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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Punishing female attorneys

The Supreme Court of Missouri suspended the licenses of two female former assistant prosecutors in St. Louis who helped cover up a police officer beating of a suspect in 2014. A third female prosecutor, who was more directly involved by filing false charges against the victim, was disbarred in 2016. The officer pleaded guilty to a § 242 violation and was sentenced to 52 months.This represents the exceedingly rare case in which police and prosecutors faced sanctions for their roles in misconduct within the criminal-justice system.

But it is difficult not to notice that this rare case involved three female prosecutors. It thus echoes the fallout from the Central Park Five, in which the only people facing professional consequences (informal, but still) were two female assistant prosecutors, but no man involved in the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 14, 2019 at 11:43 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


Wasn't the police officer in the St. Louis case a man? If all you have is a hammer...

Posted by: Male | Aug 15, 2019 6:32:11 PM

This story is heartbreaking to me for so many reasons. First, I love STL - which was my home for almost a decade. But the region's culture of corruption and cover-up is just stunning. In fact, it is so troubling that it led me to leave my tenured position and teaching for 2 years after events in Ferguson - to more directly address civil rights issues in MO as the inaugural director of the MacArthur Justice Center. I am very glad I did & was able to do some good in that role. But so much more needs to be done to change business as usual....

This said, I know one of these women. In my eyes, she was an extremely ethical and zealous advocate who did great work on behalf of vulnerable youth in STL. So this situation is very hard to reconcile with what I know of this attorney.

Third, I agree that women in law and politics are often held to different standards - or face greater condemnation - than male peers for similar conduct.

I recently wrote about such case, involving NY's first woman judge, Jean Hortense Norris. Norris was removed from the bench in the 1930's for alleged misconduct while male jurists around her, who arguably did worse, largely escaped such a sanction:

Mae C. Quinn (University of Florida - University of Florida Levin College of Law) -- Fallen Woman (Re)framed: Judge Jean Hortense Norris, New York City - 1912-1955 (67 U. Kan. L. Rev. 451 (2019)).


Here is the abstract:

This Article seeks to surface and understand more than what is already known about Jean Hortense Norris as a lawyer, jurist, and feminist legal realist—as well as a woman for whom sex very much became part of her professional persona and work. This article analyzes the lack of legal protections provided to Norris and troubling nature of her removal from the bench given the evidence presented and standards applied.

Finally, this Article seeks to provide further context for Jean Norris’s alleged misconduct charges to suggest that as a woman who dared to blur gender boundaries, embrace her professional power, and offer a unique vision of the “fairer sex,” she was held to a different standard than her male peers and made to pay the price with her career. In these ways, this Article provides a more complete picture of Jean Norris beyond a shamed and disrobed judge. And it begins to move Judge Norris out of legal history’s margins so that she may be remembered as more than mere mugshot in the American imagination.

Posted by: Mae Quinn | Aug 15, 2019 5:30:42 PM

agreed. i'd like to see some stats. out here in California, all the recent high profile discipline cases against prosecutors that i recall have been male attorneys. this Missouri case is such an unusual fact pattern given the federal investigation and the texts and recorded calls. even if male prosecutors do get away with too much, this is a case where the State Bar had to act.

Posted by: anon | Aug 14, 2019 8:07:59 PM

Not necessarily, since the plural of anecdote is not data. But I think it is noteworthy that two of the exceedingly rare instances of prosecutors being punished involved women. It would be interesting to see what the broader pattern looks like

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 14, 2019 4:28:36 PM

do you draw some conclusion from that fact?

Posted by: anon | Aug 14, 2019 4:09:33 PM

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