Mary Elaine Greene, “Meg”, was reported to be the first baby born in Wyoming in the 50’s, on January 1, 1950.
Meg died at the Fairbanks Pioneer Home on May 10, 2019, from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Meg grew up in Mountain View, Wyoming with her parents, Orme and Zelda Greene and her brother “Butch” . Her father died when she was 3 years old . Zelda supported Meg and Butch as a small town telephone operator, though times were tough financially for them. She taught Meg to love the great outdoors with car trips and camping, and this love transferred immediately to love of Alaska.
As a youngster Meg excelled in school, was a leader in her church and worked as a janitor and answering service operator nights and weekends. She graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1972 with honors in Mathmatics. She was in the Marching Band at Wyoming and a Student Senator. She was then accepted at Harvard Law School on scholarship, and took her first plane ride. Harvard Law and the people there were like going to another planet for Meg. She graduated with honors and was hired by a Chicago law firm doing securities and anti trust, working at the Sears Tower.
When Alaska Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz offered her a law clerk position she took a leave of absence from the law firm and began a lifetime of public service to the State of Alaska. After working and writing for Justice Rabinowitz Meg went to work as a Public Defender trial lawyer during the pipeline days. She represented individuals in criminal cases, child protection and juvenile crime cases and sanity hearings. She was the first lawyer to call an Outside expert on “Battered Woman Syndrome” in an early case in about 1979 representing a teenage girl who killed her abusive husband. She spent days in the courtroom and evenings and weekends visiting clients in jail and flying in small planes to villages. She became skilled at finding clients and witnesses in bars and motels, tried the patience of some judges, and devoured Alaska criminal law as it was and strove to better the justice system one painful case at a time. The story is that she and a prosecutor did 6 jury trials in Barrow once in 4 days.
In 1980 Meg went to work as the Assistant Attorney General representing the State Pipeline Coordinator’s Office to build the Natural Gas Pipeline. She worked hard but she used to laugh that it is now almost 40 years later and even she couldn’t get across the finish line. She returned to the Public Defenders later and became a legal legend as a trial and appellate attorney. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Alaska law and hard work resulted in her handling 80 cases before the Alaska Supreme Court and the Alaska Court of Appeals in a little over three years. That number is an unthinkable amount of work by one person most lawyers agree.
Meg was appointed as a Fairbanks Superior Court Judge by Governor Sheffield in 1985. She was the first woman in that position and later the first woman presiding judge in Alaska.
Meg served on Superior Court as a trial judge for 17 years in Fairbanks. She carried a full case load and more. Early on she was assigned the six McKay contract murder cases from Anchorage after all judges there were recused. She faced rows of high stakes prosecutors and defense lawyers in this tabloid worthy story. Her hair turned from brown to white during those trials. She was also assigned the Mental Health Lands Case, filed by Steve Cowper, alleging that the executive and legislative branch had given away Alaska Land that had been designated as land to raise money for mental health care at Statehood. It was a complex and one of a kind piece of litigation. Its documents filled an entire room of file cabinets in the Fairbanks courthouse at 604 Barnette. In the end, Judge Greene, with the help of counsel, fashioned the Mental Health Lands Trust as we know it today. Judge Greene was a giant of administrative court work to improve the justice system in Alaska. She served on committees and worked tirelessly on writing rules and teaching about Contempt, Fairness and Access, Criminal Rules, Jury Instructions, and Mentoring. Trial judges looked forward to her teaching sessions at conferences because she would tell us the law and then tell us how to practically make it work in the courtroom without fanfare. She was a champion for courts in rural Alaska. Her advocacy kept rural courts at the forefront of the court’s conscience and trained, wrote manuals and interrupted anything she was doing to take a call from a rural magistrate.
Meg was a serious and committed judge. Lawyers learned quickly that being late or being unprepared meant a sharp rebuke. She did not suffer fools and expected lawyers to be at their best every day. Her humor often caught lawyers off guard the exchange was often retold. Lawyers liked to be in front of her for complex and difficult cases. She could see through the details to the path the law required.
In 2002, after 17 years on the Bench, Meg Greene was stolen by Jammo Parrish to go assist him in guiding the University of Alaska General Counsel Office. Mike Hostina writes, “From 2003-2007 Meg shared her keen intellect and formidable legal acumen with the University. . . .She embraced challenges and took on the most compmlex legal issues facing the university with wry wit and humor. . .The university joins in recognizing Meg for a life of public service and accomplishment for the common good”.
Thereafter Meg Greene worked part time for the Alaska court updating written materials such as the Domestic Violence Manual and Magistate Lessons. She also became one of the gang of Fairbanksans who worked to had to create Raven Landing so that Seniors could retire in their home community of Fairbanks. Karen Parr writes, “Meg was central to the enormous tasks involved in launching Raven Landing. She met with officials in local and state government, wrote policies and contracts and consistently made sure our actions were legal and ethical as we built our homes and strived for strong community. On occasion, she leaved the work with quick, acerbic and hilarious remarks.”
Meg always went to Mountain View over Memorial Day to honor her family at the local cemetery there. She traveled to England, Scotland, Australia and Turkey and loved those days. She drove all the roads in Alaska in her little red Toyota truck and went to Dawson to gamble twice a summer if she could. She loved animals and single malt Scotch. She was an introvert who’s great joy was to be able to afford current murder mysteries from her favorite authors in hardback form as soon as they were published. Her cremains will rest at the Fort Bridger Cemetary in Wyoming with her mom, dad and brother.
She left instructions there be no services. She is survived by her wonderful Aunt Elaine Phillips and her adult children, John Phillips, Clare Tayback, Gregory Phillips, David Phillips and Lisa Herold.
Any funds in memory of Meg Greene should be donated on line or sent to (1) Justice, not Politics, Civics Education Fund, P.O. Box 231473, Anchorage, AK 99503, 907-240-3802 or Breadline, Inc., P.O. Box 73715, Fairbanks, AK 99707.
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