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Voices / Letters from readers

Remembering Judge Ethel R. Brosnahan

I am very sorry to learn of the death of the Honorable Ethel R. Brosnahan. Judge Brosnahan was a strong advocate for the citizens of Windham County. She was also a longtime mentor to me and other Windham County justice workers.

I first met Judge Brosnahan when she was a Windham County deputy sheriff in charge of jurors in Windham District Court. Petite and powerful, she cut an impressive figure in her perfect uniform and beautifully coiffed hair.

She was very solicitous of the jurors, protecting them from unreasonable demands of the lawyers, making sure they had enough time for breaks, guarding their parking spaces, and asking for better coffee in the juror room. Once she was elected side judge, she made sure it was there.

Judge Brosnahan was the first woman to sit on the Windham County bench, and she was very proud of that fact. After she was elected a side judge, she continued to support me and other young women lawyers in orienting us to “the system.”

She countered the gibes and rudeness that we, and I’m sure she, received from some of the “good ol’ boys” at court. In 1990, the Vermont Judiciary formed a task force to investigate gender bias in the Vermont legal system.

Certain people were unhappy with the testimony that some lawyers submitted to the task force and put unflattering pictures of them in the Newfane courthouse. Judge Brosnahan had them removed and gave those responsible a piece of her mind.

Judge Brosnahan was a Democratic Party leader and justice of the peace in Brattleboro for years; she continually urged women to run for local office and mentored them when they did.

She took great pride and joy in refurbishing and maintaining the historic Newfane Courthouse, purported to be the most beautiful in the nation. She was very careful to make sure the structural repairs and decorations were up to the highest historic preservation standards. It pained her that all of the historic portraits were of old white men, so she was really pleased when the photographs of the first female judges were finally hung there.

I shall always remember and honor the memory and legacy of my mentor and friend, the Honorable Ethel R. Brosnahan.

Jean Kiewel

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Originally published in The Commons issue #595 (Wednesday, January 13, 2021). This story appeared on page B5.

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