After my time as a Juvenile Court Judge I ran to become a District Court Judge. I was elected at 30 years of age. This was in 1973. I was sworn in at 11am. I had Gladys with me, an outspoken court reporter who had agreed to work with me. Her husband was in the air force, and they had come to Topeka because of his job. While I was being sworn in, I was assigned cases to Division 5 and the county attorney was filing a lawsuit to my court’s name, with no defendant name, meaning they were filing a criminal action against a certain property. The property in question was the Princess Theatre, the first adult film theatre in Shawnee County. I remember being sworn in on a Tuesday and the next day the county attorney wanted me to seize all the property from that theatre. The day after that on the front page of the paper was Gladys and I entering the Princess Theatre. By looks alone, it didn’t appear to be a promising first week of the job. When we were preparing for the trial, Gladys opened up the box of all the seized items and saw something that resembled parts of the human anatomy and asked me where to put the sticker to identify it. I told her to use her best judgement and put the stickers wherever she deemed most appropriate.
There were many things as a judge I had to do but didn’t want to, and many cases I had to hear that were less than desirable. In those days I rotated through different courtrooms, including the courtroom of Judge Carpenter. He had graduated from Harvard and only had Harvard reading materials in his courtroom. It surprised him when I heard the case against the Princess Theatre in the courtroom next to his. All of the reporters were banded together in my courtroom, as many felt the subject matter was too good to pass over. One day we were all made to watch a film entitled “Spread for Action.” This film was property seized from the theatre. In the movie the girls were wearing school-girl outfits and making lewd noises. The majority of these noises managed to filter through to Carpenter’s waiting room, where the people there were wondering what the heck was going on. Because I found the film to have no redeeming quality or value, I asked that it be turned off and taken out of my courtroom.
Another court case I found to be disturbing involved a Mexican family. A father was accused of having sex with each of his daughters when they turned twelve. One of the young girls didn’t want this to happen to her other sister and went to the police. The mother was put on the stand. The prosecutor said this is an old family tradition of having sex with the daughters when they come of age, then when the prosecutor asked one of the older sisters if this had happened to her when she turned twelve and she answered, “Well I don’t remember.” I knew this had to be a yes, so we took the kids out of the home. The mother was adamant that nothing like this had happened before, which I knew was a lie. We later learned the husband got home from work around 4p while the mother got home from work around 6p. When I asked the wife how she knew this wasn’t occurring, she said because I asked my husband and he said it wasn’t true.
Another memorable story involved a nice man who unfortunately was subject to frequent and unpleasant outbursts. One day Kathryn Jackson came in and said, there is a case this afternoon and the father is a decent nice man, but he suffers from an undiagnosed disease where he will shout at people for no reason and the state wants to take the kids away. The mother mentioned when the father gets pale and shaky is when you need to become concerned. I decided to talk to Newt Vickers, the Administrative Judge about the situation. He said I should go to the sheriff’s office and ask for a deputy to sit in my courtroom, so I did, and when I got there all these guys were standing around admiring their guns. Larry McLane was the county attorney at the time. The trial started and sure enough, this guy became pale and shaky. I called for a recess to determine the next best course of action. In chambers, Larry said I think we are in agreement to involuntary commit the guy in case something happens. We called for the deputy and told him the plan. This particular deputy didn’t think he could handle the father on his own, so the sheriff’s office sent down another deputy. Together the two still didn’t believe they could handle the guy, so they went and got a straight-jacket to keep him from hurting others. They called the father over and jumped on him and put the jacket on him in the hallway. There was a wedding scheduled to occur later that day and I was to officiate. Everyone heard the scuffle in the hall between the father and the deputies, and all I could think to say to the couple waiting to get married is in this county when you decide to form a marital partnership with one another we don’t allow the grooms to back out!
When they added division five to the circuit, they took the very worst cases in the four Divisions and gave them to division five. I worked division five and frequently received a list of truly awful cases. I worked extremely hard though at getting through them and ended up with the lowest number of cases unheard. At that time, it was decided to divide up all the cases, so the good judges ended up with a bunch of cases from one particular lazy judge. I didn’t really care about the other judges who were lazy and not getting their cases heard. This happened at the same time the Court of Appeals asked me to be on it. I didn’t want to because it meant running all over the state. District courts were in the process of changing because each district was now going to be responsible for moving their own cases forward and the judges were all a group within the district, so if someone was slacking off, the entire court would be held accountable. One judge in particular became extremely paranoid. If he was in a jury trial and had scheduled a no-fault divorce he wanted you to hear, they’d go back and get the sheet for the trial and you’d hear it and then he’d come back and say that someone was stealing his cases. This is before the time that judges had their own individual courtrooms. I remember one time Newt Vickers, who couldn’t stand to hurt anyone’s feelings, got so tense and nervous during the day that he walked to Potwin to try and relax. Many of us felt he became too involved in the cases he heard. Another time Vickers stopped by his office to get something to take home and someone asked why he was still hearing cases late into the evening and he said, “don’t you realize that if you drop dead they will just get another judge to hear your cases?”
In those days there was a statue that said your pay would be stopped if cases did not get resolved. The principle is a good one, that judges shouldn’t get involved in other judge’s cases, but I thought it was wrong if I was going to get all the bad cases because someone else wasn’t doing their work. I recall one time when my office resembled that of a mad librarian. I went to another judge’s office and his desk was very neat and tidy and I said it must be wonderful to be all caught up and he opened his sliding door in the closet, and it had a huge stack of files in it! We all did our best to speed cases up and increase efficiency, but it’s not as easy as you would think.
I had a reputation for getting everything done on my docket each day.Even if I had several things scheduled, I would always get through them all. One day Chuck Macatee represented a woman in a divorce case from Maple Hill. Around 5 o’clock he came to me to ask if we should proceed, and I said I’d stay around for the trail in the divorce case as the main argument was child support on the grounds of incapacity. The husband testified first and said the wife wasn’t a very good housekeeper, she didn’t do the dishes, and stated when his mother came to the house and it was always very dirty. Then the wife got on the stand and said he doesn’t do the yard work, so I said this is getting out of hand and let’s just settle the child support issue. The lawyer representing the husband, Mr. Macatee, said to the wife “who is the father of your first child?” I stopped the discussion there and said don’t answer that question. During that period of time divorce cases were always a fight.
I never paid much attention to awards or medals.In some ways the district court was the most satisfying job I ever had. The district court is the highest trial court in Kansas. Any big civil lawsuit comes from the district court. You have a lot of cases in this court and one of the things I really liked was that my calendar was a week at a glance and the time segments were always filled with different trails.There were some that took up too much space on the calendar, but most of the cases were interesting because they had names and faces. In 1977 I had a hysterectomy, and my father came to visit me in the hospital with a former judge, Judge Johnson. I knew Johnson, but not that well. He came to tell me there was going to be a vacancy on the Supreme Court and several people were hoping to get me nominated. I was so sick at the time I didn’t care or pay attention to the news. That was, until after I began to heal and was out of the hospital. At that point I began to appreciate the idea more and more. Johnson nominated me, and the commission at that time said it was not customary to meet with potential nominees. I was sitting in my office and Ron Keefover came in and said, “Congratulations, you were picked by the Governor for the Supreme Court from three names that were submitted.” Actually, there were two vacancies, one for myself and one for Judge Holmes. No one knew exactly when Governor Bennett was going to make the announcement about the nominations. Court week was coming up and everyone thought the Governor would name someone at that time, but he didn’t, so I traveled to Oklahoma for a dog show. When I got back from the show on Sunday night the telephone rang. The voice on the other end said, “This is Governor Bennett and I’ve selected you to serve on the Kansas Supreme Court.” I was elated and thought I had to immediately begin my new job. The irony of the situation was that Chief Justice Shroeder didn’t even know I had been appointed. I called Judge Vickers to inform him I was leaving the District Court and that Monday would begin my position on the Supreme Court. I decided I had to be at the Supreme Court first thing Monday morning and began to become concerned upon realizing that the Chief Justice didn’t even seem aware of my nomination. That Monday I went to my new job and Jim Pricher, the clerk, comes buzzing over and says the first row was for the family of the judge’s being sworn in (myself and Holmes). No one besides my parents knew I had been selected. Because there were two judges being sworn in that day, half the court took Holmes and the other half was for me. Justice Fromme was one of the judges that was on my side of the court that day and after being sworn in said, “This is the last thing I will do for you.” I was sworn in with my dad introducing me to the court. There were all sorts of strange customs at the Supreme Court which were unfamiliar to me. My new office was Schroeder’s old office. One reason they gave me his old office was because there were two offices in the statehouse on the second floor, with Schroeder’s office also on the second floor. It was a strangely shaped office. I would go in to hear cases and came out during recess and wondered, “Why do they have all of these depressions in the carpet?” I later found out it was because people were moving the furniture. There was a new Supreme Court building opening, and everyone was to have all new furniture. At the time of my swearing in, and in my office, the rolling chair at my desk was missing a castor. I remember trying to get a new one, but they weren’t fixing anything since we were all scheduled to transition into the new building. The aesthetics of my first office, while as a judge on the Supreme Court. was old, broken furniture in an un-air conditioned room, and I thought to myself this. “is what I’ve worked so hard for?” When I began my tenure on the Supreme Court cases derived from the district courts. tBecause of this, in 1978 the state made a determination to establish the Court of Appeals. Governor Bennett appointed all the judges to the court of appeals. All appealed cases went before the court of appeals except for murder cases and in instances where a law had been considered unconstitutional. The Supreme Court could also reach down and take cases, and they did since their caseload quickly diminished with the new Appellate Court. There had been a rule in place that if a district judge did not decide a case in a certain amount of time they could suspend his salary. I happen to know a little bit about a lot of things which has helped me to get along with others who know more than I do. For example, I knew a lot about horses and certain types of other animals, which helped me to establish a tight bond with Justice Shroeder, who had an interest in cattle and quarter horses. Because of this we got along well; we had a common interest "Over the years I’ve found you can develop a real connection with people, on a variety of subjects, if you express even the slightest hint of interest."This is how I began my friendship with the Chief, through our shared interest in animals. After years spent on the Supreme Court, in 1995 I was appointed as the first female Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. The best back handed compliment I ever received was from retiring Chief Justice Shroeder. Story has it he wasn’t initially in favor of my becoming a Supreme Court Justice. As we settled into our new building and our professional lives together, two Chief Justices from other states came to visit. Our Supreme Court building was considered state of the art at the time, and they wanted to see it for themselves. I was walking by as they stood in front of the elevator and the Chief introduced us. As I began to walk away, I overheard one of them say how unusual it was to have a woman on the Supreme Court. As they entered the elevator I heard the Chief say, “yes, it is unusual, but I think we are fortunate that we got one of the good ones.” Nora was one of my clerks and I asked her to come with me from the district court after I was appointed to the Supreme Court. Once I transitioned into this new role, quite unfortunately she had to take a pay cut. Judge Alex Fromme informed me they were cutting all of the clerk salaries (and was happy to relay this news, by the way), so I subsidized Nora’s salary until her pay was incrementally increased to what it had been prior to leaving the district court. Judge Fromme and Judge Fatzer made all the decisions about the new Supreme Court building. I recall Schroeder having nothing to do with it. The architects designed the interior with a lady who made a fortune off her designs. She came by my office after the building was finished and wanted to know where I wished to place my furniture, which was a desk much like a library table. She then proceeded to show me the desk chair that was only a few feet high and cost $5,000. I said I don’t want that, but she informed me it was too late to back out. I went steaming mad down to Schroeder’s office and said have you seen this furniture, and do you have any idea how much it costs? I told him I had just a table and chair and he said that wouldn’t do at all, so he called the architect and we changed the order. He came back to me and asked me if I was available to go to the Office Supply store, so we did, and we picked out our furniture from there. I remember us being at the store until 10pm, choosing the design for our offices. This bothered Fromme so much; that Schroeder and I would just voluntarily go out and choose our own office furniture. I sat to Fromme’s left on the end (number seven – seen and not heard) as the Supreme Court conference room seating was prioritized by seniority. We were sitting in dead silence one day when Fromme says to me, “you know there’s one good thing about you coming on the court, the judges don’t swear and tell dirty stories like they used to.” He never smiled and was such a sour man. I had a good relationship with the Chief, which upset Fromme immensely.
When I wasn't working, I enjoyed....
HobbiesMy hobbies included gardening, show horses, show dogs, quilting, sewing, cooking, reading, and tending to animals. One of my family's favorite things to do when I was young was to go down to the ponds and sit in the cool summer breezes, watch the wild life and tell stories. I also sewed many of my clothes and made prize winning quilts. I gave Judge Christel Marquardt's son a wedding present of one of the quilts I made. I also was into crafts and ordering things from QVC. I knew I was on good customer terms when I could return what I ordered many months later. The UPS driver and Fed Ex Drivers made frequent stops to my home. The UPS staff at the store on Wanamaker and 29th also became familiar with me and my frequent returns to QVC. I would watch QVC often and get to know the salespeople. When I thought there was something really nice and inexpensive, I'd share it with my friends Elaine, Maureen, and Christel.
Greatest Professional Accomplishment
I thought it was lovely when the Topeka Women attorneys began awarding the McFarland award.
Greatest Personal Accomplishment
Over the years I had many prized pets.
I always considered animals to be my best friends, from dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and even wild life. The horses were very special in my early days.I spent so much time with my horses, but Midnight Secret was always the most special. Then the Palomino. The wolf hounds that Nora and I took to dog shows were also special to me. I never remember being without animals that made me happy and gave me the opportunity to love another living creature. Pearl was my special dog during my first days at my new home on Roy Road near Auburn. She must have been almost 12 when she became sick, and I had to decide after taking her to many veterinarians and even K-State that her quality of life was not good enough to carry on. I then got two cats, after trying another dog that yipped all the time. The first was Betty, a calico cat that purred and kept me company. I added Charlie, a gray fury cat and soon Charlie and Betty became inseparable. They were constant entertainers, bringing lots of wild life in and dropping them at my feet or even in my face while I napped. My charitable contributions included many animal non-profits from the Cat Association to Helping Hands, to Second Chance Animal Rescue, to the National Humane Society, to the National Conservancy Group. I even contributed to "Save the Prairie Dog" that was becoming extinct on the Kansas Prairie.
When we first allowed cameras in the courtroom there would be these really unsavory looking cameramen that would film our court proceedings. One time I looked behind my chair and there was a guy sitting behind it going through my lawbooks. Security had to come and remove him from my court. At first I thought it was a the camera operator but it turned out to be some random man in the court. We never had a dress code in the court until that incident. After that we did.