Bradley to receive State Bar of Montana’s highest honor for career that helped pave the way for Montana women in public service
By Joe Menden
Dorothy Bradley has been blazing trails for women her entire adult life. She’s never considered herself a trailblazer though.
When Bradley was first elected to the Montana Legislature in 1970 at age 23, she was the only woman at the time in the Montana House of Representatives. She would go on to serve eight terms in the Montana House, make a run for U.S. House of Representatives, and become the first Montana woman to be a major party’s candidate for governor – losing a close race to then Attorney General Marc Racicot.
Along the way Bradley also found time to get a law degree, from American University in Washington, D.C., at a time when women were still underrepresented in the profession and went on to a career in law that, while largely behind the scenes, her admirers say was impactful in many ways, including as an environmental advocate and as a key player in Gallatin County’s revamp of its criminal justice system in the early 2000s.
For her decades of service to the law and the public good, Bradley was chosen as the winner of the State Bar of Montana’s 2022 William J. Jameson Award, the highest honor the bar bestows. She will receive the award at the bar’s 2022 Annual Meeting, held Sept. 21-24 in Helena. She also will be only the third woman to win the Jameson Award since it was first awarded in 1989, and the first since Sherry Matteucci in 2011.
“It is absolutely the most immense honor of my life,” Bradley said in a phone interview from her home in Clyde Park, in the shadow of the Crazy Mountains. “I want to express my heartfelt thanks to those that made it happen. I’m stunned and so honored. The meaning of this award is so much more than a warm handshake for a distinguished career. It’s an expectation that each of us will continue to contribute.”
Bradley refers to the philosophy of lifelong service as “the Jameson Standard.” She said she got to know William Jameson Jr., the son of the revered federal judge the award is named for, when he was a frequent visitor at the Gallatin County Courthouse, where she served as Court Administrator for the 18th Judicial District. The younger Jameson, a mathematician and communications engineer and an electrical engineering professor at Montana State University, was brilliant in his own right, she said. They would talk often, and his favorite subject was his dad.
“What I appreciate the most was that the contributions of these two Bill Jamesons did not stop with retirement,” Bradley said. “They both continued throughout their lives, and both were quite the humanitarians. I never forgot that.”
Bradley was nominated for the Jameson Award by Big Sky attorney Alanah Griffith, who is among the younger generation of women who Bradley inspired to seek careers in law. Griffith said she first met Bradley as a teenager when Bradley was running for governor. She was a huge fan.
When Griffith clerked for 18th Judicial District Judge Mark Guenther in her first job as a lawyer, she was thrilled to see that one of her heroes was court administrator for the judicial district.
Judge Guenther was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer within six months of Griffith’s employment. Griffith said Bradley was the staff’s backbone as they dealt with the loss of their boss, and its aftermath on the court.
“Throughout that incredibly difficult time, Dorothy was a rock,” Griffith said. “She taught me that sometimes, it is the quiet voice that is the most powerful. She was so wise, kind, incredibly educated and naturally brilliant. When I left the court for private practice, I took those hard-won lessons I learned at Dorothy’s side, and I like to think that I have implemented them into my law practice and my life.”
A who’s who of Montana attorneys and judges wrote letters supporting Bradley’s nomination. They include retired Montana Supreme Court Justice Patricia Cotter, retired 18th Judicial District Judge Salvagni, longtime Bozeman attorneys Jim Goetz and Michael Cok, and former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown, who like Bradley was a young legislator in the 1971 session.
Justice Cotter said Bradley served as an inspiration for her as well. The two met when Justice Cotter moved to Montana in the early 80s. Bradley had finished law school and was running for the Legislature again after having already served four terms in the House. She was struck by the warmth and dignity with which Bradley treated her and others, and the interest she showed in her career.
“These memories stayed with me and eventually helped provide the incentive to run for the Montana Supreme Court,” Justice Cotter said. “I came to believe that if she could do it, so could I. Surely, I am only one of the many lawyers to whom Dorothy’s example has provided the courage to seek a higher and better ground in their law careers and their lives.
“The Jameson Award honors a lawyer who has demonstrated the essence of professionalism and a devotion to the public good, Justice Cotter continued. “Throughout her long career as a lawyer, a legislator, an environmental expert and negotiator, and a Court Administrator, Dorothy has unfailingly exhibited these traits.”
Goetz, who like Bradley is a longtime champion of the environment, described Bradley as a “shining star.” He said he particularly appreciated her work regarding Montana’s Conservation Easement Law, which she strongly supported in the Legislature. He said Bradley’s ability to work with people from both parties to overcome strong opposition It took two sessions to pass it because there was strong opposition from then Land Commissioner Ted Schwinden and from Burlington Northern, one of Montana’s largest landowners. However, it passed the second time around due to several critical compromises which were facilitated through Dorothy’s good work. In that process, I came to understand not only that Dorothy had estimable public values, but she had an uncanny ability to get along and work with members from across the aisle.
Though she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer, Bradley says she has heard from many women over the years that she was an inspiration.
“I was always a person of issues. I simply didn’t think about trailblazing,” she said. “The touchstone of my life has been building partnerships to solve problems. If my life stirs others, what a gift that we can celebrate. That’s what we need now.”
She said she also hopes to inspire lawyers to see that they all have a responsibility to live by the Jameson Standard.
“It’s not just our planet that is beleaguered right now, it is the rule of law,” she said. “We have an obligation to speak on its behalf. This is no time to sit back. I go right back to Jameson and their standard of lifelong service. We need that in the whole Montana bar.”