Federal judge Richard Kopf has made his ruling on how young women lawyers should dress for court: “You can’t win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.”

The phrase “contempt of court” comes to mind. (More)

Judge Kopf didn’t announce his ruling from the bench. Instead, he wrote it at his personal blog, in an entry titled “On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress,” and begins by humiliating his “tall, statuesque, and beautiful” daughter Lisa over what he calls “one of those memories better left forgotten.” Judge Kopf writes that he was “spitting nails” over the dress Lisa wore to her sister’s wedding. His wife was “the evil stepmother.” The bride was in tears, “and it was all about an old guy’s sense of decorum.”

I object, your honor. “Sense of decorum” doesn’t include publicly shaming your daughter, a decade later, over what should have remained a private family spat. The phrase you wanted is “sense of male entitlement.”

Or, more simply, rape culture, which includes “victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing of rape.”

“In candor,” Judge Kopf continues, “I have been a dirty old man ever since I was a very young man. Except, that is, when it comes to my daughters (and other young women that I care deeply about).”

I object, your honor. You’re a dirty old man … even when it comes to your daughters. See above.

We return to his words:

True story. Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She 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.

I object, your honor. You don’t “especially appreciate the last two attributes.” As the rest of your story makes clear, those are the only attributes you find relevant. You list the other attributes only in a pathetic attempt cover your sexual objectifying a professional colleague, as you quickly make clear:

In a recent case involving this fine young lawyer every female law clerk in the building slipped in and out of the courtroom to observe her. I am not exaggerating. I later learned that word had gotten around about this lawyer’s dress. Acknowledging that the lawyer was really good, the consensus of the sisterhood was uniformly critical. “Unprofessional” was the word used most often. To a woman, the law clerks seethed and sneered. They were truly upset.

I object, your honor. As a judge in that court, you have a professional duty to step in and counsel “the sisterhood” of law clerks. They are your employees, and officers of the court. Clerks play an important role in researching and drafting legal opinions that decide cases and impact people’s lives. They should be warned against seething, sneering gossip against any attorney who appears in your court. It’s not a college dormitory. It’s a workplace, and should be a hall of Justice. Maybe you’ve seen Her statue. She’s blindfolded for a reason.

From the foregoing, and in my continuing effort to educate the bar, I have three rules that young women lawyers should follow when considering how to dress for court:

1. You can’t win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.

2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.

3. 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.

I object, your honor. Your ruling is self-contradictory. Should women attorneys – licensed professionals – “tone it down” if “the sisterhood” you call your clerks “are likely” to call them “ignorant sluts?” Or should women attorneys – who come to court representing real clients in real disputes with real consequences – just accept that “You can’t win…. Get over it?”

In fairness, your honor is not alone, as Ann Farmer documented in a 2010 article for the American Bar Association journal Perspectives. She quotes replies from female lawyers at the Feministe blog:

I mean really. Have you ever heard a man be called “slutty”? A dude can show up to court in a too-small suit and we just say he looks a little silly (if we say or think anything). If a woman shows up in a too-small suit, we think it means something about her sexual choices (she’s “slutty”), which we in turn think means something about her intelligence or her judgment. See how there’s a difference?
Many parts of this article dealing with how women dress is all about ‘protecting’ the men. You don’t want your hair down styled in a distracting way. Distracting for whom? You don’t want too much cleavage showing, too much leg showing, too much arm showing, etc. It’s all about keeping a lid on your sexuality so that men don’t lose control around you. Heaven forbid you wear a sleeveless shirt to work. Creating all these rules to subdue the sexuality of women is sexist, wrong, and just plain bullcrap.

But perhaps your honor prefers this reply at a Salon article by Amanda Hess:

And don’t even get me started on the skirts – slitted, pleated and slant-cut from knees to upper thigh; side and back zippered to streamline that fit from hips to rear. Listen, I’ve seen my male colleagues walk away from me a million times – and there ain’t no hind-quarters in them pants to look at. With women? all there is is haunches, she’s dressed like chum for sharks and to avoid the stink-eye of sexual harassment all us guys gotta make like tuna and head for the coffee-machine to seek-out security in numbers.

And don’t even get me started on the heels, the hair-care, perfume and jewelry that cries-out, ‘hey, look right here – check-out my ankle and calves, see my cleavage, imagine why I love this choker’.

Yeah, that’s right, I’d put ’em all in black robes. And if the colonial wig makes ’em any less attractive, I’m up for that too. Dress however you’d like on your own time, but don’t show-up at work lookin’ like an entrapment scheme…I’m just tryin’ to get un-e-freakin’-vent-fully through the day and make it safely back home to my frumpy postpartum wife.

I reject your “attempt to educate the bar,” your honor. You have have the same First Amendment rights as any citizen, but you also have a responsibility as a federal judge … and you have failed that responsibility.

I pity your daughter, whom you humiliated not only once, privately, more than a decade ago … but again, publicly, yesterday.

I pity any woman who appears in your courtroom, as an attorney or party, forced to plead for justice from “a dirty old man.”

I have contempt for your court.


Happy Thursday!