The first woman to serve as the chief justice of Poland's Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf has become a symbol of judicial independence as the rightwing government pushes through reforms criticised by the EU as upending the courts' independence.
Renowned for her iron will, the blond, bespectacled 65-year-old has refused to comply with a new law that reduces the retirement age for Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65, arguing that the six-year term she is guaranteed under the constitution ends in 2020.
Despite a presidential aide insisting that Gersdorf was "going into retirement in accordance with the law" as of Tuesday midnight, she showed up for work at the court early Wednesday greeted by thousands of supporters.
"I'm not engaging in politics; I'm doing this to defend the rule of law and to testify to the truth about the line between the constitution and the violation of the constitution," Gersdorf told reporters and supporters.
She has branded the reform introduced by the Law and Justice (PiS) government as a "purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform".
The PiS has refused to back down despite the EU threatening legal action over the controversial reforms. Warsaw insists the measures are needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era.
However, Gersdorf herself was long a member of Poland's anti-communist Solidarity trade union that was key to negotiating a peaceful end to the regime in the country in 1989.
A friend quoted anonymously by the Polish edition of Newsweek says that her dissident activity was limited as she did not want to risk spending time in a communist jail.
"Gosia didn't conspire," said the friend, referring to Gersdorf by the Polish diminutive for Malgorzata.
"She became a solicitor in the mid-1980s and raised a child. She couldn't allow the SB secret police to derail her career," they added.
- 'No fireworks' -
After communism fell, Gersdorf was a partner in a high-powered Warsaw law firm that had media tycoon Zygmunt Solorz -- Poland's second richest businessman -- among its clients.
"There are no fireworks in her life story," a Warsaw solicitor who also spoke anonymously told Newsweek Polska, adding that "she wasn't active socially or in local government, she avoided public activity."
Gersdorf, however, did devote a great deal of her time to writing and has over 200 legal publications to her name. Her work served as a basis to write parts of Poland's labour code.
Hailing from a renowned Warsaw family with deep roots in the legal profession, Gersdorf's father Miroslaw was also a respected law professor and judge.
She grew up in the same leafy Warsaw neighbourhood as powerful PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, regarded as being the mastermind behind the controversial judicial reforms and Poland's de facto decision-maker.
Gersdorf specialised in labour law during her studies at Warsaw University in the 1970s and then qualified as a judge during the 1980s.
While at university, she also met and married her first husband Tomasz Giaro, who now serves as dean of Warsaw University's faculty of law.
They later divorced and have one son, Tomasz, who also took up the legal profession.
She is currently married to Bohdan Zdziennicki, a retired Polish Constitutional Court judge.
Renowned for her iron will, Polish chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf denounced Warsaw's reforms as "purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform"