Wednesday, April 22, 2009
U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper to Retire Next Year
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the Central District of California will retire next March, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has reported.
In a post on its website, the office indicated that Cooper, 69, will retire from her seat March 15 after 26 years on the bench, including ten years on the district court.
Cooper could not be reached for comment, but Court of Appeal Justice Nora Manella, who served with Cooper on the district court until being tapped in 2006 to join this district’s Div. Four, called the report “sad news for the court.”
The Justice explained:
“She was a leading light. She was a great addition when she came to the court and a great contributor. I don’t want to say she was well behaved—that makes me sound like her mother. But she was well liked and respected by lawyers and it’s a significant loss.”
Manella said she was “not surprised” to learn of Cooper’s retirement, but declined to speculate why the judge was retiring rather than assuming senior status.
However, Cooper was born Feb. 9, 1940 and joined the district court in September 2000, meaning her combined age and years of service on the court as of next March would allow her to retire with a full salary under the so-called “Rule of 80” governing federal judges’ retirement.
Cooper was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and moved with her family to San Francisco in 1952. Her father, who died when she was young, was secretary to the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, while her mother worked as a doctor’s secretary.
After graduating from high school in 1958, Cooper took a job as a legal secretary. She said in a 1990 interview that despite her interest in the law, it never occurred to her to become a lawyer herself until she met the first woman attorney she had ever seen, Francis Hancock of San Francisco.
“She said, ‘What are you doing typing? You could be a lawyer.’ She was the first person ever to tell me that.”
Married and with two small children, Cooper began attending night classes at San Francisco City College and studied for five years, but never graduated.
When her husband was transferred to Los Angeles in 1971, she continued to work as a legal secretary and decided to attend Beverly Law School, now Whittier College of Law, on a special program for those without college diplomas.
She graduated first in her class, and was admitted to the State Bar in 1975.
Cooper said in a 1984 interview that she had decided to become a judge when she graduated, and planned her future career around that goal.
She joined the Appellate Department of the Los Angeles Superior Court as a research attorney working for then-Superior Court Judge Arthur L. Alarcon—now a senior judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal—and the following year became a deputy Los Angeles city attorney.
After two years handling misdemeanor prosecutions and working in the office’s criminal appellate section, Cooper left to serve again as Alarcon’s research attorney when he was elevated to this district’s Court of Appeal in 1978.
Cooper was elected a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner in 1983 by judges of the court, and initially presided over family law cases.
She later became the only commissioner in court’s long-cause program presiding over complex trials, including death penalty cases, and said in 1990 that she was still pleased to be serving as a commissioner after seven years.
However, six months later then-Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican, appointed her to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, even though Cooper is a Democrat.
Then-Gov. Pete Wilson, also a Republican, appointed Cooper to the Superior Court in 1992, and she was appointed to the federal bench by then-President Bill Clinton.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company