Thursday, October 31, 2002
Justice Lillie Remembered for Hard Work, Long Years of Service
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Judicial icon Mildred Lillie was remembered yesterday as a hardworking, plain-spoken woman who closely guarded her deep religious faith.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, celebrating Lillie’s funeral mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, said the presiding justice “believed that God had gifted her in a special way” and showed that she respected that gift by her approach to her work.
Mahony said he chose the scriptural passage in which God asks Solomon what blessing he would choose because it most reminded him of Lillie, his “favorite justice.”
Solomon asked not for riches or power but for wisdom, making his name synonymous with wisdom through the ages.
“I know that had God appeared to Justice Lillie she would have responded, ‘Lord grant me the gift of wisdom and knowledge,’” Mahony said.
“That’s how she lived her life,” the cardinal told Lillie’s friends, colleagues and admirers. “She was an extraordinary jurist and legal scholar.”
Lillie, the presiding justice of Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal, died Sunday after a brief illness. She was 87.
She was the longest serving jurist in California, taking the bench of the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1947, when women judges and lawyers were scarce, and going on to serve 55 years as a bench officer, 44 of them as an appellate justice.
President Richard M. Nixon considered her for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, but an expected nomination evaporated after an American Bar Association committee rated her unqualified—a label, many observers contend, that was meant to obscure the panel’s discomfort with the notion of a woman on the high court.
Mahony said it was a testament to Lillie’s stature that when the question of a woman on the court even came up, it was Lillie’s name that “was on everyone’s lips.”
The nation’s loss of Lillie on the high court made California “the fortunate beneficiary of her subsequent years of scholarship,” Chief Justice Ronald George said in a letter, read by Administrative Office of the Courts Chief Deputy Administrative Director Ronald G. Overholt.
The solemn ceremony was peppered with appreciative laughter as colleagues recalled Lillie’s wit and style.
Overholt, remarking on Lillie’s unsurpassed record of service on the courts, said that “it would be at about this moment that she would say to me, ‘Hey buster, Bud, you’re making me sound old.’”
Retired Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas recalled that as the Second District’s administrative presiding justice, Lillie once took exception to another justice’s assertion that no sexual harassment policy was needed for the Court of Appeal.
“Wait a minute, Bud,” Lucas recalled Lillie saying, before telling her colleagues that in her experience sexual harassment existed on the court and that a policy to deal with it had to be implemented forcefully and directly.
The policy, Lucas noted, was implemented right away.
Lucas also recalled that Lillie invited him to a dinner party and was sure to seat him next to a woman he had not previously met, Fiorenza Courtright.
Lillie placed the two together intentionally but never said anything about it, Lucas said, until some time after he and Fiorenza Courtright Lucas married.
He recalled her later explanation:
“Well, I couldn’t say, ‘Have I got a girl for you, chief.’”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dewey Falcone, the son of Lillie’s late husband, attorney A.V. Falcone, noted that his family was Italian, given to displays of emotion.
“Mildred fit right in,” Falcone remarked. “She gave as good as she got.”
“When Mildred passed away, we lost a treasured member of my family. When Mildred passed away, the legal profession lost a legend.”
Justice Fred Woods, Lillie’s colleague of 15 years in Div. Seven, recalled that Lillie was a stickler for promptness.
“If you were late to her courtroom, heaven help you,” Woods said.
He repeated a story that Lillie told of how she was once late to her own courtroom, when she was taking the Red Car from her Los Angeles home to her Superior Court courtroom in Long Beach. A house was being moved, and it was accidentally dumped on the rails, delaying the train. He could only imagine Lillie explaining to the lawyers in her courtroom that she was held up by a house falling on the rails, Woods said.
The other of Lillie’s longtime Div. Seven colleagues, Earl Johnson Jr., recounted Lillie’s story of an earlier appellate assignment in which the other two justices did not like each other and rarely spoke to each other. If they had to hear arguments in Santa Barbara, they would drive separately, and Lillie would have to take a third car, because if she rode with either of the other two, it would have been deemed a betrayal by the other.
Johnson said that experience made Lillie deeply committed to collegiality in her future assignments.
Johnson also offered some comments from Lillie’s legal and support staff. One of the judicial attorneys said that “in Justice Lillie’s mind there was nothing more satisfying and ennobling than working hard” at whatever job was before her.
Lillie’s comment at that point, Johnson speculated, would likely be “Just get back to work.”
“I would probably dissent from that part,” Johnson said, drawing chuckles from colleagues and friends familiar with the fact that Lillie, Johnson and Woods often were at odds in their opinions, but were good friends off the bench.
“As it turns out, Justice Lillie wins again,” Johnson concluded, noting that court would be in session again this morning at 9 a.m.
Lillie was laid to rest at Holy Cross cemetery in Culver City.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company