By Reginald J. Clyne, Esq.
(Source The Miami Times)
Judge Marcia Cooke was the first Black female federal judge in the United States Southern District. She was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer that took her life at age 68 on Jan. 27 in Detroit, where she died surrounded by loved ones.
Cooke received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and her law degree from Wayne State University. A native of Detroit, she relocated to Miami to initially work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and subsequently worked for Gov. Jeb Bush.
For me that last one meant that for the first time in my life, I had a friend in the governor’s office, and my desire for a more diverse judiciary began to be realized. Bush believed in diversity and hired a representative team. I believe that Cooke’s influence contributed to more women and minorities being appointed to the bench by Bush than any other governor in the history of Florida.
When she was up for appointment to the federal bench, both Democrats and Republicans supported her nomination. I recall Cooke being pushed by Republicans and winning her Senate confirmation with a 96-0 vote. It was a thrilling moment to see one of our own ascend to the federal bench.
I appeared before her when she was a judge, experiencing both victory and defeat. She was fair, smart and tough. At one point during a trial, opposing counsel was making faces and being disparaging behind my back. This often occurs and I generally accept it as part of being a trial lawyer. Cooke excused the jury and gave that attorney a dressing down. She expected every lawyer in her courtroom to act with a certain decorum and to respect their peers. I ultimately won that police brutality case.
Cooke was widely respected by her fellow jurists, the defense and plaintiff bar. She had humor and treated everyone who appeared before her with respect. Like many lawyers, I was called upon to try a pro bono case for her. An individual was seeking justice in her courtroom, and she wanted him to have representation.
It was under her time on the bench that the U.S. District Court celebrated Black History Month for the first time. She hosted a reception and displayed photographs of Black history milestones at the event.
So today I mourn the loss of a good friend. A friend who never forgot her humble beginnings, never forgot her role as a trailblazer, and a person who gave generously of herself. I will miss her booming laughter and heartwarming smile. The world was a better place with Judge Marcia Cooke in it and she will be missed.
Reginald J. Clyne is a Miami trial lawyer who has practiced in some of the largest law firms in the United States. Clyne has been in practice since 1987.
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