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Justice Pine retires from Appellate Court

Appellate Court Justice Elizabeth W. Pine was feted recently at a retirement party. Justice Pine served 25 years on the bench, and was known by her colleagues for being a stickler for grammar and details. Vasiliy Baziuk.

Appellate Division, Fourth Department Justice Elizabeth W. Pine is a stickler for details — especially when it comes to the written word.

“She is a grammarian so she is always correcting everybody’s English and their punctuation,” said fellow Justice Nancy E. Smith. “She doesn’t miss anything. We very much appreciate it.”

In fact, it is one of the many things about Justice Pine that her colleagues respect, even if they do kid her about it occasionally.

She is known for thoroughly reading decisions and making suggestions on changes such as where to place commas or where to take them out — in and out of the proverbial box, so to speak.

The joke became reality at her recent retirement party when she received a nice silver-colored box full of little squares of blue paper, each containing a small mark. At first she thought the little squiggles were 9s or 6s. Then she realized her fellow justices had given her a box full of commas.

“She cares about the written product, not just about what the ruling is,” said Justice Stephen K. Lindley, who joined the Appellate Division, Fourth Department earlier this year.

He said that not only are the decisions extremely important, but that it is very important to Justice Pine how they are written and how the rationale is articulated to the involved parties and the public.

“If she sees a 25-cent word where a 5-cent word would do just as well, we’re going to use that 5-cent word,” Justice Lindley said. “It just makes for clearer and crisper writing if she’s on a panel.”

Justice Pine is stepping down after serving for 25 years on the Appellate Court.

“They’re throwing me out,” she joked, acknowledging the retirement age is 70 and at 76, she has exhausted her three allowable two-year extensions.

She and Justice Lindley have known each other since 1990. He later clerked for her.

“I learned more in those two years than any other job that I have had and it served me well in all my other subsequent positions,” Justice Lindley said, noting Justice Pine was also on the first panel he sat on on his first day on the appellate bench.

She is the first woman from the Seventh Judicial District appointed to the Appellate Division, second to Justice Dolores Denman of the Eighth Department. Justice Pine is also the first woman elected to the state supreme court. That happened in 1976, several years after she and six other women in her first year at Harvard Law School were asked by the dean to explain why they should take up slots that could have been given to men.

After graduating from Smith College in 1955, Justice Pine headed south where she took part in the Southern Regional Training Program in Administration and later worked in Albany for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom she called a “stickler for language.”

“I still have notes he wrote me on corrections,” she said. Maybe there’s a connection.

Justice Pine didn’t care for Albany and was afraid she would end up in a secretarial pool for 30 years like other women she met. It seemed the only women who were taken seriously were lawyers, so she shifted gears, entering Harvard in its seventh year of accepting women.

She then worked in Washington, D.C. and New York City before she and her husband, Richard Pine, moved to Rochester. He died in 1985.

Although Justice Pine initially had trouble finding work in the legal field after her graduation from Harvard, she found a job in Rochester before she even got here.

She said there had been an article in the local paper about her husband, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, taking a job in Monroe County and Francis D’Amanda called her and interviewed her in New York City.

Justice Pine worked at ChamberlainD’Amanda until around 1967, when she opened her own office to have more time with her family.

“There came a point when I had three children,” she said. “The scheduling got too complicated.”

Justice Pine said she didn’t really have her sights on politics, but started getting nominations from the Democratic Party. She attributes the success of her 1973 election as a Monroe County Family Court judge to a Republican backlash in the wake of President Richard M. Nixon’s firing of independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox a couple of weeks before the general election.

Dubbed the “Saturday Night Massacre,” it also included the resignations of the attorney general and deputy attorney general during the Watergate scandal.

“I loved being a family court judge,” Justice Pine said. “In many ways, the cases deal with people’s lives and have more of an impact than anything else.”

She recalled stories of Democratic party members returning to the Southern Tier in 1976 after she was nominated as the candidate for supreme court judge. She said every time they went over a bump, one would say, “I can’t believe we nominated a woman.

“When I got here, my reception wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy,” Justice Pine said. “It was a cool reception, but in the end, I think things worked out. I was appointed to the Appellate Division.”

For her first three years as a supreme court justice, she sat every March in a leaky courtroom in Hornell in Steuben County where she assigned cases to a young attorney named Henry Scudder of Bath who is now the presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

Justice Scudder said Justice Pine’s intellect and hard work were always an inspiration. He also mentioned her many “helpful” corrections being greatly appreciated and that he doesn’t want to think about a “Pineless” court.

“The difference between being a trial judge and an appellate judge is quite interesting,” Justice Pine said, noting on the trial bench, no one really argued with her decisions. She said attorneys would just appeal. But on the Appellate Division, she sits on a panel of five judges where the other four weigh in with their opposing opinions.

“This job has involved endless reading, but it’s been interesting,” Justice Pine said. “All sorts of things get litigated. It’s a real mix. There is an endless variety of ways people can be upset with other people. There are issues everywhere you look.”

She has written thousands of opinions. Her most notable ones are packaged in a tribute to her career which also mentions her commitment to juvenile justice and community service and her dedication to the legal profession, which have earned her a number of professional awards.

Justice Pine has also served as a member of the statewide Advisory Committee and the Fourth Department Advisory Committee on Attorneys for Children. She is a member of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court, National Association of Women Judges, American and New York State bar associations, the Monroe County Bar Association and Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.

She is also active in many voluntary associations including the Otetiana Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the Rochester Rotary Club.

A native of Saranac Lake, Justice Pine and her husband, John Rumsey, have called Pittsford home for several years. She is in frequent touch with her daughters: Margaret Pine Chabowski, who has one son, is a freelance writer in Brooklyn and Katherine Pine Duncan, mother of three, is a homemaker in Montclair, N.J. Her youngest, Elizabeth J. “Lisa” Pine, works on state water issues in Colorado where she is also an EMT authorized to fight forest fires.

Justice Pine plans to continue her work on the Pattern Jury Instructions Committee.

“Nobody cares about the court more than Justice Pine,” said Justice Smith. “She’s extremely dedicated and gives the work her all. She’s absolutely an outstanding jurist and wonderful, wonderful to work with. She’s always been a mentor and role model.”

Justice Pine said things have changed dramatically since she entered the legal field.

“I think things are much more open for women than when I started,” she said. “There’s a strong women’s bar now.”

Justice Lindley calls her a trailblazer.

“Now it’s common place for people to see females in robes,” he said. “It wasn’t when she started. I think a lot of female lawyers that I know and judges appreciate everything that she has done for women attorneys. I think it’s trailblazers like her that give other women the thought that they can become law partners and judges and do whatever they wish.”