Yesterday, my Judge died.
Ann Aldrich, the federal judge for whom I clerked when I got out of law school, was a Carter appointee. She was one of the first women to graduate from NYU’s law school. As a practitioner, she argued the United Church of Christ v FCC civil rights case that expanded the standing doctrine. As a law professor at Cleveland State, she was both doctrinal and a clinician, and she was the first woman tenured at her law school. She was the first woman appointed to federal court in Ohio. And she was my judge.
The newspaper accounts of her death have focused mostly on the opinions she authored. She did have the fortune/misfortune to have her name randomly drawn to hear some very significant cases during her three decades on the bench. But none of her judicial opinions are the things for which I will remember her best.
Instead, I will remember her irrepressible spirit and her flair for innovation.
When I interviewed with her for a clerkship, after some perfunctory inquiries, Judge Aldrich asked if I had any questions. I told her that my research had revealed a recent survey of practicing lawyers in which she was described as having “a reputation as a progressive” and I wondered if she could tell me “what that means” to her. She wrinkled up her nose, and said, “Progressive? Oh hell, I don’t know. I think probably somebody told somebody they weren’t supposed to use the word ‘feminist’, so they came up with ‘progressive’. Mind you, I don’t go in for bra burning. I mean look at me. I don’t have the chest to be bra burning, do I?” Nothing, and I mean nothing, in my training at Harvard prepared me to answer that judicial clerkship interview question. And so I laughed. And she laughed. And she hired me on the spot.
Early in my clerkship, Judge Aldrich was handed a DES case, a putative class action with up to four hundred thousand plaintiffs and dozens of defendants. We spent evenings pondering just how exactly to manage this enormous piece of litigation. Almost as a joke, I suggested that we do away with paper pleadings and exchanges of documents. We should use the internet, I argued. This was 1994, or maybe early 1995. Judge Aldrich knew virtually nothing about the internet, and I knew only a tiny bit more than that. But she was fascinated, and we set to seeing if we could do it. Within a few months, in the context of this piece of litigation, hers became the first federal district court to have a fully electronic docketing and document exchange program. It worked beautifully! (It was later shut down because we had apparently bypassed some administrative procedures in the process of this innovating…) To see a life-tenured federal judge in her sixties embrace an entirely new idea was amazing to watch.
She was a great boss, and I already miss her.