Mary Mullarkey overturned established precedent when her fellow justices chose her to serve as Colorado’s first female Supreme Court chief justice in 1998. She served for 12 years, longer than any other chief justice in Colorado history, retiring in 2010. Under her leadership, the state’s court system flourished: dramatic new levels of public access and efficiency were reached with the addition of judges, construction and modernization of courthouses, and implementation of state-of-the-art technological innovations.
At Harvard Law School in the late 1960s, Mullarkey held her own in classes filled with all-male students and taught by male professors. She launched her legal career in the Office of the Solicitor, U.S. Department of the Interior, in Washington, D.C., where she represented federal agencies in environmental, water, and civil rights cases.
Mullarkey’s expertise in race and gender discrimination cases under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act earned her a post at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Denver in 1973. In the office of Attorney General J. D. MacFarlane she was tapped to oversee appeals, and later, as solicitor general, she was lead counsel for the state in major appellate cases from 1975 to 1982. Governor Dick Lamm recruited Mullarkey as his chief legal advisor from 1982 to 1985.
Governor Roy Romer appointed Mullarkey to the Colorado Supreme Court in 1987. During her 23-year tenure (12 as chief justice), Mullarkey heard more than 30,000 cases and authored 472 opinions. Under her leadership the number of judges in Colorado increased by 27 percent, courthouses were remodeled, judicial training and juror appreciation programs were launched, and extensive technological improvements were instituted, eventually becoming a national model. Mullarkey instituted a rule that all court buildings have child waiting rooms, a safe place where children could stay during their parents’ court appearances. Prior to retiring, Mullarkey worked tirelessly to bring to fruition a new home for Colorado’s state courts: the state-of-the-art Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver, scheduled for completion in 2013.
In 2005, Mullarkey received the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s MS Achievement Award, honoring her advocacy of better treatments for MS, which she has quietly endured while modernizing the judicial system.