The top ten things I learned from being a (fill in epithet of choice)

By now, you know my posts (here and here) about lawyers who are females and courtroom attire stirred up a controversy of stunning proportions.  Indeed, the device in this platform that counts such things tells me those stories generated more “hits” than any other related posts except for the ones about how my sentencing instincts suck as evidenced by Shon Hopwood’s remarkable redemption. (See here and here.)

Some of you may know also that I hold an affection for top ten lists. (See, e.g., here.) I revert to that shtick once again.

Here are the top ten things that I learned from writing the courtroom attire posts:

1. I shouldn’t believe my own press. (See here (“Courts”) and here “Miscellany” at p. 126).)  I am not nearly as good at blogging (writing essays) as I thought I was. That is, the only thing bigger than my ass is my ego.

2. A highly regarded legal blogger and true trial lawyer accurately put my grievous error this way:

“Judge Kopf was terribly wrong to have framed his point the way he did. Not because he violated the sensibilities of Millennials and Gen-Xers, who have been weaned on Orwellian notions of language to the point that they can’t even begin to grasp that there are good people who use words that they were taught are evil, but because he didn’t realize that his audience consisted of people for whom these words meant something very different.”

SCOTT H. GREENFIELD, A Poor Choice of Dirty Old Words, Simple Justice (March 29, 2014).

3. I should never, never, never have included my kids and the law clerks in this type of post. As one gentle soul who loves me unconditionally remarked with resigned sadness, “you see your work and the people who are close to you as being the same thing. We don’t see it nor want it that way.”

4. The “true story” I used in the post was untrue, although it was essentially accurate. It was an amalgam intended to take separate but similar experiences of mine in the courtroom and to blend them together precisely so I didn’t identify anyone. But because of my evasion and ineptitude, I set off a snipe hunt. I am so terribly sorry for that.

5. I can’t stop berating myself for giving aid and comfort to those who say federal trial judges shouldn’t blog. This is a powerful medium that can do much good in promoting an honest understanding of the federal trial court (a place that is not an abstraction), but I just handed the other side a sharp-edged weapon to maintain a status quo of sanitized mythology.

6. I despise faux apologies. So, for the uber outraged, hear this: I believe what I wrote. I extend no apology of any kind to those readers who wanted to be offended by my writing. And, eschewing mere truculent defiance, the vitriol will not deter me from judging and blogging in the future. By the way, and I suppose this is quaint, I view blogging as an opportunity to write a collection of short essays around a common theme. From the reader’s perspective, that means one might profitably look at the many blogs posts that come before the one in question. That is called the search for context.

7. I always knew edgy humor was both dangerous and hard to pull off as a writer, but it is much harder and more dangerous than I had ever imagined. That is an observation, not an excuse.

8. Because I was too defensive, I wrote Erin Grace, a real journalist, with a kind heart, that I don’t care how she remembers me. That was also untrue.

9. I harmed my District of Nebraska colleagues. In particular, I put my Chief Judge, Laurie Smith Camp, a person whom I revere, in a horrible position. That makes me sick at heart.

10. Most importantly, the federal trial courts (including the one in which I am privileged to preside) are places where all female lawyers are safe. Thus, I am deeply ashamed that my post generated the following fearful comment from a real trial lawyer that I presume is entirely genuine: “Wow, am I ever glad I don’t have to appear before you. I would be very uncomfortable, having read your post.” Female AFPD [Assistant Federal Public Defender] says: March 26, 2014 at 5:36 pm.


33 responses

  1. You will not be the first, nor the last, writer to incur the wrath of an offended group. What is funny to me is that often times I am surprised in that the people the most offended are not the group I anticipated as being offended. Keep writing and remember that no good deed goes unpunished.

  2. Judge, respectfully, I would not beat yourself up too much. You are probably causing yourself more pain than you have caused anyone else.

    Abraham Lincoln enjoyed going to see plays, even though he did not know that much about them. When he wrote to an actor how much he enjoyed the play, using clumsy phrases and words, the actor, prideful, published the letter in the local paper. This set off a firestorm of criticism against the president, who was seen as uncultured and mocked in the national press. Embarrassed by the response, the actor wrote a letter apologizing to Lincoln. Lincoln had this to say:

    “Give yourself no uneasiness…I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice, and have received a great deal of kindness not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.”

    I hope that the treatment is going well, and I look forward to more posts from you (though perhaps on other topics!)

  3. Judge, I’m glad to hear you’re going to keep blogging. IMHO, the highest utility of social media is to elicit and give voice to those who want to participate in conversations about important topics. It’s short-sighted to grade individual blog posts on the basis of what proportion of readers agreed with the post. Blogs and blog posts aren’t useful because the blogger never irritates or provokes or is never “wrong.” A better criterion is whether it started a conversation that many people wanted or needed to participate in or even just listen to. On that basis, I’d say your blog post that touched this particular third rail was a great success. Social media isn’t just about expressing ourselves, but about listening to others. How else can we learn?

  4. Someone recently said, ‘every joke must now be prefaced with an apology.’ I think it was Sarah Palin.

    I’m a liberal Canadian, sent to your post by the liberal Talking Points Memo. It was clear to me that the thoughtful piece was written with humour in mind, rather than malice.

  5. Keep blawing Judge.

    Wading through unsettled and evolving perceptions of “gender politics” or not, with civility, is no easy challenge by default or design.

    Sometimes a little hullabaloo is needed to ignite and burn off some of the bullshit when sarcasm or other sly and dry attempts just fall flat.

    With any luck, for years to come you will continue to receive a steady trickle of challenging and thoughtful (intermixed with the crazy, absurd, and fun for fun’s sake) comments at Hercules and the umpire.

    Be it from readers who came your way to express their outrage over this OP of yours (It should linger for awhile) or
    from those with curiosity in hand after having head about the blawing judge through this OP, one of your future, or one of your past posts.

    Not everyone is wiling to offer up, nor play, such expectant no trump bidding these days with a straight face either by design or default.

    Everyday the next generation is taking a long hard look at the cards they have been dealt while hopefully making real decisions that do not lead them into the next neat box.

    If you keep on, keeping on, I don’t think you will need any luck, barrels of persistence perhaps, but I am sure many of your new readers will stick around while learning and sharing a few things with you.

  6. Count me among the unrepentant. Most of the opprobrium cast on you (with a couple of exceptions) were by those whose refusal to form a coherent argument concerning the point of your posts was demonstrated by their efforts to change the subject and center their beef on the lack of moral equivalency or even symmetry in your advice to lawyers.

    As most of them were lawyers, and so words are their stock in trade, of course they knew what they were doing.

    Saul Alinsky would have been proud of them.

    Eric Hines

  7. Your critics are the type looking to be offended. Tell them all to get stuffed. The PC police try too hard to control the conversation.

  8. There aren’t too many people who would be able to remove themselves far enough from their blog post in order to truly listen to any possible merit or lessons in the complaints and in the negative responses of others. I am among those who could not get far enough beyond my own thoughts about the post to genuinely consider any view of the matter that did not match my own. And this wasn’t even my post. But, I’m glad that you could, if only because it’s an impressive thing to watch.

  9. RGK: That is, the only thing bigger than my ass is my ego.

    Uh, isn’t that the short definition of a federal judge? In the words of the great conservative philosopher (okay, it’s a contradiction in terms) Darrell Issa, “I sort of grew up going into Federal court with the understanding that the difference between God and a Federal district judge is God doesn’t think he is a Federal district judge.”

    At least, you are able to laugh at yourself. Posner can only look down his nose at himself.

  10. Addressing #10 – Your definition of safe is… interesting. You say outright, “…she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.” So you admit to being more appreciative of a woman’s physical attributes than her competency.

    Safe – to me as a woman at least – means being able to be in a situation where a man who is in a position of power is professional enough not to be distracted by my gendered attributes, who knows it’s wildly inappropriate to comment on a woman’s body or clothing, and who has enough respect for women not to be a “dirty old man”. Ugh. The idea of having to stand before someone who admittedly lusts after women he works with, to feel as though I should be wearing baggy clothing to better disguise my figure makes me feel decidedly unsafe. Safe is more than not being assaulted. Safe is not being sexualized, especially at work, when I haven’t consented to it.

    Also, you said you’re a dirty old man, “Except, that is, when it comes to my daughters (and other young women that I care deeply about.” So, those are the only women who deserve your respect? Would you like other men to treat or talk about your daughters in the ways you describe? Or would they deserve it if their skirt was too short, blouse too low, or clothes too tight?

  11. I have lurked on your blog since you first started publishing it, and I have admired you all the while. Having moved from Michigan to South Carolina, I always feel a little perplexed about fashion rules I never knew existed: Light colored shoes should not be worn after which date? Seersucker is a thing? For real some judges frown upon a woman in a pantsuit? A female judge once suggested I put on lipstick so I wouldn’t look drunk. I have grown tired of all the rules and scoff when the topic comes up. But you know what? Your post about it resonated with me. The bottom line is, even though I think some stuff shouldn’t matter, if I know it can have an effect on my case, I need to factor it in like I do everything else.

    Your post was provocative, if nothing else, and I suspect that the vast majority of those reading it understood your use of hyperbole and humor to make a point. I liked it so much, I blogged about you blogging about it, because linking to another’s blog is the best form of flattery (or something like that).

  12. Just wanted to chime in that you are absolutely right about South Carolina. It still amazes me just how conservative we are with dress. I have never seen so many bow ties in my life.

  13. Pingback: Federal Judge Regrets Saying He Was A ‘Dirty Old Man’ When It Comes To How Young Female Lawyers Dress |

  14. I was a law clerk to a Judge in the SDNY in the 1980s. Let me say upfront that I do not believe you said anything that is incorrect. Women happen to judge other women quite harshly – usually because they are either a bit jealous or feel guys will give more attention to the women who dress less modestly. And yes, we have a double standard when it comes to our own daughters – of course there were things I did when I was younger with my girlfriends that if some date ever tried that with my sweetheart – and I caught him – I would physically assault him (no death or serious injury but he would get the point). Moreover, women do want men to be attracted to them – enough of the PC nonsense. Anyone who denies the manifestly clear fact that by nature women want to be desired by their husbands, BF’s males in general is denying human nature. In conclusion, Your Honor, you did not say anything not true and IMO you are a real gentleman to reach out to anyone offended. Kol HaKavod.

  15. Judge Kopf,

    While I agree that you are being a bit hard on yourself, like Jill, I also admire your ability to truly hear your critics. I am reminded of an opinion of Judge Glasser’s you once referred us to:

    “I am acutely conscious of the challenges presented by these [criticisms] to a judge . . . . He is asked to agree that he made manifest errors . . . , mistakes . . . and rendered a judgement which was flawed. To meet those challenges, he must try to disembody himself, and in another incarnation imbued with humility, examine the merits of their claims. I have made that effort, reviewing the transcript . . . and when needed, the relevant record in the laser-like light the [critics have] aimed at them. * * * * I am conscious of the plea made by Oliver Cromwell to the Church of Scotland that Learned Hand believed should be engraved over the portals in every courthouse in the land, viz.: ‘I beseech ye in the bowls of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken.’ Dillard, The Spirit of Liberty XXIV (1952). I have thought and I was mistaken.”

    Jupiter v. United States, 2013 WL 4432227, No. 05 CV 4449(ILG) (S.D.N.Y., Aug. 15, 2013).

    I wish you a quick and complete recovery, Your Honor.

  16. Anony.,

    While I have none of Judge Glasser’s refinement and would never compare myself to him in any way, I am humbled by your comparison. Thank you. All the best.


  17. In response to item #7: Since when is sexism “edgy humor”? It is the stalest, most mainstream, unimaginative attempt at humor in existence, perhaps with the exception of racist jokes. Don’t give yourself so much credit for being on the edge, judge. Edgy humor challenges societal norms that need a fresh look, it doesn’t rehash the same old crap that a particular social group deals with in a decidedly unfunny way day in and day out.

    Do I fault you for feeling a normal bit of arousal when presented with sexual or provocative imagery? Of course not. However, when you denigrate professional women and objectify them in a public forum you cross a line. Now every female attorney that appears before you is burdened with worrying if her physique/dress/shoes/whatever are more important to you than the case they are attempting to lay out. Talk to your daughters and ask them honestly about how often they are treated based not on what they do, say, or think, but rather on how they look or dress. Encourage them to be honest and really listen to their answers. What they have to say may surprise you and cause you to think twice before you perpetuate this microaggression again.

  18. What you said got my hackles up. As a father, I ask you to ask yourself what you would say to the man that said something similar to/about one of your girls. Exactly.

    As a vet, I stand by your right to say whatever you have in your mind to say without the government coming down on you. This still doesn’t mean you cannot/will not be offensive. It is your right, after all.

    What I take umbrage with in this case, however, is your position as an officer of the court, evaluator of the law and the instrument of impartial judgement. Obviously this judgement is skewed, some might say flawed.

    I would not ask for you to apologize for your opinions, views, feelings or even words. They are all within your right. Not only to hold but to express as this is your right.

    What I would recommend, in light of the weighty responsibility of your appointment, is that you resign and pursue a livelihood in another, less public-service oriented sector.

    Many will call me a whining liberal whatever… That’s fine. I served to allow them to do it too.



  19. Well, this is probably going to tarnish my feminist street cred but I find the outrage about your blog pretty overblown. I’ve been practicing law for nearly 20 years. I’ve had some genuinely sexist things said to me by judges, including a state judge who called me “kitten” and “dear” all during my first trial. (I still won.)

    But appropriate courtroom attire should be part of the Professional Responsibility curriculum in law school. My late mother in law was also an attorney, one of the few in her generation. Maybe the second thing she ever said to me (I was still in law school and had just started dating her son) was “dress so they’ll listen.” Not “so they’ll pay attention.” Not “so they’ll remember you.” “Listen.”

    And to those out there who say, “it’s sexist to pay attention to what women wear in court”, you’ve clearly never spent any time in a courtroom with women lawyers. The harshest judgment calls about a woman’s in-court attire aren’t coming from the bench–it’s coming from other women attorneys. If you come to court and we can see your tattoos and the hickey you got last night at happy hour, we aren’t talking about how you kicked ass and took names during your motion hearing.

    Yeah, guys get something of a pass on the issue of dress. That’s partly because of a built-in double standard. It’s also because the uniform for male attorneys hasn’t changed since the 1930s. It’s still a suit and tie.

    At the end of the day, my job as a lawyer is not to prove any particular point about women in the legal profession–it’s to zealously advocate for my client. I can’t do that to the fullest of my ability if my audience is thinking about my wardrobe.

  20. Your Honor, as a recent law school graduate (class of ’13) and a casual reader of your blog over the past two years, I fully support your musings and writing syle on this wonderful blog – especially the one you addressed in this posting. I say this because I didn’t see anything wrong with your allegedly “controversial/demeaning/scandalous/unbecoming-of-an-officer-of-the-federal-judiciary” posting and not because of the fact that I typically concur with your opinions and assertions in the postings I have read here thus far. What ordinary people (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) fail to grasp is the reality that being an attorney requires proper clothing – especially in a courtroom. It seems to me, having attended a large number of law school-related professional events since August, 2010, that many members of the better gender somehow don’t seem to “get it.” I mean, it is worrisome that law schools, and even Big Law firms nowadays, have to specifically instruct the fairer sex in selecting appropriate clothing and shoes to look professional. Isn’t this just common sense with all the law-related TV shows and the like? You don’t see those actors potraying attorneys dressed in flip flops and busting out of their shirts. In short: You had/have nothing to apologize for. -RM

  21. Well said Christina and not surprisingly you do not warrant a response from the “dirty old man.” He must be too busy imagining how short your skirt is or how ample your cleavage to be capable of responding to a cogent argument of what he considers to be actions that do not warrant a sincere apology or recognition of wrong doing since you are obviously not one of his daughters or a young woman he cares deeply about.

  22. The Top Ten Sad Things I Learned From Reading Your Blog on Women’s Courtroom Attire

    1.That you think you have facilitated an important meaningful discourse.
    2.Alternatively, that you think you wrote an “edgy humorous” piece that was misunderstood.
    3.That life is all about you–you boast about ruining your daughter’s wedding over “an old guy’s sense of decorum.”
    4. That you lump all young women together as sexual objects to you except for those few that you care about.
    5. That you think all men are “pigs” like you.
    6. That you think it is unfair if you are judged as a “sexist pig” after publishing what is in essence your fantasy wet dream courtroom drama.
    7. That you think you should be judged in context but you label your critics “uber outraged…who wanted to be offended” and you fail to consider the context of their criticism.
    8. That misogynistic, sexist men have a federal judge giving them “aid and comfort” in labeling women “ignorant sluts” for what they wear.
    9. That you think what you see and react to is the world as it is, rather than what others see and react to.
    10. That you administered such a senseless self-inflicted wound to your reputation.

    I leave it to the women who love you unconditionally to try to help you understand how offensive your post was. Please listen to them.

  23. First, I want to state that you, Mr. Kopf. are entitled to blog about whatever ignorant contrivance that comes to mind. But, do remember that this right also means that you have the right to be criticized too.

    However, I read the notorious blog entry and see good reason for the criticism. Your fans say that it was written purely in jest, yet I find this false. What could be considered humor was rather a bitter, patronization directed at every every female mentioned. And, then you went on to insult your fellow males. Ultimately, I am disappointed in you Mr. Kopf. There seemed to be no critical thinking skills applied in your assessment. And, I question your abilities to perform your job adequately.

  24. Pingback: Find your Attorneys and Lawyers » Was Nebraska’s ‘dirty old man’ judge wrong to ask female lawyers to cover up? – Los Angeles Times

  25. Pingback: Feed Him to the Wolves or Etiquette for Dummies? Dear Judge Kopf | Diversive Ramble

  26. Judge, you clearly committed a number of mortal sins here. First, you’ve openly admitted that you are a male who is attracted to female imagery. So am I by the way, but until this quasi-anonymous comment, I’d never “admitted” it before so I am immunized from any criticism. Second, it appears you projected some of your own beliefs about things onto other persons. This is shocking. I’ve never done that, ever, and neither have any of your detractors.

    As someone who half-chokes myself with a tie going up to right under my chin every day, I am extremely sympathetic to those who feel that you are infringing on the right to wear clothes in court that partially expose one’s chest. If one is a female of course. If one is male, then they should go half-choke himself and shut up. But anyway, females should definitely have the right to expose as much of their upper abdominal and neck area skin as they damn please, without anyone noticing it.

  27. I have read the original post. Where is the so-called humor? And why, after what this judge wrote, would he insist that women attorneys are “safe” in his courtroom? This is not about what women wear; it is about his sad and outdated sexism.

  28. No, I’d say it actually is about what women wear. As a male, I am still not understanding where the sense of entitlement comes from to expose any particular amount of skin from the chest and neck areas at all. Men are expected to expose none. Women are given more discretion. When they use that discretion to take a risk, why is a natural, male, human reaction to it (being attracted to the amount of skin exposed but realizing that the attraction is unprofessional) somehow “sexist”?

    Let’s assume that some sexy male beast who looks like George Clooney is a lawyer. Women would naturally swoon over his showing up somewhere with the top buttons of his shirt undone and some chest exposed. The image of that exposure is appealing to them. It makes them imagine things and giggle. But mainly, it makes them want to stare. As much as they can without getting caught. And now let’s assume that this sexy beast walks into the courtroom of a respected female judge having ditched his tie and with the same undone buttons at the top of his shirt.

    Obviously this would be inappropriate, which is my larger point. But my secondary point is that the female judge being somewhat distracted by Clooney’s chest would not be “sexist.” And her later writing a blog post in which she very openly admits that she was somewhat distracted by it would also not be “sexist.”

  29. Is it okay to be attracted to someone? Yes. Would I be attracted to George Clooney? Probably. Would I stare at him at a party? Probably not, it is bad manners, but I would take a peek. If I were a federal judge and that same attorney Clooney appeared before me to argue a case? No, I would not stare, nor would I later make comments about his body parts.That would be unprofessional, and antithetical to my reason for being there–to do my job. And I would not want future George Clooneys to be concerned about appearing before me.

  30. I think your last sentence resonates the most with me.

    The judge clearly did create the perception that female lawyers should worry about being in his courtroom. Even though I think they should not, because the judge was simply being too honest for his own good and is not actually a sexist, the debate over whether they should or should not was caused by his comments. I’ll agree with you on that.

    Setting his comments aside, the point remains that any lawyer who takes risks with his or her clothing on the issue of skin exposure is not being professional.

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