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Remembering the Honorable Marcia G. Cooke

Senior U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Florida 

By Anshu Budhrani, Stephanie Casey, and Enjoliqué A. Lett 


Hon. Marcia G Cooke



On January 27, 2023, the Honorable Marcia G. Cooke passed away, leaving a void on our federal bench, the South Florida legal community, and her greater Miami home. As a jurist, she had a strong sense of justice and always strived to be thoughtful and compassionate on the bench. But she was never boring: those who practiced before her will long remember her quick wit and humor. As a friend and mentor, she encouraged you—dreaming bigger than you would for yourself—but didn’t mince words concerning what it would require to achieve those dreams. She was kind and caring, but expected excellence from everyone around her. It made those of us privileged to call her a friend strive a little harder to meet her expectations—and we were better for it. Judge Cooke had a strong sense of community and brought people together. Her absence will be felt for years to come. 


Although it seemed like it, Judge Cooke was not a native Miamian. She was born in Sumter, South Carolina on October 16, 1954 and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Judge Cooke was proud to be from Detroit (for most of her life she insisted on buying only American-made vehicles manufactured there). As she described Detroit in the 1950s and 60s: 


Opportunities were plentiful. And I think for me, I had an opportunity to be raised in a safe, secure middle-class environment where I saw Black people and black success and excellence on a daily basis. And it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that some people didn’t grow up in that kind of community. 


As a young girl, Judge Cooke learned about Georgetown University while flipping through an encyclopedia at home. At the age of about 11, she made up her mind that she would go to school there. But the road to Georgetown was not devoid of moments of self-doubt. As she explained: 


I held off sending [my application to Georgetown] because most of the people in my high school class were applying to Michigan or Michigan State, or maybe Notre Dame, which was a Catholic school. And I was like, am I prepared to leave Detroit and go all this distance away from home? I had always even eschewed my parents from even sending me to sleepaway camps. So why was I going to go this far to college? 


Judge Cooke credits Sister Elizabeth Giradeau, her high school college counselor, with helping her overcome her fears: 


I told my advisor, Sister Elizabeth Giradeau, who will always remain in my heart, for what she did next. I wouldn’t send the application in, and I told her why—that I am sort of afraid of the rejection. She said, “But you’ve told me since you were in ninth grade that this is where you wanted to go to college.” I said, “Yeah, but you know, sometimes we’re often our own worst enemy.” And I went to Georgetown with the Model United Nations project that Georgetown still sponsors. I believe that year our school was Swaziland. And she says, “Well, let’s go visit the campus.” I was with my other team members, and she sent them off somewhere. She said, “Marcia, I have something I want you to see.” . . . And she escorted me into the dean’s office and she had made an appointment with me with Dean [Peter] Krogh, (now Dean Emeritus), where I was interviewed, and he said, “I expect your application to be submitted as soon as you’re back to Detroit.” So how much more encouragement can you receive? Your high school counselor gets you an appointment with the dean of the school that you want to be admitted to, and the dean says, “I expect your application.” So I was kind of pressured at that point to finish the application, and I was admitted it would have been the spring of 1971. 


At Georgetown, Judge Cooke did not dream of being a lawyer; instead, she aspired to become a journalist: 


I actually thought my future would have been a lot different. I was always interested in politics and writing and international affairs, which is how I kind of got the Georgetown bug. And I always viewed myself as being a journalist writing about things at the U.N. or treaties and wars or anything like that. And my career turned very opposite, although I think the School of Foreign Service prepared me for the law. It’s not what I planned when I went to the School of Foreign Service. 


Ultimately, after obtaining her undergraduate degree from the Georgetown University Edmund G. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Judge Cooke chose to continue her studies at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. She earned her Juris Doctor in 1977. Judge Cooke held a variety of coveted positions in the public and private sectors during her time in Michigan. She served as a staff attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services, a deputy public defender for Legal Aid and Defender Association, an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan, and in private practice with the law firm of Miro, Miro and Weiner. Judge Cooke first joined the federal judiciary in 1984, serving as a United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan. 


Judge Cooke’s love affair with Miami began in 1992. Judge Cooke moved to Miami to serve as an Executive Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Within her first month here, Judge Cooke hunkered down for her first major storm—Hurricane Andrew. Never letting a challenge get the best of her, Judge Cooke was steadfast and went on to serve as Executive Assistant United States Attorney for seven years. 


In 1999, Governor Jeb Bush appointed her to serve as the Chief Inspector General for the State of Florida, responsible for promoting accountability, integrity, efficiency and ethical behavior in the agencies under the jurisdiction of the Executive Office of the Governor. From 2002 to 2004, Judge Cooke was an Assistant County Attorney in the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office, before being nominated and confirmed to the Federal Bench. 


President George W. Bush nominated Judge Cooke to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida on November 25, 2003, to the seat vacated by the great jurist, Judge Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Judge Cooke was confirmed by the Senate on May 18, 2004, and received her commission the same day. 


Judge Cooke was the first Black woman federal district court judge in Florida, and for the entire time she served on the federal bench, she was the only Black woman federal district court judge in the Southern District of Florida. Serving the legal and greater communities of South Florida was Judge Cooke’s passion. As a stalwart supporter of the next generation of attorneys and community leaders, Judge Cooke served as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law, St. Thomas University School of Law, and Wayne State University Law School. Judge Cooke was a long-time faculty member of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA), taught at various trial practice and litigation programs throughout the country, and lectured on issues related to trial practice and litigation. Judge Cooke also served as a General Council member for the Vice Provost’s Council for Florida International University. As a proud Georgetown University alumnus, Judge Cooke served on the Georgetown University African American Advisory Board, was a member of the Board of Governors, and served as the national President of the Georgetown University Alumni Association. She was elected to the University’s Board of Directors in 1998. 


Judge Cooke took senior status on July 15, 2022. She passed away on January 27, 2023, surrounded by her family, in Detroit. We will miss her greatly.1 


1The excerpts in this article are derived from an interview with Judge Cooke, taken on June 22, 2021, for the We Are Georgetown: Celebrating Our Black History Oral History Project, sponsored by the Georgetown University African-American Advisory Board. The full interview is available at: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/1064772.


Punctuation in the excerpts has been cleaned up for clarity. 


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This article is featured in our March 2024 Newsletter.




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