Pamela Pepper grew up in the middle of nowhere — the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to be exact.
She’s worked her way up — in more ways than one — by moving north and advancing through the federal court system and becoming the first woman U.S. District Judge in the Eastern District.
She also has been a federal prosecutor, an assistant U.S. district attorney, a criminal defense lawyer and a U.S. bankruptcy judge, and she puts that vast legal knowledge and experience to its utmost uses.
But she has another resource she taps: her background in theater. Before going to law school, Pepper considered becoming an actor.
“One of the things that you study as an actor is how people’s outward behavior reflects what’s going on inside or covers up what’s going on inside,” she said.
Having that knowledge is a handy tool in the courtroom.
“So I see witnesses, I see parties, I see litigants, and there are lots of things I can tell from the physical manifestations of what they’re doing. And it also gives me tools to, in a courtroom, figure out how to react to problematic situations. You know, someone who is emotionally distraught, attorneys who are getting personal with each other, and things of that nature. I have some tools in my acting tool kit that are helpful in those situations.”
In addition to giving her the ability to read people and know how to react to uncomfortable situations, Pepper said, the frustrated actor in her contributes to her motivation and drive.
She also happens to enjoy her job.
“I like being in the courtroom,” she said. “I like interacting with lawyers in the courtroom. I like it as a lawyer, I like it as a judge, so that’s part of it.
“The other part of it, of course, is it’s problem-solving. It’s seeing issues that are out there, people who are having trouble and seeing if you can’t help them get past the bumps in the road and solve those problems.”
Pepper said her service to the legal community has enriched her career and personal life, and she encourages all her clerks to get involved.
“It makes me a better lawyer, it makes me a better judge. It makes me a better person. It broadens my circle of friends and people,” she said.