Friday, March 4, 2005 | 11:18 a.m.
Emilie N. Wanderer, the oldest living member of the Nevada Bar Association, a tireless defender of the downtrodden and minorities and a driving force behind the establishment of the Clark County Family Court system, died Thursday at the age of 102.
A Henderson resident, she had lived in the Las Vegas Valley for 50 years, served as counsel for the NAACP during the 1950s and was the first woman in Nevada history to run for the District Court bench.
"Nevada has lost one of its true champions in the fight for social justice and one of its leading role models for men and women to aspire to make a difference in our community," said Gary Peck, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
"We are honored that she would allow us to put her name on our annual civil liberties award. We will use that award to keep Emilie's legacy alive and hope it will be an inspiration for others to follow the path she has blazed."
Last year, the local ACLU started the Emilie Wanderer Civil Libertarain of the Year Award. She was the first recipient.
Wanderer is believed to be the first woman to practice law in Las Vegas, but that cannot be independently confirmed.
The Nevada Bar Association says Wanderer was one of the first 25 women to receive a license to practice law in the state. However, no records were kept on where they practiced.
In a Sept. 25, 1999, Sun story, Wanderer recalled: "I was the only woman practicing law here my first two years (1947 and 1948).
"I never thought of myself as a pioneer. But you never know what is going to happen in life."
Wanderer passed the Nevada bar exam in 1947 and opened her practice in downtown Las Vegas.
Wanderer took on the NAACP as a client in the early 1950s, a time when Strip hotels barred blacks as guests. She held meetings in her home in a white neighborhood, drawing threats from hate groups.
Wanderer was an advocate for protecting the rights of children, but she also vigorously defended clients accused of molesting children because defense attorneys are sworn to give defendants the best defense possible regardless of the charges against them, members of the local legal community noted.
"Everyone is entitled to a defense including the unpopular, or our system of justice does not work," said Richard Morgan, dean of UNLV's Boyd School of Law, who was in Reno Thursday at the National Judicial College trustee meeting, where Wanderer's death was announced.
"Somebody has to provide a credible defense, and, by doing so, Emilie helped the system to function. Often, through her pro bono work, she took on the causes of the poor. She was a pioneer and an inspiration."
Wanderer, who had to drop out of law school in 1931 because of a lack of funds, started the Emilie Wanderer scholarship at the Boyd Law School in 1999 with a gift of $450,000. She also was a donor to UNLV's oral history project.
"Emilie's life was one of living large and reaching for your dreams, and with hard work they will come true," said former Sen. Richard Bryan, a longtime friend and fellow attorney.
"You have to remember she did what she did in the 1950s, a time when there were very few women pursuing both a professional career and raising children as a single mother."
Bryan said she was especially courageous taking on unpopular causes "in a time when the town was small and less sophisticated, and everyone knew everyone." Born April 8, 1902, in Providence, R.I., Wanderer grew up in Boston. She attended Boston University and went to New York City's Fordham Law School.
Because a law school diploma was not required in those days to become an attorney, Wanderer's dream of practicing law did not end with her early departure from Fordham. In 1933, she passed the New York bar exam.
While working for the U.S. attorney's office in New York City, Wanderer helped create the National Women's Bar Association and was appointed by the governor to the Commission for the Improvements of the Courts of New York.
She married Dr. Henry Wanderer, with whom she had her children. He preceded her in death.
In 1946, Emilie and her children moved to the desert region because the drier climate was more suitable for one of her sons who suffered from asthma.
Morgan said the Wanderers had planned to settle in Phoenix, "but their car broke down in Las Vegas" so they decided to make their home here.
Initially, Wanderer worked as a legal assistant to Madison Graves before passing the state bar exam and opening her own practice.
She made an unsuccessful bid for Las Vegas Municipal Court judge in the early 1950s. At that time, she spoke regularly at local gatherings on the issue of equal rights.
In April 1957 Wanderer married Illinois resident Erwin Mautner and moved to Chicago, where she passed the state bar exam and practiced for several years. She returned to Las Vegas in the mid-1960s after the marriage failed.
In April 1972, Wanderer became the first woman in Nevada to run in a District Court judicial race. She lost to District Judge Michael Wendell.
Wendell's Department 8 bench was at the time scheduled to become the Family and Juvenile Court post. Prior to her seeking the bench, Wanderer helped to lay the groundwork to establish the local Family Court.
In 1974 Wanderer went into practice with her son John Wanderer of Las Vegas in the firm of Wanderer & Wanderer. She retired as a full-time lawyer in 1981, but continued to serve in an advisory role at the firm until her death.
In addition to being licensed to practice law in three states, Wanderer was admitted to practice before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to her son, Wanderer is survived by another son, Philip Wanderer of Boulder City; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by a son, David Wanderer. Palm Mortuary-Henderson is handling the arrangements.
The family said donations can be made to the City of Hope National Medical Center, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010; Attn: Donations for Southern Nevada Chapter.