Remembering Justice Pamela Minzner

September 23, 2007 on 7:22 pm | In Albuquerque

High Five
Justice Minzner swears in Judge Rudd, January 1, 2003

This column first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook on September 20, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

Remembering Justice Pamela Minzner
by Judge Merri Rudd

Over the past few weeks, you have probably read or heard about the death of New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Pamela B. Minzner. A list of her awards, accolades, and accomplishments would fill several columns. From those professional summaries, one might not know that Pam, as she instructed everyone to call her, was the nicest woman one could ever hope to meet.

I know because Pam Minzner cheerfully mentored me for over twenty years.

I met Pam in 1986 when I clerked for Judge William W. Bivins on the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Pam was also a Court of Appeals judge at that time. She treated me, a young, inexperienced law clerk, with inordinate kindness and respect. She patiently helped me to analyze legal issues, offered me her last $5 for lunch, and insisted that I take her umbrella to go to the commuter van because it was raining (I declined). And she was not even my boss.

Over the years she counseled and inspired, prodded and supported me. At times she believed in me more than I did in myself. She encouraged me to strive to be intelligent but intelligible, accomplished without being arrogant, and true to a high standard of ethics, no matter what. She taught me that generosity of heart is the greatest strength any of us can aspire to have.

She urged me to keep trying after I lost two bids for probate judge. She jubilantly swore me in with a few days’ notice in 2001 when I was appointed by the Bernalillo County Commission to fill the vacant position. Again, in 2003, she made time to swear me in before dashing off to attend the Governor’s inauguration. Although I presided over a small county court and she served on the highest court in the state, she made no distinction about our relative positions. Pam’s world view did not include a hierarchy.

How proud she was when I presented two of my former students to the Supreme Court for admission to the state bar as new attorneys. She had taught me how to mentor others.

Pam grappled with each case before her, meticulously crafting judicious decisions and dissents that were well-grounded in the law. Sometimes we debated ethical issues at length, playing devil’s advocate to each other and ultimately adopting the highest standard of ethics, even if that was more than the rules required.

In 1999, when Pam became the first female Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, she said in her speech, “This higher standard [of professionalism] is neither a matter of ethics nor a matter of malpractice. It is a standard that we ought to aspire to as a matter of life-long commitment. It is a journey without hope of official reward or fear of official sanction. We are looking for a better way…doing right for right’s sake.”

I have kept this quote on my wall for eight years.

Pam embodied many qualities: generosity, humility, humor, a community spirit, a positive attitude, a simple approach to life, independence, perseverance, and devotion to family, friends, cancer survivors, students, and colleagues. Pam managed her cancer and its complications for twenty years, conducting herself with dignity, grace, and a quiet appreciation for the present. She was gracious, considerate, and nonjudgmental. The arrogance that often accompanies power was absolutely absent in her. Her keen mind melded with a compassionate heart. She assumed the best of everyone, even those who might not have deserved her compassion. As Pam’s son said at her memorial, she lived a life that was meaningful, perpetually reflecting on whether she could have done better.

Pam led always with her heart and her intellect, not her ego. Would that we could all learn to be so selfless.

I was only one of those whom Pamela Minzner mentored. There are thousands of other people whose lives Pam influenced, inspired, and touched. Send your stories and remembrances of Pam, both personal and professional, to me at jueznm@aol.com, and I will compile them for Pam’s husband Dick and her sons, Max and Carl.

The last time I spoke with Pam was May 6 of this year. She called me at home to discuss a work matter. We talked for over an hour about the law, the judiciary, her illness, my future, her future, and her family. Although it was Sunday and we both had other obligations that day, she talked as though she had all the time in the world.

I wish she had.

Postscripts:

Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, Pam’s Harvard Law School roommate, wrote an enlightening article about women at Harvard Law. The article is posted at:

http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlg/vol27/mullarkey.php

State Bar of New Mexico, Bar Bulletin, Oct. 29, 2007: Scroll down to page 15 for a touching tribute to Pam from many sources.

Selections from Pam’s memorial, held at UNM’s Popejoy Hall on September 8, 2007:

Reverend Albertson or Rath said that Pam worked for justice in the law and for social justice. She lived this extraordinary welcome in both her personal and professional life. He spoke of lessons, such as, “Do not claim to be wiser than you are. Live peaceably with all. Your love must be completely sincere.” He concluded that Pam did all of these in her daily life.

Anne Bingaman remembered that when Pam was teaching full-time at the UNM School of Law and working up until she gave birth, this was no big deal, even though it was in the 1970’s and not a usual choice back then. “Of course, women can do it all. Pam was always directed to others. It was never about her.”

Pam’s son Carl said she knew how to live a life that was meaningful, of service, love, kindness and generosity. She perpetually reflected on everything–could she have done better?

Her younger son Max said that as a role model Pam was extraordinary, the most modest, patient and kind person who always assumed the best of everyone. She never wanted to criticize, was joyful in hope, patient in affliction. He lost his mother, but he will keep her always as his role model.

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez noted that Pam always ended her speeches with “Adelante,” Spanish for “keep moving forward.” Pam was a cancer survivor and a tireless legal scholar, She did what was right, and she gave the Court the discipline of her editing. She had a reservoir of genuine thoughtfulness and was constantly evalutaing herself. When asked if she had left anything undone, she said “no.”

Pam’s memorial service ended with the Reverend Francis Rath saying, “Harry Lauder, a famous opera singer, used to tell a story of his boyhood in Scotland. He liked to look from the window of his home during the gathering twilight, and watch the work of the lamplighter with his long pole. The man went from street lamp to street lamp as he ascended the hilly road, leaving a trail of lights behind him. Then, as the road sloped downward, the lamplighter disappeared from view. Someone has suggested that THAT is the pattern of a life well lived; someone who has left behind them a trail of lights. Pamela Minzner left behind a long trail of lights. Do not let those lights go out. May her memory and spirit be with us now and forevermore. Amen.”

Amen, indeed.

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