Saturday, March 29, 2014

Judge Kopf's Attire Post Was Just Awful

My reactions to Judge Richard Kopf's recent post on women's attire were first, shock, and second, concern, for the attorney being described and for all women appearing before the judge. Frankly, I also felt concern for the judge. The post is so clearly out of bounds that it made me wonder about his state of mind.

One part of the post reads like a numbered paragraph in a sexual harassment complaint, which might look something like this (the judge's words are in red):

23. The supervisor wrote:

"My employee is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes."

That kind of statement promotes discouragement and even, hopelessness: No matter how good you are, no matter how hard you work, it doesn't matter. I wondered if there was enough detail that local attorneys knew who was being described. If so, it's humiliating.

It got worse. The judge also wrote:

"Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down."

Via Muses of his own making (more on that below), the judge has just labeled a capable officer of the court "an ignorant slut."

Let's review all of the women described in the post:

1-Ignorant slut (who can write a heck of a legal brief, though!!)

2-Backstabbing gossips

3-Wicked stepmother (appearing to cite his daughter/s on this point)

4-Inept daughter in need of parental guidance

5-Teary daughter upset by events beyond her control

That's a good number of pejoratives and stereotypes related to women, in a relatively short post.

In the comments to the post, there was some feedback: female law clerks in the building had no idea what the post was talking about.

Responding, the judge said that he had taken "literary license, the example I gave in the post was an amalgam of more than one person and more than one event and did not necessarily relate to the same place or person. That said, the essence of the example was accurate."

If the example was "essence" or "an amalgam," and not real, that should have been noted in the original post, because real people get wrongly ID'd otherwise.

The next day, the judge attempted to justify the post as giving insight into the foibles of federal judges. I didn't need that post to realize that judges are human. I do expect that judges will treat people with courtesy, which the post did not.

If there is a general point on which I can agree with the judge, it is that attire does matter. But that universe is bigger than specific items of clothing, and it applies to everyone.

For example, Judge Carla McMillian of the Georgia Court of Appeals recently tweeted that she has seen "too casual dress" as a problem for both men and women. "Real life examples would be wearing a jogging suit to try a jury case or wearing 'boat shoes' with no socks. It just stands out," she wrote.