Profiles in Success
Jessica Volz, J.
This article marks the launch of The Colorado Lawyer's new "Profiles in Success" column, which celebrates those individuals, living and deceased, whose contributions to the practice of law lend themselves to inspiring narratives. To suggest an article, contact Jessica A. Volz, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Volz is a communications and marketing specialist for the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations, as well as the editor of The Docket.
"She's very unpretentious, isn't she?" observed Tom Korson, referring to his wife, Justice Mary Mullarkey. "I mean she's perfect," he continued in a crescendoing stage whisper, prompting her tawny eyes to sparkle dismissively.
For many Coloradans and members of the broader legal community, Mary Mullarkey is a household name. As the first female Supreme Court Chief Justice in Colorado and the longest serving Chief Justice to-date, she has made an indelible mark on the practice of law and on the skyline of justice in our state. While she has been the subject of many articles, few have captured the dynamism of her character: She is an architect of progress, a leader who has had the courage to act with foresight and to find buried within the abyss of adversity the metal of opportunity. In a year in which we have been made increasingly aware of the glass ceilings for women that have and have not been shattered, the CBA has deemed Justice Mullarkey a most deserving recipient of the Award of Merit, the bar association's highest honor.
The Road Less Traveled
Even in strictly quantitative terms, Justice Mullarkey's accomplishments are awe-inspiring. During her tenure on the Supreme Court, spanning from June 29, 1987 (when she was appointed by Governor Roy Romer) to November 30, 2010 (a decade after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis), she participated in the resolution of more than 32,000 cases and authored 472 opinions, including 382 majority opinions, 52 dissents, and 38 concurrences. She also helped increase the number of judges in Colorado by 27%. While women have never been a majority on Colorado's seven-member Supreme Court, Justice Mullarkey has described them as being "catalysts" for fostering an atmosphere of "openness to innovation and change."
Given her tenacity and stamina, evidenced by her voluminous record of achievements, it is unsurprising that becoming a lawyer was an idea that Mullarkey had often toyed with when growing up. "I just wanted to do something intellectually interesting and socially worthwhile," she explains. "I wanted to be a Renaissance person." Mullarkey's mother, a legal secretary and court reporter, had always wanted to be a lawyer. Faced with her own mother's threat to disown her if she went to law school, she turned down her offer from the University of Wisconsin, only to inspire in her daughter similar career dreams—dreams that she would encourage rather than shun.
When John F. Kennedy was in Wisconsin during the 1960 presidential primary election, he made a stop at the high school Mullarkey was attending. She vividly recalls the stark contrast his eye-catching Palm Beach tan made with the snowdrift-studded panorama. The thrill for her was being able...