Harford prosecutor ready to don robes

Mimi Cooper, 37, fulfills longtime goal of law career

November 14, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

It's hard to keep up with Mimi Cooper.

For the past few years, the 37-year-old Cooper has juggled her career as a Harford County prosecutor and crime prevention official with the demands of a young family. Last week, she took on a new role: that of Judge Cooper.

"It feels good," Cooper said after spending a day on the bench observing cases handled by District Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr., part of the training that will prepare her for full-time judicial duties. "I'm really excited."

Her appointment to the Harford County bench last month by Gov. Parris N. Glendening is the culmination of more than a decade of work by the University of Baltimore Law School alumna, who set her sights on the legal profession after working as a legal aid volunteer while an undergraduate.

Although she is the first woman to sit on the bench in Harford County, Cooper downplays that: "I hope people pay more attention to the fact that I am fair and compassionate," Cooper said. "I am looking forward to more diversity on the bench in the future."

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, who has been Cooper's boss for five years, said he believes she is ideal for the job.

"She has so much energy that sometimes she drives you crazy," Cassilly said. "She really knows the law and she is a down-to-earth, regular person."

Cooper already is winning praise as Harford's newest judge.

"She's intelligent and she is level-headed," said Plitt, administrative judge for the District Court. "You need to be able to process a large number of cases while at the same time making sure everyone who appears before you receives due process of the law."

Found her calling

Growing up in Howard County, the former Mimi Raffel graduated from Atholton High School in 1980. At the University of Maryland in College Park, she majored in political science and minored in philosophy, earning her degree in 1984.

It was during Cooper's sophomore year of college that she did legal aid work as an intern and found her calling.

"I was assigned to a legal research project," Cooper recalls. "I landed in the legal books in the library, and it was the most exciting experience to find all of that information. By the time I was finished, I had all of the books out and open around me."

While in law school, Cooper became friends with students who would advance to varied legal positions, from prosecutors to corporate attorneys. One of those friends, Susan Hazlett, an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County, said she and others have been teasing Cooper by referring to her as "Her Honor."

"I think it's just so great for Harford County," Hazlett said about the appointment. "She's just such a breath of fresh air, and she is going to shake that whole legal community up."

`A winner'

As evidence of her friend's determination, Hazlett recalls when she and Cooper participated in the Budweiser Triathlon at Gunpowder River in 1987.

"She hadn't had much sleep, and she was so good that she kicked everyone's butt," said Hazlett, recalling a grueling event that included swimming a mile, cycling 26 miles and running 6.2 miles. "She's incredible."

That same year, Cooper earned her law degree and worked as a clerk for Judge Rosalyn Blake Bell in the Court of Special Appeals. Cooper was impressive from the start, Bell said.

"No one who has met Mimi ever forgets her," said Bell, whom Cooper counts as one of her mentors. "She's a winner."

In the courtroom while prosecuting a case, Cooper -- then a city prosecutor -- met her husband, Troy Cooper, 34, a sergeant with the Baltimore City Police Department. The couple have three children, Rachel, 7, Tyler, 5, and Megan, 2.

"I love to read, so I try to do that with the children," Cooper said. "I also enjoy gardening, so that's something I can include them in on."

Cooper said she was so thrilled to learn she had been appointed to the judgeship that she never asked how much the job pays ($103,000 a year).

Although it took her 11 years to achieve her dream of donning a judge's robes, Cooper said it was worth the wait.

"I aspired to be a judge because I really want to be a public servant," Cooper said. "I just love the law."

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