Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp

By Anna R. Hayes | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 10
THEORY AND PRACTICE

Almost five years passed before Judge Sharp was assigned to hold court in her home county, a hiatus designed to put some distance between the new judge and her former colleagues in the local bar. Even so, old friends found it difficult to substitute “Your Honor” for “Susie.”1 Judge Sharp herself was acutely conscious of presiding over the Wentworth courtroom in which she had practiced law for twenty years. About the prospect of holding court at home, she had remarked shortly after going on the bench, “I hope that I will be spared this ordeal for some time to come, as life's worst moment will be when I have to try a case with my father on one side and his lifelong rival on the other.”2 Her father's death, of course, did spare her that experience, but there were plenty of former colleagues among whom she would have to allocate justice.

The judge wore a black dress with touches of red for the first day, opening the March 1954 criminal term of superior court for Rockingham County “without fanfare or ceremony.”3 She looked at the portrait of her father hanging just behind the judge's bench, swept the familiar courtroom with her glance, then picked up her gavel to commence the business of the day.4 She did not get far, however, before she had to rectify an uncomfortable situation. The judge's bench had been designed for a “rangier jurist” and Judge Sharp, at barely 5′2′, found that her feet did not reach the floor. Ever practical, she asked Deputy Bernard Young, an old friend, to find her a box on which to rest her feet. In good time he would construct a small platform precisely calibrated to her height, a “foot box” that she used thenceforth whenever she was presiding in Rockingham County.5

She would return to Wentworth from time to time during her years on the superior court, almost always complaining to her journal about those—lawyers and litigants alike—who hoped to trade upon long familiarity or, in the case of certain defendants (some of whom she herself had represented), who

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