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Appealing cases: Judge Aleta Grillos Trauger '68

  Mary Boone  

In 1998, Aleta Grillos Trauger ’68 became the first female U.S. District judge in the Middle District of Tennessee.

After graduating from Cornell, Trauger taught in England for a year and in Tennessee for two years. Realizing education was not her calling, she enrolled in law school at Vanderbilt University and graduated in 1976.

She worked as a law clerk and later as an associate at a small Nashville firm from 1974 o 1977. She then went to work as an assistant U.S. attorney for five years in Nashville and Chicago and in 1981 prosecuted former Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton for selling liquor licenses while he was in office. She served as Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen’s chief of staff for a year in the early 1990s.

Trauger met Vice President Al Gore when they attended Vanderbilt Law School in the mid-1970s, and she was a Clinton-Gore delegate in 1992. She was appointted as a U.S. Bankruptcy judge in 1993, and in October 1998, the Senate approved President Clinton’s nomination that made her a U.S. District judge.

In March 2000, she was called upon to determine the fate of condemned inmate Robert Glen Coe, the first person Tennessee execu ed in 40 years.

Trauger is a Cornell trustee. She and her husband, Byron, live in Nashville with their daughter, Katherine.

The Case: Perry March v. Lawrence Levine and Carolyn Levine
Perry March had custody of his two young biological children, Samson Leo and Tzipora Josette, when he moved to Mexico for a job. The children were attending school and had been in Mexico for about a year when the children’s maternal grandparents, Lawrence and Carolyn Levine, abducted them and took them to Nashville.

The Levines alleged that Perry March had killed their daughter, the children’s mother. They relied in large part on a default judgment they obtained in a wrongful death action against March; the judgment declared Jane Gail Levine March dead based solely upon the Levines’ pleadings, which had gone unanswered by Perry March.

They argued he children would be at risk if returned to their father. They also asserted returning the children to Mexico would violate “human rights and international freedoms.” The grandparents said March was engaged in “shady business dealings” and was living in a bigamous relationship.

Perry March provided a sworn declaration that he did not kill his wife but rather stated she simply “drove away one evening.” He testified he knew of no evidence that she was deceased and said he was appealing the default judgment.

March filed his Petition for Return of Children under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), asserting they were wrongfully removed from their home in violation of his custody rights and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Levines moved to dismiss March’s petition on the basis of the “fugitive disentitlement doctrine.” They argued March was not entitled to bring this petition because he was a fugitive from two arrest warrants arising out of criminal contempt orders. The contempt orders stemmed from March’s failure to provide the Levines with a telephone number for the children at all times and for failing to return a baby quilt and beaded purse to the Levines.

Judge Trauger denied the motion to dismiss and ordered the children immediately be returned to their father in Mexico at the Levines’ expense. After a delay while the case was in appeal, the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Trauger’s order.

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