Lillian Fisher, a housewife with three children who decided to go to law school in 1960 when women were extremely rare in the legal circles, and ended up elected as a Superior Court judge, died Sunday. She was 93.
Fisher, who suffered a heart attack a week ago, died in her sleep at her home of complications from congestive heart failure, said her daughter, attorney Anne Segal.
“Her children and her grandchildren visited and spent time with her before she died,” said Segal. “She was very independent to the end. She was still railing about injustices in our society, and believing in things that could be better.”
“She was content with being an American, living in a democracy and being proud of the judicial system,” said Segal.
She said her mother taught her and her siblings and her grandchildren to “always be fair and just. That is how you made your decisions.”
Stanley Feldman, a former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice, recalled Fisher as a judge “devoted to doing justice. She worked hard and it and was motivated by what was right. She was a credit to the judiciary.”
“She was among the first female judges in Superior Court and a role model for other women to set a goal they, too, could attain,” Feldman said.
Fisher, who was born to immigrant parents who came through Ellis Island, was raised in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from Brooklyn College in 1942. She worked as a laboratory engineer for Bell Laboratories, said Segal.
In late 1945, she married Bernard “Bernie” Fisher, a dental school student she met on a blind date. They were together until his death in 2001, Fisher recalled in a Star article in 2010.
After the war, Lillian started an export business, which made enough money to buy the young couple a house in Red Bank, New Jersey, and a dental office for Bernie. Her three children, Michael, Marjorie and Anne, followed quickly before Bernie was called to active duty as a dentist in the Air Force. The family moved to Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico.
After Bernie was honorably discharged, he moved the family to Tucson in 1957, and he set up his practice near East 22nd Street and South Craycroft Road. Three years later, Lillian became bored with garden-club meetings, and with her husband’s support went to law school at the University of Arizona, graduating in 1963. Three in the class of 62 were women.
Fisher opened a practice next to her husband’s dentist office and took on divorce cases, did wills, took on business cases, and did some pro-bono criminal law.
In 1974, Fisher ran as a Democrat for Pima County Superior Court judge and was elected. She heard domestic relations and murder cases, and became an outspoken judge. In 1979, she became the Juvenile Court judge and demanded hearings for all cases, detention for teens and sought accountability.
She angered attorneys for capping their fees at $250, which was the statutory maximum, rather than the $2,000 to $3,000 they had been receiving. Her decision angered attorneys who took it to the state Supreme Court, which agreed with Fisher. This led to a contracts system.
She hired the first psychologist to assess teens, and established the state’s first CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocate — program.
At the end of 1981, she returned to Superior Court cases, and she continued getting Pima County Bar Association reviews as being unqualified. “Not being liked did not bother her,” said Segal.
She retired in 1991 at age 70. In addition to her three children, Fisher is survived by eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Memorial services are 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Congregation Anshei Israel, 5550 E. Fifth St. Burial will follow at Evergreen Cemetery, 3015 N. Oracle Road.