By: Pepper Van Tassell , Special to The Daily Record//December 10, 2015
By: Pepper Van Tassell , Special to The Daily Record//December 10, 2015//
It was retired Chamberlain D’Amanda partner Anita Miller’s business to help people through divorce, but it was her pleasure to help people through life, from her clients and colleagues to her family and community, recalled friends of the popular Rochester attorney, who died Dec. 2.
Miller spent more than 30 years fighting for women in and out of the courtroom, and she had a lifetime of devotion to her family, friends and the community of Temple B’rith Kodesh, where her late husband, Judea B. Miller, was rabbi, said Edward Radin, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC, and former managing partner at Chamberlain D’Amanda, which closed its doors in late November after more than 100 years in business.
“She really started the family law practice at Chamberlain D’Amanda,” Radin said.
Miller was raising teenagers as a stay-at-home mom when she started studying law at Boston College, and she was already 42 when she joined Chamberlain D’Amanda as a first-year lawyer specializing in matrimonial law in 1974, said Mike Harren, a partner at Trevett Cristo Salzer & Andolina P.C., and former partner at Chamberlain D’Amanda.
Counsel Bob Oppenheimer, who recently retired from Chamberlain D’Amanda and helped hire Miller, said, “I think we were pretty impressed by the fact that she had gone back to school after raising a family — and there weren’t a great many women who were then practicing law in Rochester.”
The firm already had Agnes Bauman, a partner who started at the firm in 1924 as one of the city’s first female attorneys and who worked there until she was 80 years old, he said.
“They were both dogged in fighting for their clients, and I’m not sure if (Miller) learned that from Agnes — I think it just came to her naturally,” he said. “They were both very bright women.”
Miller quickly became “an excellent family law attorney,” he said, adding that she brought referral after referral to the practice.
At least one late judge gave her the nickname, “The Dragon Lady of Matrimonial Court,” Harren said.
“She had absolute dogged determination for her clients — she was really an advocate for them — and most of them were women,” Oppenheimer said. “We never had any clients complaining or saying she wasn’t prompt in her work for them. She was responsive always to phone calls and what the clients needed.”
Miller was hired a week before Harren, who was also fresh out of law school.
“Somehow she seemed to know a lot more about how the world operated than me,” he said. “She had the confidence and experience that you don’t get by going to law school.”
Radin said, “Because of her maturity, she was able to give advice, and not just legal advice.”
Elaine Cole started working at Chamberlain D’Amanda in 1983, after Miller had become partner.
“I looked at Anita as a role model — someone to follow. I was young and just starting in practice, and I just admired how she kept it all together — how she handled it all and could carry on a large practice without getting ruffled,” she said.
Cole, who retired as a district tax attorney for the New York State Tax Department, referred to Miller’s busy life outside the office with her husband and family; the couple attended a full calendar of social outreach events and hosted routine gatherings at their home.
“They were a very cool couple,” she said.
Joel Elliot, development director at Temple B’rith Kodesh, said Miller touched many people. “Anita was an important part of our temple family and the loss is keenly felt.”
And Miller’s work-life balance helped inspire Cole to start her own family. “I thought, if she could do this, I could do this,” she said.
Advocate for women
It was about that time that both women signed up to join the newly-formed Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.
“Even though she was well-established — a partner at Chamberlain — she joined and was always a supporter,” Cole said. “It was important to her to support young women attorneys.”
Miller, who was the group’s oldest member until recently, hosted book club meetings for the group and others at her home until her death, Cole said.
Harren said, “She was quite determined that women have equal rights as far as minorities.”
He recalled attending a firm party at a men’s-only club in 1974 where guests were given the option to take one of two routes to their event: either through a hallway or through the men’s-only lounge.
“Anita had no doubt where she was going to walk — she walked right through the men’s bar to let people know that it wasn’t right,” Harren said.
For all the conflict Miller saw through the legal system, she seemed to live a peaceful, full and happy life centered around family, he said.
“She did not personally go through matrimonial problems, but her friends had gone through it and she saw the effect of such events,” Harren said. “She certainly would not encourage people to fight or make their divorce any more difficult than it had to be.”
Harren said that she thoroughly enjoyed gathering her children and grandchildren around her for big family vacations, often to Florida or on a cruise.
“She always valued her family very highly,” he said.
Cole recalled asking Miller how she did it all, and what her secret was to dealing in divorce: “She said, ‘You are working with people when they are at their most visceral and it takes a special patience and ability to respect that.’”