Women trial lawyers

I graduated law school in 1972. Our class had several lawyers who ended up making their living as trial lawyers. One of them, Bill Riley, is now the Chief Judge of the Eighth Circuit and member of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The foregoing said, the Class of 1972 at the University of Nebraska College of Law did not include a single woman.

Elaine Mittleman, an experienced federal appellate practitioner, recently sent me an article about the retirement of a woman litigator. Grace Day called it quits this fall from one of Missouri’s preeminent law firms. Ms. Day practiced just down the road in St. Joseph. I am sorry to say that I never had occasion to cross her path. By all accounts, she was a kind but tough trial lawyer and the fact that she practiced law for 63 years is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her many accomplishments. See Marshall White, Attorney Grace Day leaves a legacy for women attorneys, St. Joseph News-Press (Oct 25, 2013).

 Photo by Jessica Stewart | St. Joseph News-Press

Photo by Jessica Stewart | St. Joseph News-Press

The accomplishments of Ms. Day, and the fact that I graduated law school 23 years after she did but without one woman in our class, started me thinking about woman trial lawyers, and particularly those who practice in federal court. I first thought about our Chief Judge, Laurie Smith Camp, and what a great litigator she was until she took the bench as the first female federal district judge in the District of Nebraska. I then thought of Marnie Jensen, a litigation partner at a national law firm with offices in Nebraska, and former law clerk on our court. My thoughts then turned to Sara Fullerton, a federal prosecutor here in the District of Nebraska. All three of these women are or were superb federal trial lawyers and wonderful people to boot.

While my law school education was excellent, I wish Grace Day, Laurie Smith Camp, Marnie Jensen or Sara Fullerton or others like them would have been among my classmates. I am much the poorer for their absence.


Thanks to Elaine Mittleman and the Polsinelli law firm, I have been privileged to see a video tribute to Grace Day that includes Ms. Day speaking about her experiences. It is well worth viewing. See here.


Chief Judge Smith Camp’s wedding “script”

My earlier post today highlighted Chief Judge Smith Camp’s “pretty good wedding gig.”  Laurie has been kind enough to share her “script” with me and she has allowed me to publish it with names and such redacted.  Incidentally, while Laurie does not perform many weddings, she prepares individual remarks for each one.  Thus, each “script” is for one “performance” only.

I publish the script because other judges may find it useful. From my perspective, it beautifully written and thankfully short.  Moreover, it makes clear that a judge is presiding and, as you will see, that makes a very nice difference.

In any event, here it is:


Dear friends, and beloved family – welcome to the celebration of the marriage of _____ and ______, who are about to promise each other their love, loyalty, and friendship from this day forward.

We are privileged to share their happiness as they make this commitment, creating a union based on mutual respect, admiration, trust, and a sense of humor. We are also here to support their marriage, and the beginning of a new family in the community.

When a priest or minister officiates at a wedding, it is traditional to hear a passage from First Corinthians, the letter in which Saint Paul described the characteristics of love. But, today, the officiant is a judge. And judges cite court cases. So I have selected a few excerpts from court decisions to celebrate and consecrate the wedding of ______ and _______.

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness . . . .” “[It] is fundamental to our very existence and survival.” (United States Supreme Court, 1967)

“The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support: it brings stability to our society. [M]arriage . . . [is] . . . one of our community’s most rewarding and cherished institutions.” “[J]oy and solemnity . . . attend marriage.” (Supreme Court of Massachusetts 2003)

“Marriage has been characterized as intimate to the degree of being sacred.” “[It] is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.” “[Marriage] fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, . . .” (Supreme Court of Connecticut, 2008)

“[M]arriage is at once the most socially productive and individually fulfilling relationship that one can enjoy in the course of a lifetime.” “Marriage is the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.” “[It] provides the foundation upon which our society is built and through which its most cherished values are best transmitted.” “The ability of an individual to join in a committed, long-term, officially recognized family relationship with the person of his or her choice is . . . of crucial significance to the individual’s happiness and well-being.” (Supreme Court of California 2008)

“Many have noted the symbolic or spiritual significance of the marital relation. . . . The State’s interest in extending official recognition and legal protection to the professed commitment of two individuals to a lasting relationship of mutual affection is predicated on the belief that legal support of a couple’s commitment provides stability for the individuals, their family, and the broader community. [A couple’s] interest in seeking state recognition and protection of their mutual commitment may – in view of divorce statistics, – represent ‘the triumph of hope over experience.’” (Supreme Court of Vermont 1999)

______ and ______’s mutual commitment, expressed through their marriage, is a triumph of hope, a triumph of faith, and a triumph of love. And as St. Paul so eloquently said in First Corinthians: “The greatest of these is love.”

______ are you prepared to make your commitment in marriage to _______?

_______ are you prepared to make your commitment in marriage to ______?


_______, do you have a ring you would like to give to ______ as a token of your love?

Please repeat after me: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and my friendship, my trust and my loyalty, and with this ring I thee wed.

______, do you have a ring you would like to give to _____ as a token of your love?

Please repeat after me: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and my friendship, my trust and my loyalty, and with this ring I thee wed.

You now have taken upon yourselves the sacred alliance of marriage. You are, and I quote: “conferred” with “a dignity and status of immense import”! (United States Supreme Court, 2013)

May you always love one another as you do today, and may your love guide you through a long and happy life together.

And now, by the power vested in me by the law of the state of _____, I present ________ and _______. (You may kiss.)

[by Laurie Smith Camp, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, September 2013]


Caveat for new federal judges: Make sure to check the applicable state law before you perform a wedding to make sure you are authorized under state law to do so.

My Chief Judge’s Pretty Good Wedding Gig

Laurie Smith Camp is my Chief Judge. In addition to being really smart, Laurie is a wonderful person who personifies beauty, grace and dignity. This weekend she officiated at the wedding of Warren Buffett’s grand-daughter in Omaha. Bono made a surprise appearance and sang “Stand By Me.” You can watch his appearance and rendition of the song here.


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