Caroline Glassman, first woman to serve on Maine Supreme Judicial Court, dies at 90

Posted July 11, 2013, at 4:25 p.m.
Last modified July 12, 2013, at 6:45 a.m.
Former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Caroline Glassman
Cleaves Law Library photo
Former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Caroline Glassman

PORTLAND, Maine — The first woman appointed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court was remembered Thursday as a role model, mentor and champion of justice for Maine people.

Caroline Duby Glassman, 90, died Wednesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland, according to multiple news sources.

“When Governor Joseph E. Brennan nominated Caroline Glassman to a position on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 1983, she became the first woman ever in the history of the State of Maine to serve on that bench and she made us all proud,” Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said in a statement issued Thursday.

“Justice Caroline Glassman was a legal force of nature,” Saufley said. “She broke the glass ceiling on the bench with such style, grace and passion that she carved out a path for so many of us that followed.

“Justice Glassman was always intensely prepared, completely engaged in the legal discussions and passionate about ensuring justice for Maine citizens,” Saufley said. “Speaking very personally for a moment, when Justice Glassman retired, and I was nominated to fill her seat on the Supreme Judicial Court, she took the time to meet with me and to give me a wonderful background on the institution that was Maine’s highest court.”

According to media reports and archived documents, Glassman was a native of Oregon who grew up on a cattle ranch outside Baker. After graduating from a one-room schoolhouse, she enrolled at Eastern Oregon University.

She studied law at at Willemette University College of Law in Salem, Ore. After working as a title insurance lawyer and taking a series of legal positions around the country, she took the bar exam in San Francisco and began practicing law.

In 1962, she moved with her husband, Harry, and their son, Max, to Portland, Maine, and continued to practice law.

Glassman initially was appointed to the state’s highest court by Gov. Joseph Brennan and was reappointed to the court by Gov. John McKernan in 1990.

Saufley said Glassman’s support and assistance during her first days on the court were “beyond instructive, and I have always carried with me her sense of the extraordinary importance of the institution and the way justice is delivered in Maine.”

“Justice Glassman could be tenacious to the point of being stubborn and she would never give in on issues of justice,” Saufley said. “Even in retirement, she did not lose her passion for justice, spending a number of years working on sentencing reform. Many of us have lost a good friend, and a world has lost a stalwart supporter of individual rights.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins also expressed sorrow about Glassman’s death.

“I am saddened by the passing of Caroline Glassman, who cracked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s glass ceiling by becoming its first female justice,” Collins said Thursday. “She served as, and will remain, an inspiration for women seeking legal careers.”

Also on Thursday, the Maine State Bar Association Board of Governors issued a statement on Glassman’s death.

“As the first female justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, she set a precedent for women excelling in the judicial branch of government and the practice of law in Maine.”

In recognition of her accomplishment, the MSBA each year presents the Caroline Duby Glassman Award, given by the Women’s Law Section to a woman bar member who has excelled in one or more of the following:

— Work to remove barriers and advance the position of women in the legal profession or in the community.

— Work to educate the bench, the bar or the public on the status of women in the profession.

— Acting as a role model for younger or less experienced women lawyers.

“Justice Glassman was the epitome of each of these traits and we, as a bar and members of the Board of Governors of the Maine State Bar Association, are proud to honor her legacy,” MSBA President Bill Robitzek said Thursday.

“She will be profoundly missed and her loss will be mourned throughout the legal community,” he said.

Funeral arrangements were not available Thursday evening.

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