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2010 Recipient - Justice Mary C. Noble

 

A LIFE LIVED THE GREEK WAY

 

            In The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton sets forth the main principles of Greek ideals and values.  When evaluating a person who personifies the ‘Greek Way’ of life, we must review how that life has been lived.  An evaluation of character provides great insight into how that person has lived and continues to life that life.  To the Greeks, character meant the “impress of a quality upon a person”, much as a coin is stamped with its mark of value. Id. at p. 184.  Thus, character is a reflection of how an individual shares in the qualities all persons share.  In other words, character is seeing everything in relation to all other things in order to reach a harmonious whole.  Though life is complex, there is often a simple solution when the whole is considered, rather than focusing only on the problem.

            Supreme Court Justice Mary Noble has spent her life seeking commonalities among people, looking for solutions to problems, subscribing to the belief that all are created equal, all deserve mercy and justice, and all have the right to live their lives freely, but with commonality within the law.

            Justice Noble grew up in eastern Kentucky on a University of Kentucky experimental farm where her grandfather was the farm shepherd, and her uncle was the farm foreman.  From her family she learned the value of hard work, and that self-sufficiency was expected.  She witnessed farm life as a continuum, with many parts of the farm dependent on other parts.  She learned that bad choices in the spring (and in life) will inevitably lead to consequences in the fall. She learned to respect the wisdom and experience of her elders.

            Justice Noble was raised by her grandparents, and grew up in an area where there were distinct cultural roles for men and women, with women primarily subservient to men.  Seeing this injustice to women at an early age, throughout her adult life, she has championed a woman’s right to participate in any venture if qualified, suited and willing.  She chose to academics to assert herself, rather than be relegated “women’s work”.  Living with her grandparents also taught her about the special needs of the elderly, and the difficulties women face when relying solely on another for support.

            Justice Noble’s first career was as a teacher.  She has been a champion of education as a means to a better life.  She taught high school English and Journalism in the public schools.  Through this experience, she determined that many learning and discipline problems come from ‘not belonging’, feeling alienated from society.  Believing that all children need a sense of self and place, she organized extra-curricular groups and programs which emphasized diversity of members, promoting understanding and tolerance.  This interest in inter-personal relationships led Justice Noble to obtain her Master’s Degree in Psychology. With this additional education, she applied her skills as a guidance counselor, and later as a college Psychology instructor.

            At the age of 30, Justice Noble determined that her education was not complete.  She pondered...what mechanism best insures that all have equal rights and experience a fair process in disputes?  Her answer:  the law.  In 1981, she obtained her Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law.  Thirty percent (30%) of her (our... we were classmates) law school class was female, an unusual composite at that time.  She began her legal career as a trial attorney, representing school boards and consumer victims of defective products and services.  At this point in time, the trial practice was dominated by men.  Many times, she was the only female attorney in the courtroom. She became a successful and highly regarded litigator.  In 1989, she was appointed as Domestic Relations Commissioner for Judge Rebecca Overstreet in Fayette Circuit Court (I became one of her successors in this position in 1992). In this role, she presided over divorce, child custody and visitation, and child support cases.  In this first judicial role, Justice Noble applied the law fairly and saw that everyone appearing before her was treated equally.

            With that experience, Justice Noble was eager to use her judicial skills and was elected as Fayette Circuit Judge in 1991, and again in 1999, serving in that capacity for nearly 15 years. When first elected in 1991, she was one of 3 female Circuit Judges in the State, 3 out of 93.  Justice Noble served as Chief Judge of the Court, the first woman to serve in that role in over 200 years.  While Circuit Judge, she created many programs addressing family issues, including the creation of the Child Support Compliance Officer position. She served on the Civil Rules Committee and on the Kentucky Attorney General’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, which recommended the monitoring system known today as KASPER, which provides a cross reference system to pharmacists.

            Perhaps Justice Noble’s greatest contribution during her tenure in Circuit Court was the creation of Drug Court in Fayette County.  This program closely supervises addicted offenders, and mandates treatment.  Today, 117 counties in Kentucky operate Drug Courts based on the model she developed in 1996.  She has championed this program nationally and locally, serving on the board of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and the board of Chrysalis House, a drug addiction treatment program for women and their children here in Lexington.  She has been an invited speaker on this issue all over the country.  Data shows this program has been highly effective in reducing crime and saving lives.

            In 2006, Justice Noble was elected to the Kentucky Supreme Court, and was re-elected again in 2008.  In 2006, she was the only female Supreme Court Justice at that time, and only the third woman to serve in the history of Kentucky.  Only one other woman is now on the Court, and she and Justice Noble continue to serve as role models for all women in this state.  Yet, Justice Noble has always said, “My goal is to be a good judge, not a good woman judge.”

            Justice Noble has personified the Greek ideal of character.  She continues to look to the greater good, rather than glorifying the individual, while recognizing, as did the Greeks, the efforts of individuals on behalf of mankind in general.  By viewing the world as a whole, with each of us an interconnected part and then acting on that vision, Justice Noble has lived and continues to live a life the ‘Greek Way’.