Judge Cooke, 68, passed away today in Detroit surrounded by her family. What a heartbreaking and huge loss. The first black woman federal judge in Florida, she took over Wilkie Ferguson's seat back in 2003. She was confirmed 96-0.
I know how much we all loved her.
She was such a nice person.
And a great judge.
A huge heart.
Please share your Judge Cooke stories in the comments. (Here is the Herald obit.)
She was the best. I'll miss her very much.
I have so many great Judge Cooke stories. I don't know where to start. But here's one, not from a trial -- we had an office party a while back. One of our clients, Buju Banton, was there. He was just hanging out. Judge Cooke told him to perform for everyone. Buju couldn't say no... he starting playing guitar and singing for everyone at the party. Judge Cooke loved it and had no issue hanging out with all of us and having fun. She was a real person, which made her a great judge.
Straight shooter. Down to earth. Always interesting to chat it up with. I just know she’s having a ball with Wendy Grant in heaven.
May she rest in peace!
Judge Cooke was so many things - a trailblazer in our legal community, a smart and compassionate jurist, and a dedicated public servant - and she will be missed greatly. But those who know her personally, and saw her off the bench, know how much she cared about each case she presided over, each staff member and clerk she welcomed into her Chambers, and each of her colleagues who she worked with before coming to the bench. She will be missed.
Judge Cooke served for many years on the Court's Adhoc CJA Committee. I recall well how she considered some of the matters we take up relating to the lawyers applying to, or on, the panel. She asked or commented on whether a lawyer was as zealous and caring for their court appointed clients as they were for their retained ones. She expressed it in a funny manner that really hit home. I recall laughing and thinking (as I sat listenting to her) she is one hundred percent correct!!!! And she also understood and appreciated our issues when retained, often asking or joking whether "Mr. Green had arrived." I always knew that I would get a fair shake in her courtroom. I hope Judge Cooke's family and close friends know how much the lawyers who practiced before her appreciated her. She was one of a kind.
Judge Cooke was a wonderful person and a great judge. She was wise, bright, and fair. She also had a great sense of humor. A number of years ago, my partner and I were trying a 1983 damages case. The opposing counsel, who was a nice guy, objected because he claimed that the paralegal that we had acting as a witness was expressive in her testimony. Judge Cooke solemnly called us to side bar and then said: "Look, it is Friday afternoon. We are all a bit tired. If this witness did not show a little life, we would all go to sleep." She took the tension out of the situation and in a very nice way let all of us know that we had to be sensitive to our entertainment requirements.
The old adage is that the good die young. For sure, God took her from us long before he should have, but not before she broke all of the barriers effectively and memorably. Like Dr King who was taken even earlier in life, she carried the ball and her role well before she left us. The sorry part is that she will be so hard to replace. Judge Cooke was Black and identified with her tradition and culture. But, no one could claim that she ever displayed any racist tendencies.
It is a shame she is gone. It is a shame she had to suffer. It was wonderful that she blessed us with her presence for so long. It is wonderful that she has left to her rest without a blemish on her career or reputation and with a smile on most faces that have known her and think about her.
Great story David. She was everything you want in a judge. Humble. Smarter than just about everyone else. Treated every case as the most important one on her docket and every litigant as the most important person to appear before her. Ivan, her courtroom deputy was the best and he knew he was working for the best. They made coming to court a real pleasure. She is irreplaceable.
I like that story about the 1983 action and the witness on a Friday afternoon. Sums up the kind of judge she was. Level headed and not too full of herself. What a great judge we lost.
Judge Cooke loved telling the story that when she was getting into her car from her Condo in Bal Harbour, she was approached by a lady who asked her if she was available as a maid. Imagine the shock the lady had when Judge Cooke informed her, she was a federal judge. We only had a few matters before her, but she was respectful and listened to all arguments. I do not recall whether she ruled for or against me, but I do remember she had great judicial temperament. She clearly was one of our better judges.
Judge Cooke was many things to many different people. I have spent the last two days reading about all of her professional achievements and accolades. But I think the Judge would have been the last person to mention them. Judge Cooke loved her family, both biological and created. I know because I heard so many stories about her niece and nephew that I felt like I knew them, too. And if you spent any time with the Judge, you met her created family and saw the love all of these different people felt for her, and how much she loved them in return. The Judge cared about people, regardless of their race/religion/political affiliation. I know because I witnessed the deliberation she put into each criminal sentence she was tasked with issues. The Judge was, quite simply, one of the greatest human beings I have ever known.
If you, like me, are feeling her loss, please try to sprinkle a little of Judge Cooke into your everyday life by caring about all human beings. In doing so, you will keep her spirit alive.
I remember her telling me at a function that she liked cooking steaks on an iron skillet in the oven. We talked about it, because, I do too. A remarkable Judge who was a real "person" with empathy for people and real life.
A great Judge, one that would keep the government in check when excesses or misconduct surfaced before her.
She will be missed.
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