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

PORTLAND — Caroline Duby Glassman, the first woman appointed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, died Wednesday at Maine Medical Center at the age of 90 after a brief illness.

Caroline Glassman, in a May 2008, photo.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

Glassman had a career in which she dissolved gender barriers and helped mentor other women in the profession.

She was nominated for the state Supreme Court by Gov. Joseph Brennan, a Democrat, in 1983 and reappointed by Gov. John McKernan, a Republican, for a second seven-year term.

Leigh Saufley, the woman who is now the court’s chief justice, described Glassman as an “absolute force of nature” in Maine’s legal community.

“Everyone in the legal community knew Caroline Glassman because she was classy and very strong and a very articulate woman,” said Saufley, who was appointed by Gov. Angus King to fill the vacancy left when Glassman retired from the court in 1997.

“On issues of access to justice and how the system should respond ... she was tenacious, and many people would refer to her as stubborn because she would not let go of an issue if she thought it was important to making sure the truth of a case was actually addressed,” Saufley said.

When Glassman attended Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore., she was one of only two women at the school. Her father discouraged her from attending.

“Very unsupportive is being polite. He did not think she should be in law school and would not pay for it,” said Dale Gavin, an attorney at Thompson & Bowie in Portland who was Glassman’s first law clerk and a close friend.

Glassman worked as a waitress to put herself through law school and graduated summa cum laude. Still, she was offered only a legal secretary position after passing the bar in Oregon.

She eventually went to work for a title insurance company before being hired in San Francisco by the firm of Melvin Belli, a flamboyant litigator who represented many high-profile clients in the entertainment industry.

She married Harry P. Glassman in 1953 and they had one son, Max, who now lives in Virginia. The family moved to Maine in 1963, when Harry Glassman became a professor at the University of Maine School of Law. He served on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court from 1979 until his death in 1981.

Daniel Wathen, who served with Glassman on the Supreme Court, met her when she was a stay-at-home mom, shortly after the family moved to Maine and he was attending the law school.

Eventually, he became a trial judge and Glassman appeared in front of him as a lawyer.

In private practice, Glassman focused on family law and criminal defense.

“She was a zealous advocate. ... She was very serious, very focused on what she was doing,” Wathen said. “She had a way of sort of dismissing any attempt of making something light.

“She had steely eyes,” Wathan said. “She was always an attractive woman – silver-haired, strong features, strong chin, a fairly low and husky voice. She had no trouble being heard.”
That forcefulness did not diminish when she joined the state’s highest court.

“She studied every case from beginning to end,” Wathen said. “She mastered all of the details and facts. She was sort of a detail person, I was sort of a big-picture person. Even though we were very different and we fought a lot at times – disagreed in chambers – we recognized we complemented each other.”

And after a long day, they would occasionally head to Three Dollar Dewey’s or some other Old Port pub for a pint of Guinness and a cigarette, he recalled fondly.

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