Dogs in Court
To: A Local Private Practice Attorney
CC: Your Wife
Re: Dogs in Court
Yesterday, between settings, a prosecutor walked into court with a puppy she is training to be a service dog. I exclaimed over the tiny black lab, and she paused so that I could stop to pet him. As I stroked his ears, the puppy started licking my hands. I was vaguely aware of you standing behind me, and then you started making lewd comments about licking, which I will not now dignify by repeating. What a bummer! What a ruiner of good things you are! I made a disgusted face and silently gagged. The prosecutor, standing next to me, said, softly through gritted teeth, “I know. I know.”
Then I spun around and said, “Awww! How sweet! Thank you so much! I’m so flattered. Maybe sometime we can get together and lick each other! I think the courthouse bathroom is empty. I’m always up for a little…romance.”
Then I spun around and said, “Bahahahahahaahahahahahahah! Oh my gosh. Let me catch my breath. I can’t stop laughing. What about you, Susan, you want a ride on this old gasbag?” And the prosecutor turned around, too, and we laughed until tears streamed down our faces at how ridiculous and undesirable you are.
Then I spun around and said, “What is wrong with you, you disgusting creep? You’re married, you’re old enough to be my grandpa, and you’re repulsive. You are ugly to the bone, to the marrow of your bones. You are disrespecting your wife, me, my family, this profession, and this Court. Never, ever speak about me or anyone else that way again.”
Then I spun around and said, “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeee-YAH!” and in my best imitation of the inimitable Miss Piggy, I delivered a swift and devastating high-heel to your damp and lonely nether-regions. And then I threw away the high-heel and limped out of the courthouse, shod with victory.
But the truth is I didn’t spin around. I stood there, making faces and pretending not to hear you.
It’s not the first time you’ve said things like this to me or other women around the courthouse. In fact, you might be surprised to know, you have quite the reputation. I feel the worst for the female prosecutors, who don’t have the choice to avoid you and have to talk to you about cases. I’ve seen you sidle up to them and put your gnarled paw on their shoulders, patting them in a condescending, patronizing sort of way, and then sliding your palm down their backs. I’ve seen them shudder under your weird, clumsy touch and quickly move away, but you don’t seem to notice that part.
You told another female attorney that her shoes were sexy, and that she was sexy all the time. Later, you “apologized” to her, “I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable,” you said, “It’s just that those shoes were so sexy.”
Not long ago our statewide office hired an employment lawyer to talk to all of us about sexual harassment. She showed up to our branch with a PowerPoint presentation about how we should never have to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. She gave us examples of unacceptable behavior and comments.
“That includes your clients,” she said. “If a client is sexually harassing you, you need to report it to your supervisor and then report it to HR.”
Once, when I was a young lawyer, I sat in a copy room next to a judge’s chambers waiting for a friend of mine to finish his docket. The judge waddled back in to pour himself a cup of coffee. “Are you the new secretary?” he asked, dribbling coffee down his robe in a grand cliché of discrimination against female attorneys. “Oh, no,” I said, standing up, “I’m actually a new attorney, I was just waiting for my friend,” I gestured towards the courtroom. “Well it’s always nice to have a new good-looking woman around,” he said, snatching my hand from the air, “Nice ring! But it’s not a wedding ring, is it?” I laughed uncomfortably and said I had to go.
At a conference that I attended alone, a well-respected journalist chatted with me for several minutes about his grandchildren and his wife. We talked about the law and our families, and at the end of the conference in a city I wasn’t familiar with, he offered to walk me to my car. I accepted, gratefully, not even really sure where the garage I’d parked the car was. There in the dark, he pushed himself up against me and asked me to take him to my hotel room, spewing his hot, foul breath on my face. I clenched my keys in my fist and swore to never come to another conference alone again.
And then another time. And another time. And another time. I can only imagine what it’s like for women who are more attractive than me, but at the same time, I think it’s often not even about that, it’s just about the fact that I am, in fact, a woman.
I’m telling you this because I want you to know that you are not first or best at anything- even sexually harassing me. And I’m sure you won’t be the last. But really, dude? I spend my life fighting in this courtroom, in this courthouse. Don’t you think I have enough to deal with without guys who are supposed to be on my team making me fight them, too? This isn’t a good-old-boy misunderstanding of modern femininity. This isn’t charming or flattering. This isn’t funny or fun. It’s not a flirtation. This is you being a nasty, unprofessional lecher, without even the self-awareness to realize what you’ve become, what you are.
So I’m writing this letter and I’m publishing it, for you and anyone else like you to see. I don’t owe you anything- I don’t owe you an explanation or a thought, a sideways glance or a good high-heel, so this letter is sort of my little gift to you. I hope we can move past this misunderstanding and that in the future, you will maintain conduct befitting an attorney, from one officer of the court to another. And, for now, let’s keep our tongues in our heads, because in case you hadn’t noticed, mine is pretty goddamn sharp.