Pamela Burgy applied to Harvard Law School in the mid-1960’s, inspired by her work as a college intern with the Ohio Civil Right Commission. It was also a means of honoring her father’s unrealized dreams. Her father had started law school during the Depression, but dropped out for financial reasons.
Pamela was one of approximately twenty women in a class of five hundred. Finding a job after law school proved to be challenging. Law firms would recruit the male graduates but ignore the women. The female students, well versed in their legal rights, pushed to interview with every single Boston Law Firm, forcing one well dressed Boston lawyer interviewer to back up against the wall, aghast at having seen six women walk through the door to be interviewed for a job. It helped that the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. After rejecting a position as an office manager, Pamela secured an attorney position with the Boston firm of Bingham, Dana and Gould.
She married Richard Minzner, a fellow Harvard Law School student. They moved to New Mexico in 1971 and joined the firm of Cotter, Hernandez, Atckinson, Campbell and Kelsey. A partner at the firm introduced Pamela to the first woman who had been hired as tenured faculty member at the University of New Mexico Law School. Pamela joined the faculty in 1972. Pamela credits her position on the Court of Appeals and then on the Supreme Court in part to several women graduates of the law school – her students.
When Governor Toney Anaya named Mary Walters as the first woman to serve on the New Mexico Supreme Court, he appointed Pamela to succeed her on the Court of Appeals. At that time there were no other women serving on the Court of Appeals. Judge Minzner served for 10 years on the Court of Appeals and was named that Court’s first woman Chief Judge.
In 1994, when Justice Seth Montgomery retired from the Supreme Court, there had been no female justices since Justice Walters retired in 1989. Governor Bruce King appointed Pamela to that opening.
In 1999, she became the first woman elected by her colleagues to the position of Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. She served in that position until January, 2001. She was the senior justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court until her death in 2007.
Justice Minzner’s colleagues remember her as a tireless jurist, a trailblazer for other women, and a UNM professor dedicated to and admired by her students. She was said to have influenced more young female lawyers than any other individual in the state.
Justice Minzner was known for having a keen and piercing intellect. But most widely praised of Justice Minzner’s qualities was her kindness. She always wielded her intellect with great humility, never belittling attorneys appearing before her, and always encouraging others to follow their goals. As Fred Hart, Dean of NM Law School during Pamela’s term there stated: “She always made you think you knew more than she did, which wasn’t true; She always made you think you were more than she was.”
Justice Minzner appropriately chaired the State Bar’s Commission on Professionalism established in 2000. She received the prestigious professionalism award from the State Bar of New Mexico. She was known for sending kind thank you notes to colleagues, attorneys, and friends, at times thanking others for their thank you notes.
Pamela Burgy was born in England on November 19, 1943. Her father was in the Air Force. After her birth in England, the family lived in eight cities before Pamela reached high school in Fairborn, Ohio. She attended and graduated from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. With Richard Minzner, she had two sons, Max and Carl. She often noted the importance for women of maintaining the delicate balance between career and family, which was one motivating factor in accepting the teaching position at UNM Law School.
Hispanic Women’s Council Archives for Book Project, Mujeres Valerosas. 2005.
Albuquerque Journal, "Bright Star on the Bench."
Pinstripes and Pearls: The Women of the Harvard Law Class of ’64 Who Forged an Old Girl Network and Paved the Way for Future Generations. 12-17 (2003)
Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Vol. 28, Spring 2005. The President and Fellows of Harvard College and The Harvard Journal of Law & Gender.
Sage Monthly Magazine for Women, January, 2005
Albuquerque Journal, September 1, 2007. "First Female Chief Justice Shaped Lives."
“With Love, From the State Bar of New Mexico. A Tribute to Former Chief Justice Pamela B. Minzner.” September, 2007