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Obituary: Carol Los Mansmann / Respected judge with long list of career firsts

Monday, March 11, 2002

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Carol Los Mansmann, the first woman appointed to the federal bench in Pittsburgh, won friends with her lively personality and the respect of judges and lawyers with thorough, well-reasoned opinions.

A judicial centrist who served three years in U.S. District Court before her elevation to a federal appeals court in 1985, Mrs. Mansmann, 59, of Sewickley, died Saturday at UPMC-Montefiore of breast cancer. In 1996, she underwent a bone marrow transplant.

After President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the U.S. District Court in 1982, the 39-year-old was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She told well-wishers at the time that she had come a long way for a Polish girl from Dormont.

In September, O'Connor came to Duquesne University to receive the first Carol Los Mansmann Award for distinguished public service, where she described Mrs. Mansmann as one of "a distinguished class of jurists."

As a tireless trailblazer, Mrs. Mansmann put in long hours.

"She worked constantly. I could never figure out how she could accomplish so many things in one day," recalled Barbara M. Carlin, who was Mrs. Mansmann's first law clerk after she took the federal bench and one of her many proteges.

A 1996 opinion on an affirmative action case written by Mrs. Mansmann for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal drew national attention.

She held that the Piscataway, N.J., school board violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by retaining a black high school teacher and laying off a white teacher of equal seniority and qualifications.

The judge wrote that "a nonremedial affirmative action plan, even with a laudable purpose, cannot pass muster."

Some affirmative action supporters were frightened by the judge's conclusion that racial "diversity" was not an objective of the Civil Rights Act. The case was headed to the U.S. Supreme Court before it was settled, and civil rights groups feared that the Supreme Court would use it to outlaw racial preferences in employment.

From the start of her career, Mrs. Mansmann excelled and enjoyed a succession of firsts.

She was one of only two women graduates in Duquesne law school's class of 1967. But only one local law firm granted her an interview and it did not hire her.

After Allegheny County District Attorney Robert Dugan gave her a job in 1968, she became the first female prosecutor in Allegheny County to try a murder case.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Benson recalled why Mrs. Mansmann took the challenge of prosecuting a homicide.

From 1968 to 1972, she worked in the appeals division of the district attorney's office, where she defended prosecutors' legal positions. In that job, she had the luxury of reading trial transcripts and began second-guessing her colleagues, asking them why they failed to raise objections or make certain requests of the trial judge.

The queries frustrated assistant district attorneys, who insisted to Mrs. Mansmann that she did not understand how difficult it was to always think clearly during the heat of a trial. So, she tried a case and won a first-degree murder conviction.

Afterward, Benson said, she conceded that her colleagues were right. From then on, he added, Mrs. Mansmann simply defended her fellow prosecutors while drafting appeal briefs.

That experience and her appellate expertise paved the way for her trip to the U.S. Supreme Court on April 27, 1970. On that date, she became the youngest woman to argue before the nation's highest court, and won a significant constitutional case that Benson still teaches his students today.

In its decision in the case, Chambers vs. Marone, the high court broadened the power of police to search automobiles once they had arrested a driver and passengers.

From 1974 to 1979, Mrs. Mansmann was employed as a special assistant attorney general. During that same period, she maintained a private practice with the now defunct law firm McVerry Baxter & Mansmann, that included her husband, attorney J. Jerome "Jerry" Mansmann.

Long before her elevation to the federal appeals court, Mrs. Mansmann encouraged women to pursue careers in the law. While finishing a bachelor's degree at Duquesne in 1964, she befriended a freshman named Donetta Wypiski, who planned to become a teacher. With Mrs. Mansmann's encouragement, Wypiski obtained a scholarship, earned a law degree, became a prosecutor and was elected to the state bench in Westmoreland County. In January 1994, Donetta Wypiski Ambrose rose to the federal bench in Pittsburgh.

Looking back on the early days of their friendship, Ambrose recalled why she looked up to Mrs. Mansmann.

"She was smart. She was nice. She was popular. She was friendly. She was Polish. I was Polish. It was a connection," Ambrose said.

Mrs. Mansmann took pride in her ethnic heritage and once began a speech to a Christian Mothers group at a Polish church by greeting them in Polish. The audience, Carlin said, went wild with approval.

Even as she maintained a law practice, Mrs. Mansmann also served as an associate professor at Duquesne's law school from 1974 to 1983. From 1987 to 1994, she was an adjunct professor of law.

In that academic post, she encouraged a whole generation of women to pursue legal careers.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ila Jeanne Sensenich said she was indebted to Mrs. Mansmann, personally and professionally.

"I remember one evening we were returning together by plane from a meeting we had attended. I was exhausted and anxious to get home and relax," Sensenich said. "Judge Mansmann was leaving for another meeting early the next morning and her secretary was meeting her at her home that evening for a few hours work."

Carlin, now a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh, said the judge taught her some important lessons.

"The law doesn't have all the answers in black and white. You have to look at the situation. You have to look at the people involved and above all, to apply the law in a very fair manner," she said.

While on the district court bench, Mrs. Mansmann displayed a special knack for settling civil cases.

During conciliation conferences, Carlin said, "she listened very intently to both sides, never dismissing anyone's position as ridiculous, out of hand, or unwarranted. She treated all the parties with absolute dignity."

On one occasion, Carlin recalled, Mrs. Mansmann quickly granted a one-day recess in a trial so that a lawyer could take his disabled son to college.

"She never forgot that she had been a practicing lawyer and that there was a life outside the law. I think that was because she was so very family oriented. She came from a large family," Carlin said.

Mrs. Mansmann's death is a loss to the bench and bar as well as to the community, said U.S. District Judge Donald Ziegler.

"She was a teacher in every aspect of her life. She lived her life with truth, kindness and wisdom, as instructed in Proverbs. She is now counsel to the angels," he added.

Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr. said Mrs. Mansmann was "an extremely bright and cheerful person. Even at times when I know that she was under stress, she never lost that pleasant way of hers."

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow and Wednesday at the H. Samson funeral home, 537 N. Neville St., Oakland. There also will be visitation Thursday from 9 until the 11 a.m. Mass at St. James Church, 200 Walnut St., Sewickley.

In addition to her husband of 32 years, survivors include their children, Michael, Casey and Patrick Mansmann, all of Sewickley, and Megan Gallagher of Los Angeles; sisters Gloria Baytosh of Orange, Calif., Patricia Burke and Kathleen Los, both of Gulf Port, Fla., and Rosemary Lieberman of Lake Havasu, Ariz.; and brother Larry Los of Santa Maria, Calif.

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