I was distracted from all things COVID by a judge in New York who defended his use of the “C” word to describe a female attorney with the explanation that he meant it as a compliment! Let’s pause for a moment, shall we? That level of twisted logic defies all rational thought. Particularly from a judge – someone we generally (and reasonably) expect to exhibit and promote appropriate behaviors (which includes not being sexist. Just saying.)
The judge’s explanation came in the context of disciplinary proceedings against him for the use of this, and other sexist terms. The not-so-Honorable Paul Senzer was a long-time, part-time Justice in the Northport Village Court of Suffolk County, who also was a practicing attorney. Mr. Senzer represented grandparents against their daughter in a family court matter over visitation rights with their grandchild. In emails with his clients, he used vulgar and sexist terms to describe the daughter, opposing counsel, and the presiding court attorney referee, including “b****” and “a**hole.” Most appalling, he referred to opposing counsel as a “c*** ,” adding “don’t quote me on that.” (Sorry, that disclaimer just doesn’t fly).
Based on his conduct, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct found that Mr. Senzer should be removed from office. Mr. Senzer appealed the Commission’s determination to New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. And before that august body, as reported by Law360, his attorney defended Mr. Senzer by saying, “It’s not a C-word by itself. It’s a term of art: ‘C on wheels.’ Which, obviously, refers to the aggressiveness of that attorney. It’s a left-handed compliment is one way to look at it.”
(That sound was my jaw dropping and hitting the floor. And since when is a “C on wheels” a “term of art”? The definition of “term of art” is “a word or phrase that has a precise, specialized meaning within a particular field or profession.” Did I miss something in law school? Do we use “C on wheels” in the legal profession? I just double-checked the law dictionary to be sure. Nope. Not in there.)
The female attorney in question certainly did not see it as a compliment, left-handed or otherwise. With “stunned sarcasm”, she told Law360, “Isn’t it every female attorney’s dream to be called a C-U-N-T on wheels? Right?… Don’t we swear our oath and say, ‘This is what I want my legacy to be.'”
Additionally, because that wasn’t enough, Mr. Senzer’s attorney also argued that the inappropriate language should be excused because it was just in emails, and according to Law360, not in a more public setting, “like a bar.” (Interesting choice of public setting).
Unsurprisingly, those bright Court of Appeals judges didn’t buy those arguments. The Court observed “the fact that petitioner’s comments were contained in emails sent to only two clients, which he believed would not be shared, does not excuse the wrongfulness of his conduct. There is no question that judges are accountable for their conduct ‘at all times,’ including in conversations off the bench.” And as to statements themselves, the Court held that they were “manifestly vulgar and offensive, and his repeated use of such language in written communications to insult and demean others involved in the legal process showed a pervasive disrespect for the system, conveyed a perception of disdain for the legal system, and indicated that he is unable to maintain the high standard of conduct we demand of judges.”
The Court concluded by stating, “A judge’s role is to cultivate respect for the judicial process and its participants—[Mr. Senzer] did just the opposite.” Indeed.
Guess this judge was a real dog.