Further Reflections On The Cheerleading Prosecutor (and an Ethics Pop-Quiz!)

"By the way, counselor, nice work last Sunday..."

“By the way, counselor, nice work last Sunday…”

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:

  1. Circus clown
  2. Porn star
  3. Professional body-builder
  4. Fecal matter performance artist
  5. Topless Vegas show girl
  6. Edgy stand-up comic
  7. “Uncle Screwy”
  8. NFL cheerleader
  9. Professional wrestler
  10. Sex therapist
  11. Chippendale
  12. Block-head
  13. Sign twirler


30 thoughts on “Further Reflections On The Cheerleading Prosecutor (and an Ethics Pop-Quiz!)

  1. Looks like she takes very good care of herself.. More than I can say of most attorneys, who usually look like the Other White Meat.

    Have a lot more respect for people who take pride in their appearance and are outgoing with the general public, so long as they conduct themselves professionally.

  2. You made a good case there. I was definitely leaning towards ambivalence about it but the argument centered around government representatives and the appearance of utmost professionalism is a good one. I dont like that she isnt free to pursue whatever she wants in her off time but “what should be” and “what is” dont always align.

    I would like to touch on the anit-feminist point. To be clear there is nothing morally or ethically wrong with anti-feminism. Nor would the overt sexualization of women be outright against feminist ideology. There is a significant divide in feminist theory where some argue that the freedom to sexualize is liberating and empowering and some argue that it is a shameful and gender-degrading buy-in to an evolved male patriarchy. Though for the record I think both ideas are bunk, with emphasis on the latter.

    The list is tough. If I were hiring them whatever side jobs they had would be irrelevant to their qualifications to do thier job. But if I were hiring them for the government, Id have to ask which side jobs would make the government look bad. I wouldn’t mind “weird” since people are entitled to their eccentricities (like a lawyer who just loves to twirl signs).

    I feel like the only obvious ones are Porn Star, Topless Vegas Showgirl, and, in the interst of equality, Chippendale (though I suspect a lawyer could be a Chippendale and get away with it). I would also add “Uncle Screwy” – its too easy to imply some sort of inappropriate interest in kids and grown adults who make their living by adopting wildly dumbed down and unidimensional personas make me uncomfortable. Well also throw in circus clown and block-head because very few people dont find clowns to be creepy and hammering nails and what-not into facial orifices is an equally, if not more so, uncomfortable thing to think of. And sadly we must add NFL Cheerleader to the list; with an asterisk that its got one foot out of the list already. Everything else is either weird, respected in its ownright, or some combination thereof.

    1. Porn Star
    2. Topless Vegas Showgirl
    3. Chippendale
    4. Blockhead
    5. Circus Clown (not Rodeo Clowns, they are bad ass)
    6. Uncle Screwy
    7. Cheerleader (regrettably)

      • Fundamentally correct but misapplied. In an ethically perfect world nobody would judge a cheer-leading prosecutor, so her second job wouldn’t negatively reflect on the government she represents. But we live in an imperfect world and people will judge her. Its a classic case of ethical conflict: which is the greater ethical failure? In the end compromising the arm of the government that is meant to prosecute criminals is a much greater wrong than compromising the woman’s job. So as strange as it is to say: Was it ethical to fire her? Yes. Should it be? No.

  3. “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.”

    Then what would you say about a male cheerleader who was also a prosecutor? He’s not reinforcing gender stereotypes, but he’s engaging in the same activity.

    “…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.”

    You’re assuming intent again. Maybe she just likes cheering. Taking pleasure from her own objectification raises questions about her character. Taking pleasure from a particular, innocuous activity doesn’t.

  4. I really don’t like the implications that anyone remotely involved with our justice system MUST go through their lives as sober as a… well, you know. The idea that a postion of respect and authority (would you trust a doctor who moonlit as a talk show host? A policeman who dabbled in face-painting at children’s parties?) demands 100% rigidization and conformation with the norm… It doesn’t sit well. And it isn’t going to lead to balanced, healthy professionals. Then we add the sad fact that so many of these judges and lawyers are moonlighting for precisely the same reason everyone else is – they aren’t getting paid enough to only have the one job. So they not only HAVE to get another job, but it can’t be one that is seen as ‘less’ than the first. (What about a politician who waited tables at IHOP?) I can very well understand the desire of “My primary job requires me to to endure a great deal of strain, and pressure, and I have to keep up the facade of respectability at all times – now that I have to get a second one, why not let my hair down a little? Express myself in ways that I cannot at my first job? I always wanted to be an artist – and that doesn’t affect how skilled I am at my first job… I could do both.”

    And yet I concede that allowing anything less than 100% compliance is to allow 0% compliance. If you make an exception for one, you must make an exception for all. I don’t know.

  5. While none of those would necessarily be against the expertise or skill of the person involved, also, none would give me confidence in my defense OR prosecutorial judgement if I was a victim. Sign twirler or weird uncle, might get by if the eccentricity is minor (polar bear club, wears orange socks to court, war protestor in past, was on game show) but that wasn’t part of the description. My confidence in their ability to represent the interests of the community as a whole OR my case would suffer, be they cheerleader or pro wrestler.

    Getting a second job and balancing the time and effort of that with what you see as your primary job is often a consideration, not just for lawyers.

    But you should be creative enough to figure it out. Isn’t cleverness and adapability part of what should make you succeed as a lawyer, too? Write a a book, sell stained glass panels, write a mystery blog, whatever would help market your brand as respectable and worthy of trust and hope.

  6. “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.”

    Thats is your opinion, not statement of fact. I think I see your Yankee puritan prejudice shining through. A great number of the people in this country do not see professional cheerleaders that way so that eliminates your statement:

    “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.”

    Like I said on the on the original post, welcome to the 21st century Jack.

    • What is an NFL cheerleader then? That’s old fashioned thinking is a cop-out—some old-fashioned thinking is right, and some is wrong. Your argument is no argument at all, unless you can explain to me why a lawyer taking a high profile down the evolutionary scale won’t hurt her credibility as a prosecutor. Of course it will.

      • The “welcome to the twenty-first century” tack might be a little glib, but I think it makes an essential point. When you post on a topic like this, you’re talking not about absolute ethical standards, but mutable cultural standards. If the issue is the appearance of one’s fitness for the office, it’s absolutely important to take note of what century we’re living in. Does twenty-first century culture really regard Khasin’s penchant for cheerleading as something shameful or indicative of poor character? I doubt it. In previous decades I’m sure it would have, but I also think that that would have been based on the widespread acceptance of stereotypes of cheerleaders as dumb bimbos. Of course, that’s a stereotype that some people still cling to. It seems like you may be one of them. But I think the overall culture has grown more accepting of the idea that notable attractiveness and intelligence can both be exhibited at the same time in the same person.

        If it was the 1980s, a cheerleader might not be able to be taken seriously as a prosecutor, but that doesn’t mean that cultural standard was correct or carried with it an absolute ethical obligation. If this was the 1960s, a prosecutor couldn’t possibly maintain an appearance of truthworthiness and good character if he maintained an openly homosexual relationships. Do you think it would have been unethical of him to try? If this was the 1930s, a prosecutor would lose a tremendous amount of credibility if he moonlighted as a jazz musician playing alongside black musicians and to black patrons. Would it have been an ethical failing for him to do so?

        I’m sure you’ll think that these analogies are far afield from what you’re talking about in your post, but bear in mind that that’s because you perceive cheerleading as implying some sort of lack of discretion or sexual restraint, or whatever you have in mind. Old-fashioned thinkers would have said the same thing about people who fit my analogies. What’s important is what the culture says.

        • The fact that some standards are stable doesn’t mean that all are or should be, and in professional ethics, where appearance is key, “are” trumps “should be.”

          Deal with my hypothetical about the DA’s whose whole staff is staffed with eccentric exhibitionists. What do you think happens? I’ll tell you what—the DA is run out of town, the public loses trust in the system, and there’s a scandal the first time a case is lost that should be won. Standards for legal conduct have, if anything, become more stringent, not less, ditto for judges. You cheery-picked one changing cultural norm that happens to track with the professional norm, but not all do, or will.

          • I never claimed that all do or will. I argued that the one currently under consideration ought to. And considering that Khasim evidently has suffered no professional consequences, perhaps it does.

            And since you specifically asked me to deal with your hypothetical, I would say that the outcome you described is likely, but not because of the outside interests of any particular member of the team. The larger problem at hand in that hypothetical is the question of how a DA’s staff is assembled to comprise only people with strange quirks and hobbies. If that was true of one or two members, I would take it to reflect the ordinary scale of human diversity. I have faith in most of the public to do the same. But if the entire staff were carnival barkers and contortionists, I’d first ask, “Does this district serve a known circus community, such that the vast majority of the residents and local talent pool have unusual hobbies?” If not, then one would have to wonder whether the social activities and hobbies of applicants actually went into the selection process. That’s grounds for loss of trust.

            Those sort of additional considerations definitely come into play when you make the hypothetical about an entire staff. On the other hand, if we were dealing with just one person, and somebody said, “You know that DA that lost the big case last week? One of his staffers cheerleads on weekends!” I would be very disappointed if the typical response was anything other than, “So the hell what?”

        • I would agree that Jack’s argument is one based on the idea that people still apply the dumb bimbo stereotype to cheerleaders, but I would also say its a sound one. We can tell which stereotypes are alive and well by public reaction to depictions of those stereotypes. How would people react to the serious depiction of african americans as their stereotypes? How would people react to the serious depiction of cheerleader’s as their stereotype?
          One has been thoroughly killed by society (for the most part). The other one… not so much.

      • But see you’re showing your prejudice right there with the statement:

        “a high profile down the evolutionary scale ”

        You see it that way but that doesn’t mean everyone does. And I would bet the people of Atlanta don’t see it that way as Georgia is a football crazy state.

        And don’t forget people use to view actors the same way but times change and ignorant ideas go by the way side.

        • “And don’t forget people use to view actors the same way but times change and ignorant ideas go by the way side.”

          I still don’t trust an actor’s opinion the way society has seemed to deem appropriate. I would submit that your assessment that we have gone away from ignorance by giving so much creedence to actors is not accurate.

        • Bil, you’re still not dealing with the issue. I can do objective research on this topic, and the results are obvious. Look at any cheerleader site or documentary. There are few female cheerleaders at women’s pro sporting events. The market is obvious. Tell me—how does a cheerleader differ from a Vegas showgirl? The job is down the evolutionary scale because it requires purely physical attributes, and no significant management or intellectual ones. Actors at least have to talk, memorize lines, and participate in a management structure.

          • “The job is down the evolutionary scale because it requires purely physical attributes, and no significant management or intellectual ones.”

            Why do all pursuits have to use intellectual or management skills to be worthwhile pursuits?
            Some people like to find something to do that uses very little of their intellect to help them relax after a hard days work, some are like a friend of mine who has a rather menial job and likes to exercise his brain in quizzes, while some are like Khasin who works in an office all week exercising her brain and has found a way to exercise her body.
            Here Khasin has found a way to keep fit and found a set of friends who are different to what she would find in her day job .
            People need to find a variety of different pursuits to round out their lives and keep both their mind and body fit.

            • Who said it wasn’t worthwhile? It’s worth while, so are any other jobs with services people will pay for. Worthwhile or not, it does not encourage public respect for the justice system.

    • What about a cheerleader/doctor? Or a cheerleader/doctor/lawyer/pageant winner? I don’t tnhink being a cheerleader means that one is necessarily a sexual object. It’s not as though a pretty face is the only requirement for the job, they actually do have to have a fairly atheletic set of skills that not everyone possesses.

      Regina graduated from college with a major in Molecular Biology and a minor in Chemistry. She won a scholarship from the National Institutes of Health to spend summers doing biomed research at Stanford and Yale. She was a Molecular Biologist at the National Institutes of Health researching the genes that cause rare skin diseases (she found a few and had papers published in Nature Genetics, Human Genetics and The Journal of Dermatological Science). Then she went to law school at Georgetown University while she was a Redskins cheerleader (Georgetown rescheduled her final exams so she could participate in the swimsuit calendar photo shoot!) Also during law school she competed in a few pageants and was 1st Runner-up to Miss D.C. USA. Oh, she’s licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia as well as the United States Supreme Court. She worked as a patent attorney until science called her back to medical school. She earned an M.D. and took up a surgery internship in Texas and now she’s putting it all together by earning a LL.M., an advanced law degree she plans to someday apply to a career in health law as in-house council at a hospital. She’s also an adjunct professor teaching anatomy and physiology to nursing students and has her sights set on competing in pageants and trying out for another professional team this year.


      • Different issue, ethically. I see no problem with a cheerleader doctor, architect, or accountant. The justice system is different.

        There are no homely cheerleaders in the NFL. There are no non-sexy cheerleaders in the NFL. The role does not even require an average IQ.

        • So she should be penalized because she is good-looking enough to get the job? It still requires more than just a pretty face to qualify, as athletic and dance ability are huge components of the job. If she were a Rockette on the side, would that also be unethical? Or a dancer in one of your shows? A synchronized swimmer? Is it the fact that one of the job requirements be that the applicant be good-looking enough that participation in it be unethical?

  7. I’m starting to think this is a “damned if you do” and “damned if you don’t” situation. On one hand, people who hold on to “older” standards might look aghast at the government hiring someone who violates their norms. On the other hand, people with “newer” standards might think less of an institution who didn’t hire an otherwise qualified candidate for the same reasons.

  8. This was a tough exercise. It’s hard deciding the proper order, because to a certain extent, those involved in the legal decisions regarding our society need to appear detached from the fray, with a certain decorum that (although we know isn’t true as all humans are fallible) implies incorruptibility.

    Some of the ‘professions’ were hard to bump up or down in relation to others, while going from one to another represents a huge gap in ‘appropriateness’.

    #1) Circus clown – this seems relatively harmless, and who’s to say its not just a guy/gal with a heart to entertain the kids.

    #2) “Uncle Screwy” – along the same lines as the clown, although I’d like the know the nature of his role in the kids show as to whether or not it encourages good behavior or encourages mischievousness.

    #3) Edgy stand-up comic – Depending on the material, this gets the same analysis as the Fecal Matter Performance Artist, but not as low a rank simply because I think the assumption that the individual is unbiased going into trials is easier to make.

    *4) Professional body-builder – This one starts the list of anything body-related. Although the upper few items on this sub-category can be seen as harmless, the slight appearance of anything even slightly misconstrue-able as being of a narcissistic pursuit of carnal objectives is why this category gets a red-flag. Each item below that falls into the physical category (gets an asterisk) is ranked by how likely the individual may be doing it for their own reasons compared to how society could see it as being merely a vain pursuit.

    5a) Sign twirler – choosing this as a second career implies a certain incompetence at finding a second career requiring a little more brains. Therefore implying the main career is handled with the same incompetence.

    #5b) Block-head -Similar to the above, but with the added effect that (although I’m sure most block heads are decent folk), joining in such behavior implies a certain outsider attitude towards the mainstream. This could hint at pre-judgment like (7) below. Any category that could have a similar stigma attached (in varying gradations) I added a # to.

    6a) Professional wrestler

    *6b) NFL cheerleader – This position could, by abstraction, fall with the bottom 4 of this list, but based on how detached the cheerleader is from the intended audience, and that the position’s role isn’t solely of a sexual or physical nature, it gets bumped way up.

    #7) Fecal matter performance artist – as described, this profession is to ‘symbolize the corruption of modern society’. Ok, as a member of the legal profession, its your job to determine if particular instances violate or fall in line with established laws. Performing such anti-societal messaging implies pre-judging people’s behavior and therefore an immediate bias going into any trial. (I could rank this lower than the porn star for that reason, but that the last four just seem so out of whack with the decorum needed for the legal fields)

    *8a)Chippendale – This position starts the list of the bottom four, whose ‘professions’ are very explicitly physical and sexual.

    *8b)Topless Vegas show girl – Ranks equal to the Chippendale, although I may vary them depending on the level of interaction/abstraction from the intended audience.

    *9a)Sex therapist – engaging in actual sexual acts starts the bottom two of this list.

    *9b)Porn star – rounding out the bottom, the sexual acts of this profession reach a mass audience, the industry itself a blatant societal scourge.

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