I wrote the post about Ina Khasin, the Fulton County assistant district attorney in the morning yesterday as I prepared for a morning ethics session for new D.C. lawyers, and had not made up my mind about whether there was or was not a legitimate “Cheerleading Prosecutor Principle” by the time I posted it. I returned to my keyboard late in the day to read the comments on the post, and finally had a chance to consider the issue carefully, benefiting from the varying perspective of the commenters. My conclusion is that for a prosecutor to indulge herself by moonlighting in a high-profile, frivolous and cognitive dissonance-generating activity like NFL cheerleading is not only weird (Ick!) but also irresponsible, and yes, unprofessional.
I’m pretty sure I’m right, too.
I should clarify, since there was some debate in the comments, that I did not intend to suggest (nor did I ) that being a cheerleader similar to showing up buck naked on the web. There are some similarities, which I will discuss in a minute, but I was using “The Naked Teacher Principle,” as I have before, as a reference point for all situations in which a professional’s former or current activities involve dignity, image, sexuality or anything else discordant with professional duties and expectations. The problems created by these episodes vary as widely as the professions involved. In fact, the closest analogy to the cheerleading prosecutor is the stand-up comic judge.
The fact that both the assistant D.A. and the judge represent the government and are responsible for critical decisions that alter people’s lives—again, on behalf of the government—is key. Khasin, if I read the article right, began her cheerleading while she was in private practice. That is very different. If her clients believe in her, if she represents them well, if none of her representations are undermined by her eccentric choice of avocations, fine. Knowing the prejudices women, especially attractive women, still face in the legal workplace from sexist law partners and judges—yes, and juries too—I question the wisdom of that choice, and if I were a potential client, I would give serious consideration to hiring courtroom litigator whose alter-ego was a cultural symbol of bubble-headed eye-candy for middle-aged men. Still, unless and until a private lawyer’s activities substantively harm her clients, it doesn’t matter what she (or he) does after the work day is done as long as it’s legal and the lawyer is appropriately candid about it.
A prosecutor, however, like a judge, has a duty to maintain public confidence and appropriate respect for the government and justice system, and gratuitously seeking exposure as a cheerleader does not do that…in fact, it undermines them. Imagine, if you will, a prosecutor or state attorney general whose entire staff engages in unusual hobbies or avocations, with the office’s permission. One assistant prosecutor is the local NFL team’s prosecutor; another has a raunchy stand-up act he performs in local clubs; one is “Uncle Screwy,” the host of a moronic kids show on a local station. Yet another assistant is a Chippendale, while one is a performance artist who smears herself with fecal matter and chicken guts to symbolize the corruption of modern life. There there is the Assistant D.A. who moonlights as a circus clown, and the one who performs as a “block-head,” driving nails into his sinus cavities as a side-show carnival act. The very first time this colorful crew loses the equivalent of a Casey Anthony prosecution, what will the public and the media be saying, writing and thinking? You know what. And that department will have asked for it.
If it is acceptable to have one D.A. publicly engaging in activity that is not consistent with the image of a serious, trustworthy representative of the justice system, then is acceptable to have ten…and it is not acceptable to have ten. Because public faith and trust in the justice system is paramount, an attractive young woman like Ms. Khasin has an obligation not to present herself in ways that undermine that trust, and appearing as a cheerleader is among the activities she should recognize as violating this obligation. An NFL cheerleader is not an athlete, but a sexual promotional device, one step up from a Vegas showgirl, and arguably worse, since actively supporting the gender stereotype of the comely wench cheering on strong male warriors from the sidelines is anti-feminist to the core. The job requires no intellectual ability whatsoever, and the fact that an educated, accomplished woman would feel the need to present herself as an ogling target for beer-swilling guys who paint themselves blue raises legitimate questions about her judgment, stability, and priorities.
Here is your ethics pop quiz: I welcome you to rank the following activities, jobs and roles according to their degree of appropriateness for a prosecutorial avocation. I agree that NFL cheerleader is close to where I would draw the line, but still misses the cut of acceptable avocations. Let me know your ranking and where you would draw the line, but I’ll tell you now: if your position is that it doesn’t matter what a prosecutor does in his or her spare time, you are simply wrong.
Here’s your list, in no order at all:
- Circus clown
- Porn star
- Professional body-builder
- Fecal matter performance artist
- Topless Vegas show girl
- Edgy stand-up comic
- “Uncle Screwy”
- NFL cheerleader
- Professional wrestler
- Sex therapist
- Sign twirler