all of them, could have gone out anywhere and made a lot more
money, but they couldn’t have been in court as much, and they couldn’t have
been in public service.
MS. KAGAN: The office also became more attractive once they set the salary to be on par
with the Public Defender’s Office, which is based on a federal salary.
MS. GERE: Yes. I think that’s very true, and that was something that Irv started and Karl
Racine when he became Attorney General was very successful in getting
more money for the office overall to hire staff. For example, there was no
one to work with Karl and the Chief Deputy as Senior Counsel. If there was
research to be done or work to be done, you needed a more junior lawyer to
do something like that to ensure that the groundwork is done. Karl and Chief
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Deputy Natalie Ludaway were able to hire two outstanding women to serve
as Senior Counsel, Stephanie Litos and Elizabeth Wilkins. So Karl was able
to get a lot more of that type of support once OAG became independent of
the Mayor’s office and could go to the City Council for its own budget.
MS. KAGAN: Was there an increase in sub-dividing within the Civil Litigation Division of
MS. GERE: No. There are sections within the Civil Litigation Division, but there have
always been sections. To kind of fast forward, but I don’t want to leave this
phase of my OAG days without talking for a couple of minutes about
something that I felt very proud to be a part of at OAG. That was when Irv
Nathan had somehow, somewhere, sometime had a conversation with Dean
Treanor at the Georgetown Law School and they were talking about some
other program, and I don’t even remember which one it was, where a local
law school teamed up with a local DA’s office or Attorney General’s Office
to have a fellowship program, to bring in law school graduates and then have
them work for a year as lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office. So Irv was
so taken with the idea that he basically said to me, Sally this is a great idea,
and I would like to put you in charge of this. So by the time we finished I
think the first year, maybe the second year, we had every local law school
except Catholic in the program. Catholic was at that time having some
serious financial issues because the way the program operated was that the
law schools contributed half the salary of the fellows, and our office
contributed the other half, so it meant that the law schools had to have
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enough money or come up with the money to pay the young lawyers. They
didn’t get benefits, health benefits, but they got jobs. The fellowship program
was named in memory and recognition of the extraordinary legacy of Chuck
Ruff who also led the Corporation Counsel Office, OAG’s predecessor.
MS. KAGAN: How many slots were there?
MS. GERE: It kind of varied, but it was between ten and fifteen over time, and so
essentially each one of the divisions in the office got either one or two Ruff
Fellows for the year. It was, and still is going strong. Loren AliKhan, the
Solicitor General, took the program over when I left. She and I worked on it
together for the last year I was there. The program has been extremely
successful, and I mark the success by the number up young lawyers who’ve
remained in public service, many of them in OAG, and many of them in the
D.C. government, several of them in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and several
more at Main Justice. It really was great for the Office because these were
bright, fresh, newly minted attorneys saying to some of these older lawyers
who’d been around for a while, well why do you do it that way. The answer
could not be because that’s the way I’ve always done it. That’s really not a
satisfactory answer because the new lawyers would push back and ask why.
So it really was a terrific program. It was a fine linkage also for keeping the
law school part of the local community, and part of the way to do that was to
act through our Attorney General who served the local community. That was
and is a terrific program.
MS. KAGAN: When did it start?
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MS. GERE: It started in 2012. We did a lot of the groundwork and Tarifah Coaxum,
OAG’s CAO, worked on a whole lot of financial issues. Fortunately there
were a couple of very good people at OAG who figured out a way to make
the money work. Tarifah Coaxum was all onboard with it, and she was the
person that I relied upon to figure out which pocket and page the dollars
came from. I think I may have mentioned that in the sort of the small world
way of things in Washington that two of the students that I taught at
Georgetown became Ruff Fellows and joined OAG through the program.
And I supervised each of them during my time and theirs at OAG.
MS. KAGAN: When did you start teaching at Georgetown?
MS. GERE: I started teaching in 1994. I taught from 1994 to 2015.
MS. KAGAN: Maybe we can talk more about that later.
MS. GERE: So that was a good overview of my work at OAG. Obviously, even though I
lived in the District for thirty years, it really gave me new insights into how
the city operated, how the Mayor’s office operated, how City Council
operated, how local law got made, how we dealt with Congress, which really
has a thumb on us. It was a very educational time, not just from a legal
perspective but from a legislative perspective—how do things really run in
the District. But what happened then was of course the District ended up
having its very first elected Attorney General, which was either going to be a
disaster for OAG, a disaster meaning someone would run or be elected who
really was not equipped to run an office and to establish autonomy and
independence from a mayor to make the whole process work.
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MS. KAGAN: That was under Fenty?
MS. GERE: No. This was, I can’t remember when the vote was taken because the people
in the District of Columbia voted for an independent Attorney General, but it
then did not come to pass until the next election, so it was several years later.
Mayor Bowser was the mayor, so it was the end of Mayor Gray’s term. Irv
left a little bit before the end of Mayor Gray’s time in part to allow the person
who was elected to be the next OAG to get started and get things organized.
The city was extremely lucky to have Karl Racine step up and run for
Attorney General. Karl had been the managing partner at Venable, had been
at PDS, and had been in the White House Counsel’s Office. He was a real
lawyer, and still is.
MS. KAGAN: A lot of candidates threw their hat in the ring, and it was unclear where they
even got their hat.
MS. GERE: Right. But fortunately for all of us who live in the District, Karl was
successful in being elected Attorney General. That brought more changes to
the Office. For me, I was very excited. I knew Karl just a very little bit, not
well at all. I was high enough up in the office that I wondered whether Karl
would come in and essentially ask for resignation or reassignment by all the
deputies and assistant deputies so he could kind of restock the shelves with
his own folks, and I thought I would be one of the first to go given that I was
identified as being an Irv Nathan person. Fortunately for me that did not
happen, nor honestly did it happen generally. Karl, to his credit, did not do
anything precipitous. He kept people in place until he really had an
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opportunity to see how the office operated, how the Deputies operated, and
the very first order of business honestly was establishing our independence
from the Mayor’s office. That took great focus by everyone, but particularly
by Karl, and Natalie Ludaway who was hired as his Chief Deputy. Natalie
was a partner in a local law firm that has very strong local roots, and she was
very, still is, very well connected, and knew her way around the city and
around litigation. She and I had served on the Committee on Admissions as
Bar Examiners many years earlier but had remained friends. She too was a
real lawyer, so we were lucky to have two real lawyers running the office.
The changes that Karl made, after he stepped back, and once we got
through the issues with the Mayor’s office and came out intact with our
independence in place, Karl very much wanted to bring the office up to speed
in the affirmative litigation realm, which in the past had been ably handled by
an Assistant Deputy by the name of Bennett Rushkoff, who now is an ALJ.
But there was never enough money, and with Irv, Bennett’s Section
identified the big things and addressed those. Karl wanted to be more active,
particularly in the realm of working with other AGs, the Maryland AG, the
California AG’s office, New York, Delaware, Washington State.
Everywhere. But that took money and that took staff, so Karl wanted to beef
up, if you will, that part of the office. Obviously, that was going to take
some time, and the person, Ellen Efros, who had been the Deputy of the
Public Interest Division under which that work had been placed, left the
office and went to become General Counsel to the City Council, so there was
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no Deputy in place. Karl and Natalie prevailed upon me to move, and they
lured me, saying you can just be “Acting” Deputy for a while. You don’t
have to give up your other position of Assistant Deputy. We just need
somebody to fill in for a while. So I agreed to do that, and it took a bit of
time after they got to see who was where. I ultimately was named, after
going through a competitive hiring process, I was named Deputy of the
Public Interest Division. So now my work had a feel much more as it did
when I was at Main Justice. Huge cases, things that made the headlines. Not
necessarily things that went to trial but that caused a lot of public interest.
There was the sale of PEPCO, which was a big administrative process and
hearings before the Public Service Commission. Again, all the class actions,
and at that point, we were doing gun litigation, trying to have upheld the
revisions that had been made to the District’s gun laws in the wake of the
Heller decision. We had issues with Congress on budget autonomy, who was
writing our budget and who was approving our budget. So there were some
major pieces of litigation that were going on in that Division. I was not able
to leave Salazar, which was the Medicaid case, behind with George. I took
that with me. So I continued to be responsible for that and was lucky then to
have one of the younger lawyers in the Public Interest Division, Brad Patrick,
assigned to the case to work with me who did just a terrific job. He’s now
with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Georgia. So I started out then too
overseeing some of the new affirmative cases that Karl wanted to bring.
MS. KAGAN: How many attorneys were in that division?
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MS. GERE: Not enough. Maybe thirty-ish. I can’t even remember because there were
some rejiggering of folks, and that Division also was responsible for the part
of the office that oversaw licensure of nurses, doctors, housing permits and a
diverse amount of administrative and regulatory work. It was a whole
different world, mostly that was in the administrative OAH realm. So that
was part of my oversight too, which was, again, some disparate parts that
were put together. Ultimately, Karl took the affirmative action folks and had
some housing folks from another division, put them together, and started the
Public Advocacy Division, which made sense. Who was doing affirmative
work and who was doing defensive work, and kind of keeping all those lanes
in some organized order. And I stayed very active in the Public Interest
Again, I also was basically in charge of the Ruff Fellowship Program
during my time in the Public Interest Division. There was an Assistant
Deputy slot that was assigned to me, and a terrific guy was picked for that,
Chad Copeland, who had been in the Division for many years and was a bit
of an institutional knowledge person. That was terrific. And then I had
Section Chiefs in charge of various parts of the layers of management. A lot
of very talented lawyers, some of whom had been there many years and
many brand-new lawyers. So it was a good mix of folks. It was hard to
decide to leave. There wasn’t a day that I was unhappy to get up and go to
work, which certainly counseled for staying on as long as I could keep my
fingernails gripping the ledge. But at the same time, I saw that there were
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limited opportunities for managerial promotions in the office, and I felt as
though I had been there long enough. I’d made my mark. I had done a lot of
the things that I wanted to do, and so I decided it was time for me to move on
and move on as in retire from the active practice of law. I can’t say that after
I did it I didn’t regret it. But sort of fleetingly because Karl did come to me
afterwards, after I had told him that I wanted to retire, he came to me and
said can we come up with something that’s part-time? Can we come up with
something where you’re a consultant? Something to make sure that we can
take advantage of you and what you’ve learned and what you’ve done. But I
knew myself too well to know that I wouldn’t have been able to put
guardrails around myself, and it would have been right back in the thick of
things. And again, it was an exciting place to work and good that its
reputation had improved, the salaries had improved, and the Ruff Fellows
introduced a whole cohort of new lawyers to the work, but we all have to
recognize there’s a time for us, and I felt that I had made the most of my time
and now it was someone else’s time.
MS. KAGAN: How long did it take you to make the decision once you first started thinking
about it?
MS. GERE: Probably not that long. But I knew that if I fretted over it too long, I would
just be fretting forever, and I needed to make a decision, and I need to say it
out loud and actually tell somebody that I was going to do it. Obviously, I
talked to my husband about it.
MS. KAGAN: Was he retired at the time?
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MS. GERE: He was retired at the time. He had retired a full year before I did, more than
a year before I did, because his goal was to write this book that he had been
working on forever. I finally said to him the time is now. If you’re going to
write it, you need to write it. You can’t write it and be a full-time litigator. It
just doesn’t work, so you need to retire. So he retired, and the last thing that
he wanted was for me to be retired at the same time that he was at home
writing. I would have been nothing but a distraction, and I did not want to
take my first year of retirement to watch him sit at the computer writing a
book. He had finished his first draft of the book, John Houbolt: The Unsung
Hero of the Apollo Moon Landings, and so the coast was clear, we thought.
Of course, who knew that the editor had different ideas about how much a
first draft needed to be a fifth or sixth draft.
So I retired in February of 2018. Every year, Bill and I, for the last
decade, have gone to a little inn in Vermont for a long weekend. I had never
been at the inn but that I didn’t have a work crisis to interfere with my little
vacation. So looking at retirement, I thought, you know, if I’m going to do
this, I need to do it before February so I can feel what it’s like to go to this
wonderful place and actually enjoy it. So that’s what I did.
MS. KAGAN: Then you could stay for a week if you wanted.
MS. GERE: Actually, in celebration, we did stay an extra night, so that was good. In any
event, that’s what I did to retire. They wanted to have a farewell party for me
at OAG and all that, and I said no, I really don’t want anything. I left my
firm and told them no farewell parties. It feels like a wake or a funeral. I
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don’t want that. It would make me feel like I’m dead already, so my firm
was very gracious in my exit and honored my request. They gave me a
lovely gift but did not put me through a farewell thing. OAG did not listen to
me quite as well. The staff put together something lovely, and it was all
really just the people that I’d worked with most closely. It was just perfect.
MS. KAGAN: Was it a surprise?
MS. GERE: Yes. It was a surprise because I had really expected them to follow my
instructions better. But it was very nice, and it was a good way to end. I got
to say goodbye to people that I might not otherwise have seen from outside
the OAG building.
So then we went on vacation February. Then I came back in March, and I
thought I wonder what’s going to happen now. All of a sudden, I got a phone
call from Darrin Sobin, who works for the D.C. Bar and who had clerked for
the judge that I had clerked for, who was way younger than I am. He said, I
want to take you out for a retirement lunch, and I said oh, that’s very nice,
that’s lovely, let’s do it. And so we set up a date, and then the next thing I
know, he said to me Bob Spagnoletti wants to come too. Okay, well I know
who Bob Spagnoletti is. But I have no idea why he wants to come to a lunch
to celebrate my retirement. I should have been more astute because at that
time, Bob was the new Chief Executive Officer of the D.C. Bar. So we went
to lunch, the three of us, and I pretty much sat down and had taken my coat
off, and Bob and Darren said, we want you to run for the Board of Governors
of the D.C. Bar. I said what? No. That’s crazy. Why would you want
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somebody who’s retired from the active practice of law being on the board.
They clearly had given thought to it and said, we would like people with a lot
of different kinds of experience, people with other kinds of board experience,
people with government experience, people who have also private practice
background. We think that you should run.
MS. KAGAN: You had it all.
MS. GERE: I thought well that’s all a very interesting idea, but I haven’t run for office
since I was in grade school and that didn’t work out well. I didn’t get elected
president of my 6th grade class. So in any event, they said just go through
your contacts, and you’ll be able to figure it out. That was way easier for
them to say than for me to do. I then ended up getting on a track of trying to
very quickly put together the forms to be nominated. Just because they urged
me, there’s a whole formal nomination process. I had to be reviewed and
vetted by those people, and then I needed to figure out how to run a
campaign without an office, without a staff. I wouldn’t have been able to do
it at OAG on government time. Anyway I had the good fortune to have my
friend Loren AliKhan, the Solicitor General of the District of Columbia, who,
in her spare time, is a super-duper tech guru, and she helped me organize my
contacts and figure out how to send out emails asking for people’s votes. So
I did, and I ran, and I won, much to my shock and amazement.
The other thing that Bob and Darrin said to me, you’ve given back to the
profession your whole career, why are you stopping now? So that was
another way of looking at service on the Board of Governors as it’s really
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supporting our profession. So now I am in my third year of a three-year
term. In June of this year, I will be finished with my term.
MS. KAGAN: You’re not going to run again?
MS. GERE: I don’t think so. I’ve done my thing. One of the big issues for me as part of
the Board of Governors. Well, two things. One, to help with the transition
from the stranglehold that the prior executive director had had for thirty years
on the Board of Governors and assist the new executive director, his team,
and the new Board of Governors with assuring transparency, diversity of
staff, understanding of the roles of board members and executive directors
and staff. One of the most important things was I truly believed that the bar,
with 109,000 members, and now a property owner because it owns its own
building, needed a general counsel. To me, that was a very important thing
for the bar to focus on and to accomplish. We recently have hired the very
first general counsel of the bar, and she started probably not even a month
MS. KAGAN: Who is it?
MS. GERE: It’s a woman by the name of Erum Mirza. She had worked for several years
in her career in private practice at Arnold and Porter and then had worked for
a nonprofit trade association. So really understanding how boards work,
what an executive director does, what the role of a general counsel is, and she
just seemed to be the perfect person for our inaugural general counsel. We
had terrific people who applied, which was also gratifying that people
thought that it was a challenge that they wanted to take.
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MS. KAGAN: Were you on the selection committee?
MS. GERE: The executive committee of the Board of Governors acted as kind of an
advisory committee, but as with all nonprofits, the hiring of staff, and general
counsel is considered to be staff, the final decision is made by the executive
director. It’s standard practice. So we spent a lot of time interviewing
people, looking at papers and so forth to give advice. It was a very thorough
and very open process, which I think also was important.
MS. KAGAN: That’s great. So were you a big part of the process?
MS. GERE: Well I’m on the executive committee and was part of the movement within
the Board of Governors to assure that it came to fruition. When I first was on
the board, the idea was floated. It was not embraced by all, so it meant kind
of going back at it and bringing it forward.
The current bar president Susie Hoffman, well, she’s not current now. She
has already finished her term as President, but it was under her
administration, shall we say, that this got passed and then passed on to the
new folks to implement.
MS. KAGAN: Have you played any role in bar president transition since you’ve been on the
MS. GERE: Yes. We have had, and not to disclose too many things, but we had some
issues that faced the new bar president who came in and had to hit the ground
running, obviously with COVID, with a lot of the issues related to Black
Lives Matter demonstrations, and what the bar could or could not say
publicly. It was very much a swift transition that Geoff Klineberg had to step
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into, and he’s been fabulous, another good, steady, practical, objective voice
in some tumultuous times.
MS. KAGAN: That’s fortunate.
MS. GERE: Yes. Very fortunate. And I think the people who are serving on the Board of
Governors at the moment are really solid and very much dedicated to the
profession and to the Bar and to its members, which you want to have in your
board that’s governing you. So that has taken up probably more time than I
thought it would. On the other hand, I think it’s been very important work,
and I’m glad that I’ve had a little extra time to devote to some of the work
that I might not otherwise have had.
But in framing my retirement, I also have had to kind of step back and
decide what of my volunteer work I was going to continue with.
MS. KAGAN: What activities had you had going on?
MS. GERE: I had been and have been for many years involved, and a board member for
quite a few years now, in the Frederick B. Abramson Scholarship
Foundation, which gives scholarships to disadvantaged D.C. high school
graduates from public schools. More important than the money that we give,
we have very targeted mentorship that goes through four years of college.
We give scholarships for the entire four years of a student’s time in college,
unlike a lot of organizations that give one year and then you’re on your own.
We actually identify our scholars and increase their scholarship money the
longer they stay in school. We pair them with a mentor. Our mentorship
program is very active. We have a lot of resources. The organization is
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about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Fred Abramson was a past president
of the D.C. Bar. He was also Bar Counsel heading up the disciplinary
system, a lawyer in private practice, and again, serendipity in life, was
someone who was a mentor to me. So I’ve been very supportive, as has Bill,
my husband, of the organization for the past thirty years. I now am Vice
President of the organization. The organization has grown, has evolved, has
grown up. We have a terrific young man who is our President, who started
out many years ago as one of our scholars. He graduated from Dunbar High
School, went to Williams College for his college years. His mentor was Irv
Nathan, so Irv too is involved in the Abramson Foundation, another way that
I had known Irv. But it’s a terrific organization. Bill and I are currently
mentoring a young woman who is at Cornell. There’s no end of work.
There’s no end of time that could be spent helping students, polishing our
programs, figuring out operationally from a governance perspective how
we’re going to operate, where we find dedicated board members, how we
train them. There’s a lot to do.
MS. KAGAN: How did the foundation come to be?
MS. GERE: When Fred passed away, and he was very young, I think he was about 55, he
had touched the lives of a number of people, many of whom got to know
Fred because he was involved in the Judicial Nomination Commission for the
District of Columbia. He made it his goal to encourage women and lawyers
of color to apply for judgeships, and there are many judges on Superior
Court, some of them now retired, who will tell you that it was because of
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Fred Abramson that they became judges. Paul Friedman was the Bar
President following Fred, so he worked very closely with Fred. And Paul
and his wife Liz became close friends with Fred. There’s a whole host of
people who admired Fred, and when Fred passed away, everyone decided
okay well what can we do to carry on Fred’s legacy, most of which was
mentoring and encouraging young people educationally and then
professionally. So they decided to start this scholarship organization, and it
started in the living room of Liz and Paul Friedman’s home thirty years ago
and so we’re still going.
MS. KAGAN: That’s great.
MS. GERE: We’ve had some terrific young people who are now much more grown up
come through our program. One of our scholars recently won the primary for
Ward Four, for the seat on City Council, so she likely will be elected to serve
on the City Council. We have another young woman who was just named
one of 40 Hispanic Nurses Under 40 to watch in the future. These young
people with the organization with our mentorship behind them have just done
remarkable things. We have another young woman whose father was
incarcerated, and she’s my double success story because I got to know her
through Girl Scouts and her Gold Award project, and then she applied and
became an Abramson Scholar, but her Gold Award project was to start a nonprofit
organization to help kids who wanted to go to college but whose
parents were incarcerated so had a real uphill battle. Our Gold
Award/Abramson Scholar, Yasmine Arrington, went to Elon for college.
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She graduated from college, got her divinity degree from Howard University
and now has this nonprofit that she essentially runs and has given out
scholarships and figured out ways to identify and help kids whose parents are
incarcerated. So I mean it’s really, especially somebody as I am who doesn’t
have children of my own, you may recognize a theme through here,
recognizing and doing what I can to support other young people who clearly
can use a hand. But boy are they going to go someplace and do something
positive with it, and that’s very satisfying.
MS. KAGAN: Is your mentorship term the four years of college?
MS. GERE: Yes. So we are in year three with our mentee, and she has been trying to
figure out school and her life in this COVID environment. She has made the
decision to take her classes virtually, even though Cornell has attempted to
offer some courses in person, but I think between her and her mom, they
have decided what’s best for her is to be here at home.
MS. KAGAN: So she’s going to stay here?
MS. GERE: Yes. And do her classes online. So that takes up some of my retirement
time. The other thing, as I mentioned, is my work with the Girl Scouts,
which mostly involves working with the girls who get their Gold Award,
which is the highest award that one can get in Girl Scouting, and much
harder to get than what the Eagle Scouts tout.
MS. KAGAN: What does it take?
MS. GERE: It takes a lot of work and a lot of gumption. There’s a very rigorous process
of applying. A young woman identifies a project that has to have a lasting
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impact on her community. She has to identify how it is going to be run,
planned, what’s going to be involved, how she’s going to get volunteers to
work on it, how she’s going to get funding, how she is going to attempt to
assure that it is successful and continues once she goes off to college.
MS. KAGAN: That’s a tall order.
MS. GERE: It’s a tall order. And there are review processes in place every step of the
way. It’s a very hard award to attain. It’s the kind of thing where at least
my understanding is that a lot of admissions officers, if they see that you’re a
Gold Award recipient, put you in a separate pile, a to be considered more
closely file. In the, again, kind of small world happening, unfortunately not
with a happy ending, there was a young woman who got her Gold Award that
I met. She, in college, even high school and then certainly in college, had
decided she wanted to be a lawyer. So I said to her, why don’t you apply to
be an intern at OAG, and you’ll see what it’s like to be a lawyer. She did,
and she got hired, and she worked for me. She was fabulous. She went to
UVA undergrad. She then went to Georgetown for law school and
graduated. She became a Ruff Fellow at OAG, did a spectacular job, and
was hired in a full-time position in the Civil Litigation Division. She just
wowed everybody with her work. She was so happy, loved every minute of
it. I got a call, unfortunately, six months after she had started, and she had a
brain aneurysm and died. A very young woman who clearly had the world
ahead of her and had already made a mark at a young age. So that was very
– 254 –
In any event, I’ve made some, as I said, terrific contacts through the Girl
Scouts, and done more mentoring.
MS. KAGAN: Have you stayed in touch with your mentees?
MS. GERE: I have stayed in touch with several of them. I have another one that was a
young woman who worked at OAG as an intern and was an Abramson
Scholar. She graduated in May from Notre Dame law school and is looking
for a job, so I’ve done mock interviews with her. I stay in touch as best I can
with many of these people, and then I still have my professional mentees, but
they’re my people that I worked with, younger lawyers who are now in
private practice that I stay in touch with, and I talk to about the rigors of
being in a law firm. What did you do when this happened? What advice do
you have in this or that situation? People in government, the same thing.
Should I leave the government, should I stay here? So I’ve stayed in touch
with lots of people.
MS. KAGAN: That’s terrific. Any other extracurriculars? Not that you have excess time
for anything else.
MS. GERE: I did, through the Bar, have my one remaining extracurricular activity to tell
you about. Susie Hoffman had asked me last year to be the planning chair
for the Bar Conference to mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the
19th Amendment. I spent months with a planning committee and right down
to the wire. The conference was going to be held at the Omni Shoreham, but
COVID came, and the Omni Shoreham cancelled. Obviously, we could not
have a thousand people coming into the District in June, which is when the
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conference was scheduled. So we now have reimagined the conference and
it will be offered virtually. We still have a star-studded cast. It’s changed a
little bit as people’s schedules have changed. Our focus remains on the
history of the 19th Amendment and the importance of voting rights,
obviously becoming even more important now. Our conference has been
rescheduled for October 20 and 21, 2020, so very close to election time. A
lot of the issues on our program have to do with voting rights. So that has
resurfaced, and I don’t have time for anything else. I’m working on that at
the moment double time.
MS. KAGAN: I can imagine. Well good for you. How long did you teach at Georgetown?
MS. GERE: I taught at Georgetown for about twenty years, I would say.
MS. KAGAN: So you started when you were at the law firm?
MS. GERE: Yes. When I was at the law firm and really had to figure out ways to do that
on my own time, so I taught only at night, after hours, so would have to
figure everything out not to interfere with my client work. I always co-taught
so that in the event I had to travel for work, it wouldn’t be that the class had
to be cancelled. There would be another professor who would be there to
MS. KAGAN: Who was your co-teacher?
MS. GERE: Well, it depended on what time. I started out teaching with my, he wasn’t
even my husband then, but I started out teaching with the man who now is
my husband.
MS. KAGAN: How did you meet?
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MS. GERE: We met through something called the Inns of Court, a lawyers organization.
And Bill actually fixed me up with somebody else because he was married,
and so he fixed me up with somebody else. That didn’t work out, and
eventually his marriage didn’t work out either, having nothing to do with me.
I didn’t really know him well, but we got to the point where we were both
then single and so we started out as friends and kind of went from there. But
the teaching part of it, he already had been teaching at Georgetown for a few
years, and he would tell me about the women that he had in his class, and I
said you need another role model there. What are the women in the class
going to learn from you. So long story short, I interviewed with the dean and
was hired as an adjunct professor for the wonderful sum of it might have
been $500 a semester or something. I’m not sure. So Bill and I taught
together for a while.
MS. KAGAN: What class did you teach?
MS. GERE: We taught at that time a trial advocacy class.
MS. KAGAN: Was it a clinical course?
MS. GERE: Clinical. It was more of a practicum, I would say. How to write an
interrogatory, how to cross examine somebody, that kind of thing. At one
point, Georgetown decided that it wanted, as were many other law schools, to
start shifting toward practical education, and we talked with the dean. There
was a course on civil discovery, there was a course on trial advocacy, but
nobody who had put those pieces together for a student to see how the
litigation process actually worked, the writing an interrogatory is not an end
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in itself. It is a steppingstone for how to go to trial in the event you’re not
able to settle your case. So we put together a proposal to the dean for a twosemester
course that would run for the entire year and start with interviewing
a client and ending with an actual trial before a real judge. So Bill and I did
that for several years together. It became somewhat of a strain on our
MS. KAGAN: Were you married by that point?
MS. GERE: No. The school then was looking for somebody to teach an evidence course,
and somehow, they roped Bill into doing that. But that was, again, a very
intense course to be teaching so he couldn’t teach all of that and then have a
full-time job and write a book in spare time, which there wasn’t much spare.
Anyway, so then I for a number of years taught with one of my former
partners at Ross Dixon, and then he retired, and then I taught with another of
my Ross Dixon partners and then another, and then finally the last person
that I taught with was my associate at Ross Dixon, but by the time I was
teaching, he was running one of the offices at OAG, and so it seemed to us
that it was good for students to have not only the defensive perspective,
which was more my perspective, but someone with an affirmative litigation
perspective, which he introduced.
MS. KAGAN: When did you stop teaching?
MS. GERE: In 2015. He, Jimmy Rock, continued to teach, and he brought on a woman
from OAG, with whom I also had worked. She and he taught for a couple of
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years and then she had a child, and she ran out of time to be doing too many
extracurricular things.
MS. KAGAN: Is the course still being taught?
MS. GERE: No. Jimmy then continued his advancement in the office and again, just
simply didn’t have the time to devote to teaching, which I was sorry about
that, but we had a good run.
MS. KAGAN: What made you decide to step down from that?
MS. GERE: As I think about it, it was the amount of time that I was spending at work,
particularly transitioning to being the Deputy of the new Public Interest
Division. It was one thing to be somebody’s assistant deputy, George
Valentine, who is ultimately in charge, to being the person in charge myself
as AG Racine was reimagining what he wanted this Division to do and what
work individuals were assigned to do and who should be in which slot. It
just ended up being more time than I felt that I had and could still give my all
to teaching. Even though I didn’t get paid a lot, next to nothing, the students
were paying, and they deserved a truly engaged professor.
MS. KAGAN: Had you always or for a long time been interested in teaching, or was that
something that just sounded good when the opportunity came about?
MS. GERE: I believe that I talked about, and this is now ancient history between you and
me, but I think I talked about the year that I was at Justice where I ran and
taught the civil litigation courses for the Attorney General’s Advocacy
Institute. That was my first formal teaching, and then in private practice, I
did a lot of presentations, teaching of a sort, to a number of my clients about
– 259 –
Insurance coverage issues, employment issues, sexual harassment issues,
sexual harassment policy, investigations. And talking to a jury or talking to
judge is a form of teaching, so I think a good litigator never ever stops
teaching. Bill and I had thought well when we retire, we’ll both retire and
teach, and that would be a good way to close out our legal careers, but Bill
has been caught up in his book, I got caught up in work, and now we’re
retired, and I don’t really see us going back to any kind of formal teaching.
MS. KAGAN: Are you enjoying your retirement and the little bit of spare time you have
from all your obligations?
MS. GERE: Yes. I’m over now the two-year mark, but I think that COVID has altered
time, so I probably have had more time to devote to my volunteer work
without sacrificing my personal life, and part of that is because before the
pandemic, I would go out for lunch, I’d go out for drinks, and I’d go out for
dinner, and I would play with people’s kids and all that that. I no longer am
able to do that, but what I can do is get on a Zoom call with my mentee or a
phone call with another mentee or draft some governance policy for
somebody. So in some ways I don’t think that I have had a full impact of
actually being retired. I believe that stepping off the D.C. Board of
Governors in June will make a big difference in my time. I am serving one
year as the Vice President of Abramson, and then I’m termed out under our
MS. KAGAN: And no longer on the board?
– 260 –
MS. GERE: And no longer on the board. And the Girl Scouts is a well-oiled machine, so
it can consume as much or as little time as I have. My Abramson term will
be up in June as well. Maybe COVID will have relieved us a little bit more
maybe by June of 2021. So that’s when I’ll really feel what retirement is
MS. KAGAN: And no thoughts about what other things you might get involved with?
MS. GERE: No. I really hope to have more time and the ability post-COVID to spend
time with my friends and with my family. It’s been very sobering to have
lost George Valentine to COVID. It’s another one of those times when you
say we are not immortal or eternal. Once I am out of lockdown, I want to go
back and do what I liked to do just as much for me, which is to spend time
with friends.
MS. KAGAN: More than fair. So we periodically touched on what it was like to be a young
woman attorney back in the day when you were a young woman attorney, the
particular challenges that you faced, how your personal life was affected, and
the like. Do you have anything to add about that?
MS. GERE: I believe that I mentioned the book that I was reading in my little bit of extra
spare time recently, a book called Shortlisted, about the women who were put
on a shortlist for consideration for the Supreme Court starting decades ago,
even before I went to law school, and the book’s lessons are taught through
the life stories of the women who were pioneer lawyers and a few of them
judges and a few of them who got shortlisted for the Supreme Court.
Finally, we get to Sandra Day O’Connor who actually gets on the Supreme
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Court. But I read about their lives and think about my own. None of them
had an easy time, and in retrospect, I don’t think I had an easy time. Some of
the women affirmatively chose a career. Some of the women thought they
could balance work and family and do both. Most of them had varying ways
to cope, some of them more successful than others. A lot of it was dependent
on the support of their partners, whether they were married, officially or not.
I have been, I guess to that extent, lucky in my career that at least I was
married to two lawyers who understood the pressures of being in practice.
Neither of them understood the pressures of being a woman in practice
though. I believe for my first husband I made more concessions to his career
than in retrospect maybe I should have, but I can’t look back now, and I
certainly have had a terrific career.
MS. KAGAN: You ended up in a good spot.
MS. GERE: I ended up in a good spot. Not having children has been difficult, but I have
tried to supplement that with family members, nieces and nephews, and with
the people that I have worked with and mentored. In one way or another that
hole in my life kind of got, I won’t say “filled” but satisfied with what life
had presented me. And someone else may look at my life and say, well,
better off for you. You never would have gotten where you got had you been
tasked to juggle more than you did. You might not have been able to do it.
MS. KAGAN: Do you think that’s true?
MS. GERE: I have two younger sisters who were single moms, and I think maybe in
retrospect, that’s what I should have done. But I looked at them and knew
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myself, and I did not have the strength of either of them. Did that affect my
career? It allowed me to be the person to volunteer and say I’ll go to
Muskogee, Oklahoma, or I’ll stay late and write that brief, or I’ll take X
client to dinner and hope he doesn’t make some lewd suggestion at the end of
dinner. And all those things probably helped propel me in practice, to
become a successful partner and to be successful lawyer generally. The other
fact, if I’m going to be candid talk about all of this, and I guess that’s the
point of it. One of the other things, you asked me about was whether I had
ever wanted to be a judge. And I guess reading this book again has kind of
brought my own history back to me. I was shortlisted several times, for trial
court judgeships but I was not selected, which has been a disappointment. I
was disappointed because I so admired the judge that I worked for that I
wanted to be as she was. I wanted to be a judge that could treat people with
dignity and respect regardless of who they were and feel as though I could be
a just decider. But again, it wasn’t meant to be. My last effort was probably
doomed from the beginning because I really was too old. I think that the
more recent Presidents have been much more focused on putting people,
even on Superior Court, who could be there for two or three decades. I can’t
look back and focus on that because that was a door that closed but it opened
the door to going to OAG, frankly.
MS. KAGAN: Right.
MS. GERE: Because if I couldn’t do public service as a judge, I was darn well going to
figure out another way, and I did. One door closed, and another one opens.
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MS. KAGAN: Well no one could deny that you’ve had a really fulfilling life with
adventures yet to come.
MS. GERE: We kind of laugh about that, but there was a point early on in COVID where
Bill and I sat down because everyone said you need to have your affairs in
order, you two don’t have children, what would happen if something
happened to both of you, and all I can think is I don’t want my family to have
to try to figure too much out, so we spent several weeks kind of getting
everything organized and delivered to one of my nieces. It did allow me to
sit back and say if COVID takes me in the next few weeks, I’ve had a good
life, and that makes me feel very good.
MS. KAGAN: It doesn’t sound like you made bad choices made along the way or have
feelings of regret about anything.
MS. GERE: No. I can’t regret much. There are maybe some choices I could or should
have made differently. My mother would always say to me things happen for
a reason. I would never know what the reason was, but somehow that stuck
with me, and so you kind of pull up your big girl pants and go on.
MS. KAGAN: It doesn’t seem like any of the less-than-perfect choices or situations derailed
any of your goals.
MS. GERE: No I don’t think so.
MS. KAGAN: Or even curbed your enthusiasm for your career. Nothing really had a
negative impact on you.
MS. GERE: Right. And I was really incredibly lucky to work with people who made my
professional life exciting and interesting, and my personal life, I’m married
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to a wonderful person. I have still all my sisters and their children with me.
I consider myself fortunate.
MS. KAGAN: And for good reason.
MS. GERE: And to circle back to why we’re here which is the D.C. Circuit Historical
Society oral history project. I am eternally grateful that I have that thread
that started with my clerkship in that courthouse and has been frankly a
lifeline for me all that way to now. I’ve seen changes in that court. I’ve seen
changes in the physical plant. I’ve seen changes in the judges. I’ve seen
changes in the case types that they get. That’s been a unique perspective to
have had. “It” being the District Court, of which I know better than the D.C.
Circuit, but together, it’s an incomparable court. It’s easy to understand why
it is a steppingstone to the Supreme Court. It’s a place of intellectual
challenge and real-world problems for resolution. I’ve been lucky to be a
part of that. It’s also something that not everybody else has done. My real
dream would have been to be a judge on that court, and I did get shortlisted
for that. I got to the White House, I got interviewed, but I was not the one
selected. But I continued to advance my career and work with the court
through a variety of committees and work with the judges and cases in the
court so that I was able to stay connected.
MS. KAGAN: I venture to say that you wouldn’t have had the same breadth of impact in
your life had you been a judge. I understand that judges have a tremendous
effect on the lives of individual litigants who appear before them, but the
totality of your work has been remarkably far-reaching.
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MS. GERE: That’s a good way to look at it, Barbara. I appreciate that. Thank you.
MS. KAGAN: It certainly seems like that to me. As a citizen of the District of Columbia
and as a fellow attorney, I’m glad you had your hands in so many things in
such positive ways.
MS. GERE: Thank you. This has been terrific. I’m wondering if there’s anything else
that I should be thinking about telling you or whether we have come to a
conclusion. Or should we take a break and make a decision?
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Oral History of Elizabeth Sarah (“Sally”) Gere
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 Barbara Kagan, and the
interviewee is Elizabeth Sarah Gere. The interview took place by Zoom on Wednesday,
September 16, 2020. This is the seventh and final interview.
MS. KAGAN: Hi Sally.
MS. GERE: Hi Barbara.
MS. KAGAN: We’re here for our final wrap-up session. This is where we put a nice little
bow on Sally’s professional life.
MS. GERE: I am happy that we’ve come to a conclusion, but I must say I’m going to very
much miss our conversations, and I hope we continue them without having to
record them.
MS. KAGAN: Me too. It’s been a long time.
MS. GERE: It has. Pre-pandemic, even.
MS. GERE: Well, I do thank you, and I appreciate this opportunity to wrap things up, as
you say, and put a bow on it. I have given some further thought to how to
wrap this up and further reflections on my professional life, which, of course,
comes along with my personal life. For me, this year, which is the 100th
anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment whereby women won the
right to vote, is a significant time, as it is for all women. It is an historic
landmark that is the product of the hard work and sacrifice of a lot of women.
As part of my D.C. Bar responsibilities, I’ve been the planning chair for
our conference this year that is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the
19th Amendment. And in preparation for that, I’ve done a lot of reading
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about women’s suffrage and about the women who led the movement over
many decades because it took many decades to secure the vote for us. And
even after the 19th Amendment was passed, it took many more years for all
of us who are women to be able to vote. It reminded me that there are many
women whose stories have not been properly told, people history has
overlooked. So I appreciate the chance to be here and give my little share of
It also made me reflect and think more about the women in my life who
have had a tremendous impact on me, obviously starting with my own
mother who was forced to drop out of college because of the Depression and
her widowed 279 simply did not have enough money for her to finish
college. But nonetheless she was one of my biggest, most vocal, and most
supportive cheerleaders throughout her life and always encouraged me to
reach for the heights even when she had been unable to reach them. My
three younger sisters have been very supportive of me for many years. I’m
lucky to have a continuing cheerleading squad among my family, which has
been very important for me through a lot of ups and downs.
Of course the connection I have to the District of Columbia Court, to the
District of Columbia District Court in particular, is through Judge June
Green, for whom I clerked and who was my role model of how to be a
successful woman lawyer and not to lose my humanity. My humanity and
my empathy I definitely got from my mother, but I received from Judge
Green direction and instruction on how being a lawyer was not mutually
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exclusive with being a caring human being, that indeed the best lawyers were
able to have both or should demonstrate both.
So I’m very lucky to have had that kind of women as my role model
because, as we’ve discussed, there were very few women in the courtroom at
the time I was a law clerk. And so I’m happy to tell my story about my
professional life in the District of Columbia District Court from when the
doors were just beginning to open in the early 1970s to women in the court,
in practice and on the bench. I have been lucky during my professional life
to have been mentored by other women for whom I worked and with whom I
worked and to be able to pay that forward and mentor young women with
whom I worked over the many years. All of which has made me recognize
the importance of women in my personal life and women in my professional
life and women in my life in this court where, when I was a law clerk, there
were very few female law clerks at that time. There obviously was only one
female District Court judge, and yet here we are, many years later, and now
we have our second woman, Chief Judge Beryl Howell, serving as the chief
judge of the District Court for the District of Columbia. So I think the court
has come a great distance, and a lot of it has been through the hard work of
the women who have practiced there, frankly, including me, and being
involved in committees and helping the court do the tasks that the court was
responsible for doing and having the pleasure as a lawyer of appearing before
many of the judges on the District Court.
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So I think to tie all this together has been a real gift to me as well as I hope
helpful to anyone who may listen to this or read it in the future to understand
what being a woman lawyer was like through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s
and 2010s, a time of change for women in the law. It’s been a journey, and I
have been very fortunate to have had good strong women in my life. I hope
to have passed some of their strength through me to the next several
generations of women practicing law in this court and elsewhere. And thank
you, Barbara. It’s been wonderful to get to know you. Obviously, you’re an
icon in your own right. It’s been an honor for me to be interviewed by you.
MS. KAGAN: Well thank you for that, but I am not icon material, but I’ve learned a lot
from you. It’s been really wonderful. You really do embody all that you
wanted to be in your professional life. I think that part of the reason your
professional life has been successful and has been so important to you is
because there is no demarcation between who you are as a person and who
you are as a professional. So it’s been easy for you to be a good lawyer
because you’re a good person, and you came to the law with a certain set of
approaches, a certain set of values, and you’ve been able to stay true to them.
I think you have a strong will and a strong personality in all the best senses of
the words. Not everybody would have been able to pull it off like you did.
You didn’t really quite know what a pioneer you were at the time, which is
probably a good thing. Otherwise you might have been looking over your
shoulder too much and not just forging ahead. So it’s been great, I admire
you so much. It’s been terrific getting to hear about your life and your career
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and I appreciate your candor, which I think is very important, and will be
very valuable for the people who get to listen to this.
MS. GERE: Thank you again, and we’ll stay in touch for sure.
MS. KAGAN: Take care.