Supreme Court Justice Ann Scott Timmer: Fourth of a kind

Katie Campbell//November 27, 2017

Supreme Court Justice Ann Scott Timmer: Fourth of a kind

Katie Campbell//November 27, 2017

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ann Scott Timmer (Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ann Scott Timmer (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)


In more than 100 years of statehood, Arizonans have elected four women to the governor’s office.

They’ve been more generous with the Legislature. Just this year, the state celebrated the highest percentage of female legislators in the nation – 40 percent.

And another four women have served on the Arizona Supreme Court.

But Justice Ann Scott Timmer found the one silver lining to the state’s gross underrepresentation at its highest court: “The good news is I’m in the top five of all time.”

Timmer is a mother to three daughters. Her eldest an artist, the youngest a recent film school grad and her middle daughter transitioning to a life away from her parents in a group home – she is deaf and mentally impaired.

She raised each to follow her own path, not to simply take the safe route.

And if women are going to beat the odds, she hopes others will heed that advice.

Cap Times Q&AWhat’s it like being the only sitting female justice?

It doesn’t affect my day-to-day enjoyment of the job, but sure, I’m disappointed because you want to see women in these venues. You’d think we’ve reached a place where we should be more representative of the population, and we’re not. We’re six men and one woman, and I’m the fourth woman ever in 105 years.

Who’s to blame for that? I put most of that on women, not on the appointing powers. Look at the last few applications for these positions and see how many women there are. For Justice Bollick’s seat, we were afraid there would be no women applying. I was out there talking to women. You should apply, you should apply. And I think, finally, one woman applied and 12 men applied. What are you going to do?

Why do you think that is?

Women aren’t natural risk-takers. They don’t like to do it because they don’t like to look stupid, and they’ve got to get over that. … I’ve had more women say to me in the past, “I don’t feel like I’m qualified. Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not ready for that.” You find that in law firms where you’ll find women say, “I can’t take that case on. I’ve never done this kind of work before.” And then the partner will go down to a young, male associate, and he, having never done anything like it, will say, “Sure!”

In our society and even worse now, if you’re an older white guy and you want to bring along a young, attractive attorney doing things like a basketball game or dinner or golf. … how are you going to be perceived? Of course, then, you’re not going to do that. You’re going to take the young man. Well, they get a closer bond, and who do you introduce your clients to? That’s what I think happens. At about the five-year mark, the young men are going up because they can get the business.

How do we get past that, not only as women but as a society?

At your age, I was practicing law, and I was a young, attractive woman and mostly working with men because there weren’t that many women. And I was lucky that I had male mentors. One in particular was terrific at it. … He made sure – and this is what I think men should do – he made sure that I was recognized for what I did. For example, he was the lead prosecutor for the impeachment of Evan Mecham back in the 80s. … I was the only one he asked to argue on the Senate floor. A lot of people aren’t as generous like that. They want to do it all themselves, and they want to have all of the credit. But he was always terrific about giving me credit, and I think that not only emboldened me and gave me more confidence but it also opened other people’s eyes. I got respect. I think men need to do that more. And women in these positions, frankly, need to be better about recognizing, if men can’t do it, you can. You need to take women along and encourage them and recognize that for whatever reason young women need to hear somebody say, “You can do this.” It might as well come from your mouth.

What do you think was your biggest career move?

I was with a firm – I don’t particularly want to say which one – and I remember the partner saying to me, “You do great work. I would really like it if you worked more closely with me, and you can work up all of these cases and I can go try them.” Basically, I could be in the backroom and make him look good. And I just thought at the time, “If I stay at this firm, I’m going to be in for a lifetime of being a worker bee. And I might be well-paid for it, I would be, but it’s not what I want.” So, I left. I finished a three-month trial, and I quit. … There’s nothing worse than the feeling of regret, what might have been. At the very least, I thought, “Well, I’ll find out, and if I mess this up, hopefully, someone else will hire me and then I’ll go be a worker bee.” I really wanted to forge my own path.

I read an article you wrote in 2008 for young lawyers on how to avoid traps at their new offices. There was a section about dressing for success, and you wrote, “If I’m a woman, I always wear pantyhose with my dresses/skirts and always keep a spare pair in my office.” We’re both clearly breaking that rule today.

That has changed!

You took the words out of my mouth. But I’ve certainly encountered men who don’t think I’m up for the job because I’m in a dress or whatever. Beyond dressing the part, how can women show they’re just as capable as their male colleagues?

The best advice I got was from my mother: Be yourself. That really is good advice. Don’t try to imitate somebody that you’re not because it comes off as insincere. I think women sometimes try to imitate guys and come off instead as surly in not a good way. … Instead of trying to be tough, be competent and sincere. For example, if you try cases in a courtroom, the guy who yells has to stand back from a jury because they can’t be leaning over them. I, on the other hand, can approach the jury rail and stand right there and have a nice conversation and look them in the eyes, and my sincerity comes across much more than the guy behind me. I’ve had one lawyer say, “I literally had to dial it down because you come off as so sincere and so trustworthy that me, doing my usual animated and raised voices – I couldn’t do it because I’d look like a jerk.”

Women have taken on some of the most important roles in Arizona’s government – governor, legislator, Supreme Court justice – so the argument has been made that the glass ceiling doesn’t exist here anymore. What do you think of that?

Of course, it exists. You’d be naive to think it doesn’t. We’ve made progress, but you just have to look around. Women are 50 percent of the population, right, and they’re probably about 50-50 in college, about 50-50 in law school? Then wouldn’t you expect to see 50-50 in the Legislature? And we’re thrilled that it’s like 40-60? Wouldn’t you expect to see an even number of men and women having held the office of governor over the years? We’ve had a pretty good run, and it’s all been recent. But we’ve had what? Four (female governors)? And four ever on the Supreme Court… So, what do you mean there’s no glass ceiling?

How can women, especially young women, best stand up to sexism in the workplace? It seems that we’re more willing to talk about it now.

We are, which is good. Although, I’m afraid of a backlash that will shut people up. For example, you had Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky – who came out the worse for wear? You had the same thing with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. I remember I was a young attorney at the time and hearing on the radio talk-shows they would keep saying, “Well, we can’t believe Anita Hill because she’s an educated lawyer for goodness sake. If anybody knows the law, she would. Why wouldn’t she speak up?” And all of the women in my office were saying, “Because she’s an educated woman. She knows you better not speak up or you’re going to be retaliated against.” What I worry more about is more of the invidious, even subconscious sexual discrimination. How do you stand up to that?. … When you see it, like terrorism – see something, say something.

Women need to look out for each other, especially if you’re an older woman and you’ve been around and seen this kind of thing. You need to say something to stop it. If you don’t, it festers, and it becomes an environment where it’s okay. … It’s easy to say, “Nobody gets to touch you. Nobody gets to threaten you. Nobody gets to say I’ll give you the job if you do this.” That’s easy. What about the jokes? What about the feeling that I’m getting passed over but can’t prove it kind of thing? What do you do then?… I think that’s almost more incumbent upon men and women that are now in places of power to be cognizant of that.

Have you ever felt targeted, sexually or otherwise?

Name a woman who hasn’t. You get grabbed or you get this and that. It happened to me last week! And I’m thinking, “Really? I’m 57.” Some guy on a plane. He was a little high I think, and he just ran his hand up my leg.

What did you do?

I was kind of sad for him. I really think he was high. I was in the aisle seat. He was in the middle. . . . He elbowed me in the ribs when I closed my eyes to rest. He didn’t like me doing that. So, I turned to him and said, “Can I help you? Do you need something? Why are you doing that?” He stares at me in a weird way. Then, he wants to hold my hand and runs his hand up my thigh. I said, “That’s inappropriate. You may not do this.” Really just talked to him like a kid. I told him to turn around, face forward, lean your head back and close your eyes. …  I don’t know if that was because I’m a woman, but he wouldn’t have done that to a guy.

When I was a child, there was an attempted sexual assault. Nobody had ever told me about the birds and the bees back then, but instinctively, I knew where my knee should go. And that worked. I was like 8 years old. It was my best friend’s brother – lured me up his room and tried to attack me. He was a high school kid. I got away, and everything was fine, although I saw more of the male anatomy than I realized. But it stuck in my mind. I did the absolute wrong thing, which was not tell my parents. Instead, knowing that I wouldn’t be allowed to go to my best friend’s house again and this would be a problem, I’ll manage it myself. And I’ll make sure I’m not left in the same room or put in that position. And I did. … To this day, I never told my parents because, when I was older, I didn’t want them to feel like a failure. And you didn’t talk about those things then. But that was a mistake.

For those who feel they can’t speak to loved ones or join something like the #MeToo movement, what do you recommend?

That’s a difficult question. You find somebody to talk to about it, even if it’s a stranger. You can get professional help, but I know how that goes, too. One, it’s expensive, and it’s not always on your insurance. A lot of people your age don’t have great insurance. So, what do you do? Hopefully, you have friends you can talk to, or you try to do something to seize control. I’m thinking of my oldest daughter… She made a patch – I wasn’t real thrilled with the language, but it was responsive to. … President Trump and some of the things being said during the campaign. She made one of those caps, knitted one, and did the women’s march in New York. … It gives you that feeling of power. It gives you some of element of control. … Even if you can’t speak about it or you have concerns professionally, which I can see. …you want some outlet. So, go do something.