Circuit Judge Royce Taylor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee is being excoriated by some as being sexist or at least presumptuous for daring to broach the topic of attorney attire in the courtroom, specifically female attorney attire. In a memo, he noted that the topic had arisen in recent Bench/Bar Committee meeting, and wrote,
“The unanimous opinion was that the women attorneys were not being held to the same standard as the men. It was requested that the judges require all attorneys to dress professionally. I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent.”
What? An elderly male judge presuming to tell female professionals what they should or shouldn’t wear?
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:
Is it fair and respectful for judges to require female lawyers to adopt the same dress standards as male lawyers in the courtroom?
This one is easy, I think. Anyone who has seen “My Cousin Vinny” knows that male lawyers are required to stay within a very narrow range of attire options when appearing in court, and the southern judge so magnificently played by the late Fred Gwynn reacted realistically to “Vinnie” appearing before him in a leather jacket. But in this age where female news anchors go on the air in cocktail dresses, and female TV lawyers, sometimes portrayed by ex-swimsuit models, make sure they point up their physical assets while arguing to the jury, many real female trial attorneys, especially the younger ones, have been pushing the limits of courtroom decorum to the limit…and getting away with it, especially with before judges who enjoy looking at them during a long day. There are tactical advantages of an attractive woman trying certain cases, not the least of which is that she may be able to keep some juror’s eyes on her when he should be listening to her opponent.
I can understand why female lawyers would want as much leeway as they can get away with. If this trend isn’t addressed, however, courtroom respect and decorum is already at risk. Jonathan Turley raises another concern:
“The problem is not simply the decorum of the courtroom but also the inimical impact on clients. Represented parties may not be in a position to object to the dress of their counsel. However, when a lawyer shows up in gym shoes or a sweater, it can create a poor impression for a judge or a jury. Both male and female colleagues will often point out such dress problems to me at the courthouse with shared dissatisfaction but no one says anything, including me. There is a fear that you will be viewed as sexist or prejudiced in some way.”
Judge Taylor isn’t being sexist; he’s being responsible.