Years ago a group of attorneys were in my office to go over the cases being heard that day. A clerk came in to deliver a file to me. I thanked her and she left.
One of the attorneys – about a decade older than I was – followed her with his eyes as she walked out. “She’s a looker.”
“Please don’t. That’s not appropriate,” I told him.
“Yeah,” he said, winking at me, “but she’s pretty easy on the eyes, isn’t she judge?”
“You need to leave and wait in the courtroom for your case to be called.”
He stared at me as if he hadn’t heard me correctly so I made it simple.
“Go to the courtroom. We’ll discuss your case on the record.”
He left, looking a bit confused. I could see it on his face: Why didn’t the judge join me in enjoying her good looks?
A short time later I called his case in the courtroom. Happily for his client, judges know how to separate an attorney’s personality from the merits of the case.
Canons to the right of me, canons to the left of me
My interaction with the attorney might seem abrupt, harsh even, to some. The reality is that in an office full of women and men waiting for me to spend time with them on their cases, I couldn’t do less than address his conduct promptly and directly. It’s what I had to do by law.
Canon 3B(3) of the Code of Judicial Conduct reads:
A judge shall require order and decorum in proceedings before the judge. (Emphasis added.)
This includes chambers conferences such as I was having that day as I prepared to call the cases on the record in court. Canon 3B(4) adds:
A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers and of all staff and court personnel under the judge’s direction and control. (Emphasis added.)
Again, this includes conduct in chambers as well as in the courtroom.
But this is how I hope to conduct myself at all times, and not just because the judicial canons say so. It’s common decency. I hope it’s common in all I do.