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Midge Rendell talks about life as a judge

The former Pennsylvania first lady said there are still barriers for women in government.

Judge Midge Rendell, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sits in her office at the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse, at 6th and Market streets.
Judge Midge Rendell, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sits in her office at the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse, at 6th and Market streets.Read moreSean Collins Walsh / DAILY NEWS STAFF

AS A FEDERAL JUDGE on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, the former first lady of Pennsylvania and a leader on local projects like the Avenue of the Arts, Marjorie "Midge" Rendell has had a stellar career. But like former Mayor and Gov. Ed Rendell, with whom she is "separated but friendly," Rendell, 66, has no plans to slow down.

She recently sat down with Daily News writer Sean Collins Walsh in her office overlooking Independence Mall, in the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse, to talk about what she's up to these days and reflect on what she's done.

Q President Bill Clinton nominated you to federal district court in 1994 and to the 3rd Circuit in 1997. What was the Senate confirmation process like?

It's a horrible process and sometimes it's wrongheaded. I had belonged to Bala Country Club, and they were equating it to some fancy club, and I had to get Mary Mason, the African-American radio personality, to let them know that it was not one of these fancy, fancy places.

It's just a fight. And it's gotten worse over time and more partisan.

Q Do you have any advice for young lawyers, especially women, who want to become judges?

Well, if you want to become a judge in Pennsylvania, you usually need to get to know some people in high places, unfortunately. I was fortunate enough to be friends with Sen. Arlen Specter, and that certainly didn't hurt. So get active and get to know some people and obviously work hard in your profession.

Q Do you believe it's gotten easier over time for women in law and government?

I wish I could say it had, but it hasn't changed as much over the years as I anticipated. It's still a very male-dominated world. One of our Congress people from Pennsylvania is a woman - for now. It could be zero. That's scandalous.

Life in politics and government is extremely demanding, and whether we like it or not, women shoulder the responsibility for most of the home, the children, elderly parents. There still are a lot of barriers out there.

Q As first lady, you were barred from participating in your husband's political activities because you were a judge. How did you balance those worlds?

There are a lot of constraints from the idea that you should not be involved in fundraising and politics. That really covers a lot. It was easier to steer totally clear when there was a question.

One of the other governors, Kathleen Sebelius, of Kansas - her husband was a magistrate judge and he would call me. And of course the politicians would say to the spouse, "Oh, you can go to this." And I would say, "Sorry, I can't."

Q And that's the Kathleen Sebelius who recently stepped down as President Obama's secretary of health and human services. Did you connect with them because of your shared bios?

You do get to know the other governors and their spouses because we meet in Washington every year. When she got elected, which was after Ed, I realized he was a magistrate judge, and he reached out to me.

Q Do you see Ed these days?

Sure, we are separated but friendly. We were together on Mother's Day, celebrating our grandchildren and our daughter-in-law. We're friendly and each going our separate ways and doing fine.

Q He seems to have the same desire to stay involved in things.

He is still 24/7, and I marvel at it.

Q Your singing abilities are well known. How did you get involved in that?

I had training when I was a teenager and I love Broadway. I always had a real love of drama and singing. Maybe that's why I became a lawyer. You have to love drama. Not singing so much.

Q What's your favorite song to sing?

"Summertime," from "Porgy and Bess," the opera.

Q I understand you have no immediate plans to step down from the bench. Are you working on other projects as well?

Our court has just started a Courts and Community Committee, and I'm the chair of that. So one of the reasons I said yes to this interview is because judges are people, too, and the public should be exposed to judges more. We're trying to bring the community into the courts and take the courts out into the community, into schools.