York College graduate becomes first female President Judge of the York County Court of Common Pleas
The Honorable Maria Musti Cook ’81 was the first female in many areas of her career. She was the first woman hired at one of the oldest law firms in York County. She was the first woman President of the York County Bar Association. And most recently, she was sworn in as the first female President Judge of the York County Court of Common Pleas.
Musti Cook’s accomplishments have made her proud of the progress she’s helped make for women in her field, but, she says, it’s also left her with a sense of responsibility to ensure others can follow her lead.
“I remember when we elected our first female judge, our second female judge, and then it was 14 more years until I came along,” Musti Cook says. “I remember when people said, ‘It’s not your time.’ I just remember thinking, ‘What do you mean by that? Why am I not as equally qualified as this group of men who are running?’”
Despite the comments, she put herself out there to “break the glass ceilings” in the field of law so that others don’t have to fight as hard. “It can be a little frustrating to go through that process, but it’s important to keep doing that,” she says. “I don’t want generations who follow us to give it a second thought.”
A solid foundation
Musti Cook graduated from high school and wanted to jump straight into the workforce. While she worked for The Bon-Ton in a variety of positions, including a retail buyer, she took night classes at York College of Pennsylvania. She pursued a Marketing Degree, hoping it might be beneficial for her career in retail. After six years of part-time education, she graduated in 1981.
While she felt like she’d spent enough time in school, she was encouraged to go after an MBA or a law degree. She chose the latter and pursued her Juris Doctor, which she received from the Dickinson School of Law in 1984.
At that time, there were fewer than 15 women practicing law in York County. None served on the bench. She spent a year as a law clerk for Judge John Miller, who helped shape her as an attorney as she followed him to the court room and researched and wrote opinions. That experience helped her grasp the field of law in York County, giving her a chance to watch how other people shaped their careers and the issues that were important to them.
Musti Cook later entered private practice and went on to serve as solicitor to Children, Youth and Families.. In 2005, she was elected to the bench. Her term as President Judge runs from 2021 to 2026.
Helping others climb
If York College had not been so proactive in creating programs that were flexible for part-time students, Musti Cook isn’t sure she’d be where she is today. “I got a lot of support from people I met, whether they were fellow students or professors,” she says. “That really nudged me to keep going. I don’t know if I’d have gone to graduate school if I hadn’t had that encouragement.”
As she settles into her position as President Judge, there are several things she hopes she can accomplish. First, she hopes to help York County get past COVID-19, to a time where the court system can administer fair justice in a way that makes everyone comfortable.
“Once we get through this, I hope we can start addressing some bigger and broader issues, such as projects that keep people with mental health illnesses out of prison and others that help people with substance abuse issues get treatment versus face incarceration,” she says. “It’s also important to me that we try to make sure we increase diversity in our profession and make sure everyone has fair access to our systems.”