Short Take: “Your Honor” Knows No Gender

Dr. SJ and I were married by Acting Supreme Court Justice Levitan. The judge’s first name was Shirley, and we were friends. She had invited me to call her by her first name outside the courtroom, but I never did. She was always Judge Levitan to me. It never felt right to be so familiar, as I didn’t know her before she was a judge and Judge Levitan was a judge. I was not.

So the story told by former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Leah Ward Sears, was shocking.

Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, said people often assumed that her husband was the judge when they traveled together. Today, she said she is treated differently than other retired justices who are men.

“At least down south, when you retire, you maintain the word judge or justice,” said Sears, now a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell in Atlanta. “Judge Griffin Bell was always Judge Griffin Bell, even when he’s at King and Spalding.”

“When people encounter me, they don’t know what to say,” she said. “I’ve been in groups of all retired judges, and it’s Judge this, and Judge that, and then, Leah.”

Justice Sears earned the title. Why would anyone not show her the respect she deserved?

“I do wonder, Jesus, do you have to become chief justice to get the same respect as a first year white guy out of law school gets automatically?” she said.

Does this actually happen? Obviously, or Justice Sears wouldn’t have said so, but it’s so far outside the realm of my experience that I can’t begin to understand how anyone would be so disrespectful.

There is plenty of griping about discrimination against women in law, much of it petty and disingenuous, as if women really aren’t good enough and can only cut it if one is stacking the bench, or the CLE panel, based on genitalia. The woke believe this is wonderful. Those of us who actually believe in equality don’t think women need to be treated like incompetent fragile flowers. They can be every bit as smart and tough as anyone else.

Maybe this is a criminal law thing*, as we have a great many exceptional women defense lawyers and, frankly, couldn’t care less whether they are missing a penis. We care deeply whether they can make an agent cry on cross. Many can.

But when it comes to a judge, the fact that there are women on the bench runs counter to the discrimination narrative. Hell, they’re recognized for their abilities and given a robe. They won the prize (and you, and I, didn’t). Getting the bench shows that women are respected for their skills. Trust me when I say that having a woman judge sentence a defendant to 232 years doesn’t feel any gentler than some guy judge. A female judge is every bit as real as a male judge. You know why? Because they’re friggin’ judges.

Justice Sears’ point, however, that while the guys were all “judge this, judge that,” she was “Leah” is outrageous. Much as you may dislike a judge for her rulings or disposition, she holds an office which we, as lawyers, must respect lest we’re back to trial by combat or seeing if our clients float. A judge, unless defrocked, should be addressed as judge, not because we like them, or because of their gender, but because they held the office of judge. To do otherwise is outrageous and disrespectful. If invited, you can be more familiar in private (even though that’s not my way), but who are you to treat a woman judge disrespectfully?

That this happens to women judges is shocking to me. What is wrong with you people?

*This may be just my bias, as the women with whom I’ve interacted who practice crim defense seem to be just as focused on kicking ass as the men. Or it may just be my limited scope of knowledge, as these are the women I work with. But treat a female criminal defense lawyer poorly and there’s a damn good chance they’ll rip your lungs out without blinking. As they should.

33 thoughts on “Short Take: “Your Honor” Knows No Gender

  1. maz

    “That this happens to women judges is shocking to me. What is wrong with you people?”

    Um, *those* people. The way I read her story, it was other retired judges, presumably men,* addressing each other by the honorific while calling her by her given name.
    * Not “presumably” because, well, that’s what guys do, but “presumably” because, otherwise, the story doesn’t make much sense.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s what she said, which is an internal problem within the judiciary. Is this really what male judges do? WTF?

      She also said she was accorded less respect than a first year white male associate, which presumably goes elsewhere since male judges don’t call kids judge. What exactly this means, however, is unclear.

  2. Jim Majkowski

    She may have earned the title, but IMHO, one seldom fails to get the respect one deserves. There is a reason the military uses the term “courtesy.”

    Of course, she probably meets many overly familiar people. They are ubiquitous.

    1. SHG Post author

      One of the concepts that eludes the unduly woke is that merely being female is not a reason to “honor” a female judge. Some are great judges. Some are awful, just like any other judges. Honor good judges, not judges without penii. That said, there’s a huge difference between honoring them and being disrespectful to the office and those holding the office.

      1. Lee

        There are certain offices, the holders of which are to be treated with respect. If not for the person, then for the office. I am admittedly a bit long in the tooth and was brought up “old school” when I attended law school and started practice, but I cannot see treating a woman judge with any less respect than a man judge. It just ain’t fitting!

        Hell, I’ve know the Hon. Carolyn Garcia for nearly 40 years (from before she was on the bench) and she has been off the bench for 30-some years, but she is still “Judge Garcia” to me. I’m sure she would not protest if I used “Carolyn,” but it just doesn’t seem right to me.

        But maybe you and I are throwbacks, Scott. I hope not, but it could be.

        1. SHG Post author

          This might be more easily attributed to “old school” but for the fact that it was judicial colleagues calling the judge by her first name.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        Wait. You’re inflicting Barleycorn on co-workers? Unmedicated?

        It’s a scary world out there.

  3. Kathleen Casey

    I would humiliate them. They don’t mind humiliating her. Deadpan: “That’s ‘judge’ to you.” Repeat as necessary.

    1. SHG Post author

      So would I, but then, us crim defense lawyers think it terms of fixing things rather than complaining about them.

    2. Turk

      “That’s ‘judge’ to you.” Repeat as necessary.


      “That’s Chief Judge you.

      But you can just call me Chief.”

  4. Richard Kopf


    Your readers may be interested in how you and I have interacted privately over the years. Our personal correspondence I would guess easily numbers in the several hundred and perhaps more.

    You have always addressed me as “Judge.” This despite the fact that I have encouraged you to do otherwise. While I don’t need or want to be addressed as “Judge” privately by lawyers or other judges, I appreciate and honor the value you accord to “old school” norms.

    Regarding the cavalier (and I think that is the right word) treatment of female judges by male judges that you recount, I am astonished. Perhaps I am blind to such things, but in flyover country–at least at the federal level–my sense is that female judges, retired or otherwise, are not treated by male judges in the ways described in your post. At least that has been my sense since I took the bench in 1987 as a Magistrate Judge.

    But, then again, I may be blind. With that in mind, in the future, I will try to more accurately determine whether I am missing the bull elephant in the room.

    Thanks for calling attention to this deplorable state of affairs. I would not have thought it possible. It is shocking.

    All the best.


  5. David

    I’m not sure how to phrase my question exactly, but does your use of the honorific (which I do also) carry over to how the judge, or more precisely, the former judge, refers to themself? The one that sticks out in my mind is Andrew Napolitano (there was an article I read some months back about this issue). I can see calling him Judge when speaking with him, but how do you feel about him essentially advertising and promoting his authority by always being referred to as Judge Napolitano on television?

    1. phv3773

      Different thing. That’s the TV crowd pandering to the guest and using the title to make their broadcast seem more authoritative. A pet peeve of mine, especially when they eschew the guest’s perfectly good current title (say, Professor) to use a past title (say, Ambassador).

  6. MonitorsMost

    The only girl judge who doesn’t get “Judge X” from me is the one with the hyphenated name. It’s too darn long to say. She just gets “your honor.”

    1. SHG Post author

      There was a certain woman judge who told me that whenever I called her “your honor” it sounded like a curse. Of course, that was how it was meant.

  7. womanwarrior

    Hey, SHG, thanks for recognizing the kick ass nature of us women criminal defense lawyers. Some of us super enjoy sneaking up on those who assume we are bag ladies, or secretaries. It is satisfying when they don’t even realize what is happening to them until it is too late, and their innards are falling on the floor. I had the honor to clerk for the first woman on the bench in our district, a brilliant litigator, and she taught us well that demonstrating anger was not necessary to overcome those who did not show respect or courtesy.

  8. Jason K.

    *If true*

    If something is astonishing or outrageous, it is likely either not true, lacking important context, or blown out of proportion. I have heard too many claims of experiences from people that were either directly contradicted by evidence or I was actually there to witness, to take these stories seriously anymore. You would hope that someone of a respectable position in society wouldn’t be prone to this, but people still remain people, regardless of their elevation. As this surprises people that should be in the know, I would wager that this falls into one of the described categories.

  9. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    Georgia Supreme Court justices, Prof. Wikipedia informs me, are elected. Is there any particular reason why they should get to keep their job-related honorific after they leave office? More broadly: if we, Georgians or otherwise, want to take republicanism seriously, shouldn’t we insist that people hang on to their titles for exactly as long as we choose to let them do a job for us?

      1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

        I think that’s consistent with a pattern of thought we’ve seen a lot of lately, and don’t much like. Consider:

        1) If I called a deranged woman “deranged” and she claimed I did so because I disrespect her gender, would her argument be just?

        2) If I refused to call a former judge “judge” and he claimed I did so because I disrespect the office, would his argument be just?

        1. SHG Post author

          Aside from “deranged” (or maybe “unhinged”?) not being an official position, there is a tradition within the law to continue to use the honorific upon retirement from the bench. Is it a mandate, as in you get called out by the pet boys for failure to do so? Nah. Some may be a bit annoyed, but there isn’t much they can do about it.

          Justice Sears’ complaint wasn’t that her first name was used, per se, but that all the boys called each other judge but not her. If so, that’s just plain rude. I don’t see the same issue with SJWs demanding that common (and accurate) words be excised from use when applied to a woman. People can be deranged. Gender has nothing to do with it.

          1. david

            Context is episodically important; I would think the judge in question would have picked this up, but could it have been something as simple as the other male judges taking the piss out of each other, and NOT doing the same to her for whatever reason?

            In the medical field, doctors in private conversation never call each other doctor or mister; its usually only done with humour or to be insulting. Likewise, in private doctors only tend to call nurses “sister” or “matron” when they can’t remember their name; and when a nurse calls you doctor, make sure someone has your back covered . . . .

            Then again, I’m from Australia, where one of our ex Prime Ministers, a Rhodes Scholar no less, holds the national yard-glass scholling record, one of our cultural heroes is such because he holds the record for most beers drunk on the nonstop Sydney-London (when they still served cans), and “hey fuckface” is a term of affection . . .

          2. David Meyer-Lindenberg

            Yeah, this is a total tangent (based off the judge’s comment on how things are done down South.) I didn’t mean to relate it to the sexism-among-judges issue, which, if the judge’s report is accurate, would seem to be real.

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