July 12, 2013

Caroline Glassman, Maine women's legal pioneer, dies at 90

Glassman's intellect and tenacity helped her become the first woman on Maine’s highest court.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Caroline Glassman, in a May 2008, photo.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

Glassman helped open up the practice of law through her own career, Wathen said.

“I think she made gender irrelevant,” he said. “She was definitely always a lady, and there’s a difference, but you judged her and those who followed her based upon their competence and performance rather than any thought of, ‘There’s a role for women and a role for men.’”

Glassman’s appointment to the Supreme Court – there were three female trial judges at the time – made her a role model and mentor for many women in the legal profession.

“As a female going into the profession ... it was really nice to have someone who had made it in the profession very successfully, to know it was possible and a good way to spend your career,” said Gavin, who watched Glassman’s swearing-in 30 years ago.

Glassman worked hard and expected her staff to do the same. In 14 years on the court, she never missed an oral argument, Gavin said.

“Some judges don’t ask many questions and just let lawyers drone on and on, but Caroline was not like that. She asked questions,” Gavin said. “She knew where the weaknesses were in each side’s arguments.”

Glassman wanted the seat on the Supreme Court because, as an appellate court, it helps to define the law.

Saufley, the chief justice, said, “She worried about the country itself moving toward longer and longer (criminal) sentences. She worried about making sure the criminal process was extremely fair and people didn’t rush to judgment.”

In 1972, Glassman represented the consumer-protection group COMBAT in its battle against a proposed rate hike by Central Maine Power Co. In 1977, she wrote a report for the Maine Commission for Women that focused on the legal inequities faced by widows, wives and divorcees.

She also played a central role in a controversial case in 1985, when she overturned a lower court’s decision to revoke the bail of Linwood Reeves, a convicted rapist in South Berwick who was appealing his case. She later revised her order, saying Reeves was entitled to bail with additional conditions to ensure the safety of the community.

Glassman’s dedication and work ethic didn’t ebb after she retired from the court in 1997.

She became active in the Russian American Rule of Law Consortium, a group of legal scholars and judges in Portland that worked with counterparts in Russia to expose them to the American legal system. She also volunteered at the Iris Network, reading and recording local newspaper stories for the visually impaired.

Glassman went to the gym three times a week until March of this year, when she moved into Village Crossings, an assisted-living facility in Cape Elizabeth, to avoid the steep stairs of her longtime home on Thomas Street in Portland’s West End.

In 1993, the Women’s Law section of the Maine State Bar Association created the Caroline Duby Glassman Award, given annually to a female lawyer who has worked to advance the position of women in the community or in the legal profession.

“She broke the glass ceiling on the bench with such style, grace and passion that she carved out a path for so many of us that followed,” Saufley said. “Many of us have lost a good friend, and a world has lost a stalwart supporter of individual rights.”

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at dhench@pressherald.com

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