Daddy Issues

There is no criminal defense lawyer who hasn’t enjoyed the anger of their client’s family. Whether spouse, parent or child, someone will scream at you for their perceived view that you’ve failed them, whether by not doing what they believe you ought to do, not getting their loved one out, not winning the unwinnable case. The list goes on, and the experience is part of the job.

It’s not their fault they’re angry. It is their fault that they lash out at the lawyer, but they have to find some target for their ire, and better the lawyer than, say, screaming at the judge during a hearing. Just as we take our clients as we find them, we take their families as well.

Except in the Pink Ghetto, where Staci Zaretsky informs us that “No, sexual harassment is not part of being a female criminal defense lawyer.” As a general proposition, that’s obviously correct. But is this sexual harassment?

After a few months of really crazy office things where not a single lawyer was happy, I had a client’s father come in screaming about me not going to visit his son in jail in weeks. It wasn’t true, as I had been out there just a few days before, and I was also literally walking out to door to pick a jury in a robbery with a firearm case. I was in an urgent hurry because we were on call and the judge gave us very little time to get to court.

Client’s father made alllllllllll kinds of sexist remarks. He called me a little girl or something, incompetent, etc., etc. I told him not to speak to me that way and please call his son, as well as if he wanted to meet me, make an appointment with my assistant, and then I left. I didn’t yell or do anything unprofessional. He was shouting. My trial partner was there. More long story short: I was disciplined and cursed at, threatened, for my response to this client.

There seems to be a huge gap in the retelling of this story between the father making “alllllllllll kinds of sexist remarks” and discipline.

I told them the law says I don’t have to accept being sexually harassed like that and I was professional.


Did her superior tell her that sexual harassment was part of the job, or dealing with a defendant’s father was part of the job, and because she decided (in all caps, no less) that it was sexual harassment, she twisted the words to suit her feelz?

This is becoming a new issue for female criminal defense lawyers, as reflected in the new rules promulgated by the New York City Legal Aid Society.

And yes, the clients. They’re in there. Apparently, no LAS lawyer need suffer a client who doesn’t respect their deepest and most delicate feelings. It’s unclear what this means, whether LAS will refuse to defend the rapist, the guy in the holding cell who calls a he a she? If racial slurs upset them, they’re not going to like going to the pens where the language tends to be a bit rougher than in gender studies class.

Criminal defense is a tough business. The lawyers who practice it tend to be tough lawyers, as anybody who isn’t can’t bear the pressure, the demands of the courtroom or the clients who, ahem, are often criminals. These were the types of lawyers who worked for Legal Aid, tough lawyers. Anyone who wasn’t tough enough found out soon enough that they weren’t a good fit for the trenches.

Zaretsky’s complainant went to the EEOC to complain of her workplace harassment, and despite the EEOC being as accommodating to sensitive feelings as possible, received no solace.

I quit and filed an EEOC claim. They got the county legal aid to represent them because the boss of my agency and the boss of legal aid were friends. I couldn’t afford a lawyer. My complaint was dismissed for no corroboration.

Yes, she did mention that her trial partner was present. No, I can’t explain this either, but then the woman telling the story is responsible for her own gaps. Don’t ask. But this emits an unpleasant odor. That the EEOC would dismiss a claim of sexual harassment for lack of corroboration seems improbable. Most sexual harassment occurs in private. It’s often uncorroborated. That’s an unlikely reason for dismissal of a claim.

So is it true that female criminal defense lawyers should not have to endure sexual harassment? Of course. The problem is that this didn’t come from her superior or co-workers, but from her client’s father.

He doesn’t have to play by her rules of propriety. Her feelings aren’t his concern. Her options were to manage her client’s family or suck it up. And frankly, making “alllllllllll kinds of sexist remarks,” is about as trivial a problem as a criminal defense lawyer can face. Try death threats by a psycho killer. That can get a bit scary.

We don’t get to defend only nice people who have sad stories and treat us gently. Sometimes we represent bad dudes, and sometimes, those bad dudes have bad fathers who say mean things. They may be sexist. They may be racist. They may be mean and threatening. It happens.

What’s disturbing isn’t just that this very poorly written, very poorly argued, very poorly conceived tale of sad tears is proffered as an example of the sexist state of affairs of the law,* but that younger criminal defense lawyers seem to think they’re entitled to defendants, and their families, who behave in a way that suits their feelings. They’re the client. They’re the client’s family. They aren’t there to make the lawyer feel good about herself.

The profession is so hostile to women and no one cares. I was such a good defense attorney. I’m a true believer in human rights and minority rights — it was my passion.

That’s adorable, but if you can’t manage an angry father who makes “alllllllllll kinds of sexist remarks,” then you have no place in the trenches. And there’s a good chance that the only person who thought you were a good defense attorney was you, which is likely the best explanation for why no one cared.

*The story is prefaced by this introduction:

Today, we have a story about a criminal defense attorney who was forced to endure an untold amount of sexual harassment throughout her career, and is disgusted by the fact that no one cares that the legal profession is so hostile to women.

Well, the characterization of “untold” may be the most accurate aspect of the intro.

26 thoughts on “Daddy Issues

  1. Lori Ecker

    The EEOC regularly dismisses sexual harassment charges for lack of corroboration. Not that this person actually provided substantial evidence that sexual harassment occurred….

    1. SHG Post author

      If an employee is groped by her supervisor without any witnesses, the EEOC will dismiss for lack of corroboration? I’m informed otherwise, but since this is your field, I’ll defer to your expertise.

  2. Scott Jacobs

    I was such a good defense attorney.

    Not if this writing sample is indicative of her reasoning skills and writing ability…

          1. REvers

            I know, but being locked in an interview room with an inmate is a bit more intimate than seeing clients in the pens.

      1. Scott Jacobs

        I’m a true believer in human rights and minority rights — it was my passion.

        Jesus. Someone needs to let her know that the appellate court doesn’t give a shit if she is super passionate about something, or how deep her belief is.

        How the actual fuck do people like this graduate from law school? How do they pass the bar?

  3. delurking

    You know, just yesterday I was saying that STEM education makes everyone feel unwelcome.
    “… It happens.”
    I guess it’s not just us STEM folks, eh? Boy, the world really sucks. Why can’t there be some welcoming profession that pays a salary that will put you in the top half of the income distribution?

  4. B. McLeod

    I have pretty much stopped reading The Pink Ghetto, which was one of the last things I did follow over at ATL. The reason I stopped reading it is precisely the uncritical manner in which Ms. Zaretsky runs these stories without asking the obvious questions. They are also all and always anonymous, with the teller of the tale continuing to give the alleged “harasser(s)” cover by leaving out all details of names, offices, times and places. Basically, “Enabling 101” from the “progressive perspective, and removing all details that would allow critical evaluation or challenge (from all other perspectives). Also, more than half of the stories seem to be set decades in the past, which renders it no less than bizarre that they are then hailed as showing how horrible the profession is today.

    1. SHG Post author

      I prefer to think of it as passive-aggressive. But what has troubled me about Staci’s “Pink Ghetto” (besides the inapt name) is how tepid and petty most of the complaints are. I would have expected far worse. It leaves me with the impression that things aren’t all that bad, and most of the problems are overly sensitive people who lack the guts to stand up for themselves. Not a very lawyer-like bunch.

      1. B. McLeod

        I pointed out to her that using twenty-year-old alleged incidents was likely to leave that impression with readers who are paying attention. It’s like praising with faint damns. Also, the column isn’t regular, as it apparently takes weeks to hunt down these tales of terror, vacuous as they are.

  5. Skink

    I am not making this up, and I provide it to give you hope.

    In a recent conversation, a lawyer told me she had a trial coming up and was worried that one of the witnesses might get the better of her. She wanted advice. I told her that if she thought the witness was doing harm, drop something on the floor and make a show of picking it up. It’s an old trial lawyer’s trick.

    I’m not PC. I take joy in honest bluntness when dealing with people. So when she asked if the trick really works, I said it would if any of the jurors had eyesight–she has the best butt in the state.

    Her feelings weren’t hurt. She didn’t complain. There wasn’t howling anguish. She just asked whether she should wear a skirt or slacks.

    1. SHG Post author

      It is always heartwarming to know that there are lawyers (of any gender) who still grasp what their job is, to defend their client using whatever they can within the bounds of the law. No butts about it.

    1. Alex Stalker

      More importantly, why didn’t she tell the father “I don’t represent you. I can’t and won’t discuss the case with you. I don’t care what your opinions are. Please leave my office immediately or I’ll call security.”

      As a public defender, there’s no reason why you need to put up with an asshole family member unless you need something from them for the case. It’s not like they pay the bills.

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