Q & A with retiring Associate Judge Lola P. Maddox

Ann Knef Nov. 30, 2004, 5:47am

Judge Maddox surrounded by well wishers at her retirement ceremony.

As the first female to serve on the Madison County Circuit, what barriers did you face when you were named to the bench?

I was only 30 years of age when I was appointed an associate judge and had practiced for three-and-a-half years. Fortunately, much of that practice was on civil motions before the circuit judges and in the appellate court. I also handled a lot of family law and juvenile cases. There were only three women attorneys practicing in Madison County in l979 – Stephanie Robbins, Scotty Moorman and me. Today, there are many woman attorneys practicing here.

Luckily the timing was right for a woman attorney to be appointed a judge; and luckily for me, I was chosen. My first assignments were in family and juvenile where I had a lot of experience as an attorney. The associate judges were then, as now, periodically rotated through assignments, and I had the opportunity over time to learn about different areas of the law and case management and to become more well rounded as a judge.

Because of gender, do you believe you were ever held to a different standard?

At that time even more so than today, professional women were held to a different standard as far as their emotions and demeanor. Male judges can be stern or firm because of something that happens in the courtroom or chambers without someone thinking they are too emotional or in a bad mood.

I have actually had attorneys ask me what kind of mood I was in on a given day, and I tried to respond with a question of my own. “What does Judge DeLaurenti or Judge O’Neill say when you ask them that question?” The point is that no one would have asked a male judge that question to begin with. I believe that a woman judge’s emotions and experience bring something special and needed to the bench.

Were your decisions scrutinized more carefully?

I think because of my youth and the length of time I had been practicing that attorneys were more likely at the beginning to tell me what they thought of my decisions in a confrontational way. That kind of behavior is always inappropriate and also hurtful. As judges we are judged too, and those judgments are not always kind or fair.

I have actually been only 37 reported appellate opinions from the 25-and-ahalf years I have been a judge along with a dozen or so Rule 23 (unreported) decisions with the majority of my rulings being affirmed. I hope that is a reflection of the basic quality of my work as a judge.

What impact do you feel you have made while on the bench?

Over time, I was assigned to all of the assignments that are held by associate judges, often several times. I was, from time to time, made the supervisor of a division such as civil or family. As I handled those different assignments and proved my work ethic, I hope and believe that my choice as a judge was validated.

I have often been told that attorneys were concerned about appearing in front of me because I try to be prepared and ask questions and expect a lot.

I have also been told that I am considered a role model by many. I have had a good number of young attorneys, male and female, come to me over the years and ask me for guidance or advice in their careers and am particularly proud of that. I believe all of those are good things.

What impact has the bench had upon you?

I was interviewed several times in 1979 and have reread some of those articles recently. I was quoted as saying that all I ever wanted to do was become a judge.

Not only was I blessed to attain that goal, but also to be retained every four years thereafter until I had enough time to retire today. I had polio as a child and was quite introverted but also quite stubborn and determined to prove myself.

My determination comes in large part from my late mother, Vena Maddox, who encouraged me in all things to adapt to and overcome as much as possible the handicaps I faced. There certainly was a long period of having to prove myself as a judge.

Over the years, I have come to realize just how perfect this career was for me. I expecially enjoy the administrative duties that have been part of my assignments from time-to-time. As a Judge, I do not have to walk long distances or stand for long periods as part of my job.

A judge spends a great deal of their time sitting and thinking and I hope I have proven myself good at both of those things. I am so proud and grateful to have had this career.

Do you believe that the “judicial hellhole” label some critics level at Madison County is unfair?

I believe that the phrase “judicial hellhole” is unfairly applied to Madison County. Some of the finest people I have ever known and had the pleasure to work with have been and are judges and attorneys in Madison County. The judiciary here has done yeoman’s work in developing a case management system for handling complex and time-consuming legal cases.

The law in many areas is still developing; and we may have more guidance at some time as to what cases should or should not be litigated here, but fine and capable judges in this county are doing their best everyday to be fair and make good judgments in these cases.

Also, blaming the judiciary and the legal profession for the increase in doctors’ malpractice insurance rates for attorneys is unjustified. There are many factors involved that will have to be considered in making any progress to correct this problem, but actually very few malpractice cases have gone to trial in this county in the last five or six years and most were either small verdicts or defense verdicts with no award of damages so I believe it is unfair to blame the judiciary when they are following existing law in the cases that come before them for hearing.

It will take the effort of many entities and groups including the legislature to make progress in this area, and to blame the judiciary is not fair or likely to accomplish any meaningful change.

What are you future plans?

I plan to volunteer my services part time to Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. Their budget and staffing do not always let them take on all the cases for indigent persons that they would want to serve.

I also plan to volunteer part time in a hospital or hospice but haven’t decided just where as yet.

I also plan to drink more coffee, read more, garden more, and spend more time with my family including my husband who is not ready to retire, my daughter who is in college, and my precious Shi Tzuh, Bailey.

I may even take a course or two at the local community college. I actually lack only a thesis to complete my master’s degree in economics and have toyed with the idea of finishing that degree program.

I certainly don’t plan to disappear from the legal community, and take this opportunity to encourage my friends and colleagues at the courthouse and in the legal profession to stay in touch.

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