Audrey Earnshaw Melbourne, 69, judge in district, circuit courts in Maryland


Audrey Earnshaw Melbourne, one of the first women to be appointed to district and circuit court benches in Maryland, died Sunday of pneumonia at Howard County Hospital. She was 69.

An enthusiastic equestrian, Ms. Melbourne scored some of her most notable legal victories while representing jockeys, including a 1968 case that forced Maryland's racing commission to license female riders.

Ms. Melbourne encountered gender bias as she worked her way through a legal system that had been monopolized by men, friends said.

"She was a real trailblazer, a pioneer," said Howard E. Goldman, a longtime law partner of Ms. Melbourne.

"There was a certain old-line type of prejudice against her. ... She was a very strong advocate for women's rights, yet she functioned very effectively in what was then a very male-dominated profession," Mr. Goldman said.

Born Audrey Claire Earnshaw in Chicago, Ms. Melbourne came to Maryland as a young girl when her father, an army colonel, retired to a farm in Upper Marlboro.

It was there that her fascination for riding began.

Ms. Melbourne attended St. Faith's Episcopal School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

She then spent her first two years of college at Roanoke College in Virginia, before transferring to George Washington University in Washington.

In 1962, she graduated from the University of Maryland's law school in Baltimore.

In 1966, after working on her own out of her husband's real estate office, Ms. Melbourne established a firm with Mr. Goldman in Laurel.

In one of the firm's first cases, she represented jockey Kathy Kusner, who was trying to crack the barrier against female riders in conventional flat-track racing.

After her victory in that case, Ms. Melbourne represented numerous other jockeys, male and female.

Though she was notching victories in court, Ms. Melbourne found persistent reminders that she was treading on a male preserve.

"She had run-ins early in her career for wearing pant suits to court, and she always received correspondence from other attorneys in the state addressed to Mr. Melbourne. She always thought that was a riot," said Jane Melbourne Bailey, a daughter, of Ellicott City.

In 1977, Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed Ms. Melbourne to the District Court bench in Prince George's County.

Upon taking the position, she moved from Laurel to Upper Marlboro, where she lived until she retired to Columbia in 1997.

In 1978, she was named to the Prince George's County Circuit Court.

Becoming a judge allowed Ms. Melbourne to humorously turn the tables on male lawyers; Ms. Bailey said her mother would sometimes sit at the secretary's desk when an unfamiliar attorney came to the office.

When the visiting lawyer asked her to summon "Judge Melbourne," she would wait to see how long it took the attorney to realize that the presumably male judge they sought was sitting in front of him.

Ms. Melbourne, who was married three times, is survived by another daughter, Andrea Melbourne Kirkpatrick of Columbia; two sons, Thomas Alan Melbourne of Annapolis and Carter Earnshaw Melbourne of Laurel; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. John's Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road in Ellicott City. On Thursday, her ashes will be spread at the finish line at Laurel Park racetrack.

Donations may be sent to Days End Farm Horse Rescue, an organization that cares for old and abused horses, at 15856 Frederick Road, Lisbon 21765.

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