March is designated as National Women’s History Month and we’re honoring the many talented women who work for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. Through the month, we’ll be highlighting various employees through a series of “The Women of CCPO” interviews to give a small glimpse into the important work they do.
Mary Ellen Murphy – Acting First Assistant Prosecutor
Q: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Mary Ellen Murphy (MEM): For me, Women’s History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the many, many women who’ve come before us and on whose strong shoulders we stand today. Women like Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Alice Paul, Anne Frank, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Malala Yousafzai have affected generations with their trailblazing hard work and sacrifice. I am proud to use the occasion of Women’s History Month to teach our children, not just our daughters, how amazing women are (and have always been).
Q: What woman did you look up to as a young girl?
MEM: My mother, Catherine Murphy, was the strongest woman I have ever known. She was born in the Great Depression Era and had very little in the way of comfort or opportunity. She always wanted to be a nurse but her father passed away when she was in high school, leaving my mom with little choice but to get a job and help support the family. After marrying my dad, my mom raised six children. She worked at home to care for us from the moment she woke up each morning until her head hit the pillow each night. She simply never stopped and she never quit. She always said my two sisters and I should just go for it – whatever the opportunity. She simply would not see us be left behind. She taught us what it meant to have grit.
Q: What led you to become a lawyer? Was this always your goal?
MEM: My mom! I loved reading and logic. I majored in English and Political Science in college and I just gravitated toward the law. However, I did not know any attorneys. I come from a family of construction workers. It was my Mom who convinced me to leave the safe job I had as a medical copy editor after college and take a job at a law firm to pursue my dream. I spent a year as a file clerk at a large firm – just to have the opportunity to be around attorneys and soak up their experience. That experience – and my mom’s constant encouragement – convinced me I could go to law school and become a lawyer.
Q: You started as a private criminal defense attorney. Why did you transition to becoming an Assistant Prosecutor?
MEM: While I was at Rutgers Law School, I interned at the CCPO for a full year. I knew from day one that I needed to be an Assistant Prosecutor. However, those spots were few and far between when I graduated law school.
Criminal law was my interest, so I took a position as an associate working with a prominent private defense attorney. That experience was invaluable. It taught me lessons that I carry with me to this day, including how it feels to work a criminal case from the other side of the courtroom.
Once the opportunity to become an Assistant Prosecutor at the CCPO finally presented itself, I took it, without hesitation.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
MEM: I love my job! I truly enjoy working to make sure the office runs smoothly and that each of my colleagues has the materials and support they need to fight for justice.
Q: What is something about your job that would surprise people if they learned it?
MEM: I am often surprised by the fuller understanding that being the Acting First Assistant Prosecutor has given me. Previously, as a Section Chief, I was well aware of how my specific unit ran and how hard each of the people in my unit worked. I thought no other group could compare. After I became the Acting First Assistant, and learned how all the other units at the CCPO work, I was amazed – and so proud – to see how tightly run each unit is – with everyone — APs, Detectives, clerical and agents — all working hard toward one goal – justice. I am immensely proud of our entire office for the work we do every day.
Q: According to multiple studies, women represent only 36-38% of lawyers. Why do we need more women in law and why is this a career option women should consider?
MEM: The more diversity we have in every vocation, the better off we are as a society. Incorporating greater inclusivity and differing perspectives in our legal system is critical to achieving a more just and fair society.
Q: What message would you share with the young women of the world?
MEM: Don’t stop. Don’t quit. We are so fortunate to be born at a time when women before us have paved the way for us to claim our piece of happiness and fulfillment and make our mark in the world that was exponentially more difficult for women a few centuries – or even a few decades – ago. Don’t squander that progress and that tremendous opportunity – never give up!
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
MEM: My favorite quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – “Well behaved women rarely make history.”