Sunday, May 15, 2016

We Need A Diverse Judiciary

People are attracted to others with whom they can relate. That is a fact of nature. Yet, most members of the judiciary are still white men. White men comprise an increasingly smaller percentage of the populace, but a large percentage of lawyers and judges. Some of these lawyers, especially in more country settings, are descended from long lines of country club lawyers, who golf, drink martinis, and vote together.  They are less likely to have been exposed to other lawyers with different backgrounds.

I'll tell you why I bring this up now, after practicing more than 30 years. I mainly practice in Kansas City, with its diverse and open-minded judiciary. I've gotten spoiled. While I don't always agree with local judges, I cannot remember a time where I thought a Jackson County judge treated me or my client differently based on race or sex. I guess, as an old woman, I have age on my side, since I have a lot years in this job. When I was s young woman lawyer, older male lawyers would test me, which I attributed to either my age or my youth. My reaction was less than ideal. When crossed, I yelled and screamed back. I scare myself when I think how aggressive I was. But, I received a grudging "respect" from opposing counsel who tried to intimidate me.  As I got older, I got friendlier. I found less need to "prove" myself, or perhaps I was just more confident, with less need to lash out. Occasionally, I felt older judges took me less seriously at times, so I worked harder. Through the years, with my increased experience through many, many, many years and the concomitant increased numbers of women and minorities, I did not even think about me or my clients being slighted by a judge. The judges around here work hard, strive to be impartial, understand diversity and by-and-large treat people fairly in their courtrooms in civil cases. I have no experience with criminal cases, so I cannot comment on that. 

Now, to finally get to my point. The very rare couple of times I have felt that I was treated with less respect than the white male opposing counsel, were instances with white male judges from rural areas.   I don't jump to conclusions that a judge is sexist. In those two occasions where I suspect my gender made a difference, it didn't dawn on me until later. In one instance, I tried a jury trial in front of an older white male judge from the country, where, as the days in trial rolled by, I realized that my objections were being overruled, while my defense counterpart's objections were sustained. The evidence I needed in the trial was excluded by the court, while the defense attorney got all his evidence admitted without problems. I may be wrong and the judge may not have been biased. He never mase a derogatory comment to me. I did not raise sex as issue. I'm too macho to play the gender card, but I can't help but wonder. 

That trial was a few years ago. I revisit the trial the issue because of something more recent. I traveled to a more rural country many miles from Jackson County regarding a motion I filed in a sex discrimination case. Judges in rural counties run in partisan elections for judgeships, unlike Jackson County, where judges are appointed by the Governor after the applicants are winnowed down by a committee of lawyers and laypeople. I had never met this white male judge before. I am at least 15 years older than the white male opposing counsel. It was my motion, meaning it was incumbent on me to explain it. Yet, invariably, when the judge spoke, he looked at and addressed the opposing counsel, who was also not local.  The difference between him and me was our respective genders. I felt like I needed to interrupt to get the judge's attention.  When questions were asked of opposing counsel that should have been asked of me, I had to pipe up and answer. I felt frustrated.

After all these years, it's tiresome for me to address what appears to be a sexist judge. I suspect most lawyers he knows in his counties are men. I suppose he has no clue that he treats women lawyers differently than men. I can take care of myself, though.  Remember, I'm macho. But what happens to any hapless African-American, Latino, foreign-born, woman, or poorly educated litigant who appears before judges like him?  Can they get justice in this "good ol' boy club" in the country?  

How can we fix this?  Well, one thing we don't need are elected judges. We need judicial diversity. We don't need patrician lawyers descended from long lines of patrician lawyers becoming patrician judges. I do not mean to say all white male judges are discriminatory. Jackson county's example proves quite the contrary. But, sometimes in Missouri, the further you travel from an urban area the closer you are to time-traveling to the 1950's. 

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