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February 2016 - President's Message
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President's Message - FEBRUARY

Kimberly Arnal
WLALA President 2015-2016

As many of you may already know, last month U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal sanctioned a Santa Barbara attorney, Peter Bertling, who told his female opposing counsel "[d]on't raise your voice at me.  It's not becoming of a woman..."  Amongst other things, Bertling was ordered to contribute $250 to WLALA Foundation.

Fewer of you may have heard that last month, the Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished Judge Joseph E. Bergeron of San Mateo County Superior Court for inappropriate and rude statements he made to women in his courtroom.  According to the January 25, 2016 order, Judge Bergeron criticized the performance of a female clerk so loudly while on the phone in chambers that everyone in the courtroom heard him.  He also asked a female deputy district attorney to go get him a cup of coffee.  When she asked him sarcastically what kind of coffee he would like and whether he wanted cream and sugar he replied “If I had cash, I’d give you a tip.”  When she delivered his coffee, she asked “[i]s there anything else I can do for you, Your Honor?  Can I iron your shirts?”  Judge Bergeron responded “Well, at noon if it’s still raining outside I can give you my keys, and you can go get my car.”  Her response - “[t]hat may be a man’s job.”

It is clear from Judge Grewal’s order and the Commission on Judicial Performance’s public admonishment that sexist comments and stereotypes are still prevalent in the profession.  I know I have been the recipient of them over my 17-years of practice.  Such language and behavior denigrates and belittles the individual and uses references to gender or gender stereotypes to do so.  It’s insulting, demoralizing, and can lead to a loss of productivity.  I know I have spent a good 30 minutes or so ranting when I have witnessed or been on the receiving end of sexist remarks.  While the remarks enrage us, they also make many question whether they are being taken seriously as an attorney and whether their hard work is for naught.  It may even drive some from the profession, leading to less diversity of thinking in the profession.

As Judge Grewal explained in his order: "A sexist remark is not just a professional discourtesy, although that in itself is regrettable and all too common.  The bigger issue is that comments like Bertling's reflect and reinforce the male-dominated attitude of our profession.  A recent ABA report found that 'inappropriate or stereotypical comments' towards women attorneys are among the more overt signifiers of the discrimination, both stated and implicit, that contributes to their underrepresentation in the legal field.  [] When an attorney makes these kinds of comments, 'it reflects not only on the attorney's lack of professionalism, but also tarnishes the image of the entire legal profession and disgraces our system of justice.' []"  [internal citations omitted]

Thank you, Judge Grewal for recognizing and calling attention to the problem!  WLALA Foundation will put the money to good use.