Honorable Eunice M. (Latshaw)
Judge Eunice Ross was an acclaimed expert in the field of probate law, writing treatises and teaching about that complicated area of the court system.
Yet after she reported misconduct of a state Supreme Court justice in 1987, she was removed from her position — out of spite, she said — and cut off by the male leadership of the Allegheny County court system, who relegated her to a crummy office in another division.
It remained that way for five years, until she finally won her own case and was reassigned to the division she’d been dedicated to — shortly before her retirement from Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in 1996.
Judge Ross, 94, of Squirrel Hill, died Sept. 30 at UPMC Presbyterian following a fall.
Born in Bellevue, Judge Ross attended the University of Pittsburgh for undergraduate and law school, graduating from the latter in 1951.
She worked in environmental and health law for a few years before clerking for civil court, and then Orphans’ Court, where she developed a love for trusts and estates.
In 1972, Judge Ross was among the first women appointed to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. She served there until 1996 before being appointed to work as a senior judge for Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.
Judge Ross retired from that position in 2004 but didn’t stop studying the law and writing about it.
“She never finished being a judge, and that’s what I adored about her,” said retired Commonwealth Court Judge Rochelle Friedman.
Described as quiet and persistent with a wicked sense of humor, Judge Ross loved most the work she did in Orphans’ Court, where she was assigned in 1978.
She appreciated the complexity of probate law — whose history dates back hundreds of years — said Drew Forsyth, a close friend and attorney. He called Judge Ross well-organized and rigorous in her approach to the law, as well as someone who wrote “masterful opinions.”
“She would do anything she could to help a lawyer who came to her with understanding the very complicated nuances of probate law,” said Mr. Forsyth, a former Pittsburgher who now lives in Chelsea, Mich.
Judge Ross expected the attorneys who appeared before her to be well-prepared.
“She was a scholar at a time when women were not lawyers — and certainly not judges,” Mr. Forsyth said. “She was extraordinary.”
Her grandson, Ian Coleman, of Los Angeles. remembers his grandmother telling jokes and stories from her time on the bench.
“She was one of the strongest, toughest women I ever met — in terms of how much she fought for everything she wanted in her life,” Mr. Coleman said
“She certainly had to fight for everything she got — especially with the court,” said long-time friend Robert Riefle.
Judge Friedman recalled the battle Judge Ross had to fight after she reported and then testified against former state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen before the state Judicial Inquiry and Review Board in 1987.
Judge Ross claimed that Chief Justice Larsen interfered with her court when she attempted to discipline two attorneys she accused of misconduct.
“She was castigated,” Judge Friedman said.
After she testified against Justice Larsen, Judge Ross was removed from her preferred position in Orphans’ Court in 1989, had her office moved and got the silent treatment from her male peers — many of whom had been friends with the justice.
She filed a federal lawsuit, which she later lost, against the administrative judge and the members of the state Supreme Court who approved the move, claiming a First Amendment violation and retaliation.
She was eventually reassigned to Orphans’ Court, but with only 10 days left on the job,
“It was a game,” Judge Friedman said. “It was just vicious. But she toughed it out. It was, ultimately, a victory, but she paid the price for all those years.”
Judge Friedman, 80, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Law School in 1972, called Judge Ross one of her “most favorite people.
“She reached down and helped other women because she knew how difficult it was — not even to be treated equally, but to get a job and be accepted. You could always go to her.”
Retired Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith-Ribner, who took Judge Ross’ estates and trust class at Pitt in the early 1970s, agreed.
“She was a motivator. She wanted women to achieve,” Judge Smith-Ribner said.
She believes that Judge Ross chose to help women in the legal field because of her own experiences with discrimination.
It was Judge Friedman’s idea in 2016 to have an event honoring Judge Ross, which was sponsored by the Women in Law Division of the Allegheny County Bar Association.
“They did it for her. She just was such an icon,” said Judge Friedman, who wore Judge Ross’ robe when she was installed onto the Commonwealth Court in late 1991.
Mr. Riefle became friends with Judge Ross when she worked in the Frick Building, Downtown. They remained friends after retirement, and Mr. Riefle visited her at her home every Monday.
They had an arrangement where he would bring her copies of the Sunday New York Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and she would give him copies of the many magazines she subscribed to, including Mother Jones, the New Yorker, the Economist, Vanity Fair and many others. He also took movies to her.
Judge Ross, described by her friends as liberal — Mr. Forsyth called her a “European Socialist Democrat” — loved talking about current events.
“No topic was taboo with her,” said Mr. Riefle, a former law clerk for Judge Smith-Ribner. “I thought she was sometimes excessively optimistic about the state of the country and what she thought was going to happen in the next election.”
Mr. Forsyth marveled at how much Judge Ross read, and at her depth of knowledge in so many areas.
“Whatever you wanted to bring up with Judge Ross, she would know something about it,” he said.
Judge Ross was also compassionate and had an ability to make whomever she was talking to feel comfortable, Mr. Forsyth said.
She enjoyed traveling to Hawaii and was fond of Key West, Fla., where she had visited while her husband was stationed nearby during World War II.
Judge Ross was preceded in death by her husband, John Ross, in 1978, and her daughter, Geraldine, in 2011. In addition to her grandson, Judge Ross is survived by her brother, Richard “Jack” Latshaw, of Emsworth, and several nieces and nephews.
Arrangements are being handled by McDonald-Linn Funeral & Cremation Services, LLC., 529 California Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15202. A memorial service is expected to be held at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon in November.