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Letters to the Editor – 7/23/12

As a judge on the District Court of Maryland, I write to express dismay at reading “Girl Power on the Bench,” which appeared on the On the Record blog on July 17. The subject is interesting, for sure: the number of female judges continues to rise in the United States and in Maryland, in particular. It is, indeed, promising to know that women make up 34.4 percent of the Judiciary in Maryland, but it also shows that we still have work to do.

It certainly does not help the cause of equality to illustrate this subject with an early ‘90s photograph featuring the then-popular singing group, The Spice Girls, dressed in scanty outfits and striking “girl power” poses. Presumably the photo accompanies the author’s statement regarding the rise of female appointments to the bench: “That is some girl power, as the Spice Girls would say, though this situation may call more for black robes than leather pants and platform heels.”

One would imagine that in 2012 this would go without saying, but here it goes. Female judges are not “girls” and we did not get appointed to the bench by “girl power.” As women, we overcame obstacles in the legal profession, worked diligently and excelled in our areas of practice, and distinguished ourselves intellectually and professionally. Most of us also cared for children, family, and households at the same time we were studying, working, and serving our communities.

The Spice Girls photograph and reference in the context of the rise of female judicial appointments is plainly obnoxious and demeaning. The late in the day removal of the photograph and headline, with the comment that they were meant to “draw readers to the study’s very interesting results” shows that The Daily Record does not get it. But, as a judge, I strive to be patient.

So, do you want to know what I really (really) want? An apology. A sincere apology to all the judges (male and female) who were offended by the post.

Shannon E. Avery
Associate Judge
Baltimore City District Court


Congratulations to The Daily Record for achieving an all time high in trivializing and demeaning the accomplishments of women in general and those of women judges in particular while at the same time achieving an all time low in demonstrating respect for the women judges of Maryland.

Characterizing the numbers of women serving in the state and federal judiciary as “girl power” was offensive enough. Prior to the publication of this article I would have expected that The Daily Record’s publisher, editorial  and writing staffs would abjure the use of sexist and demeaning language in writing about and describing women. Your publication of this article demonstrates that my expectation was unwarranted.

Accompanying the article with a photo, not of women judges, but of the barely-attired Spice Girls was not merely tasteless. It was shocking. Would The Daily Record have countenanced using a suggestive picture of the Chippendales dancers in an article about men in the judiciary? The question is so obviously rhetorical that no response is necessary.

The author’s comment that “this situation may call more for black robes than leather pants and platform heels” was beyond inappropriate and offensive. It was simply astounding. It gives credence to the thoroughly sexist notion that women achieve professional success in the judiciary and elsewhere by wearing attire such as that depicted in the photo of the Spice Girls and not by virtue of their intelligence, skill and hard work.

Many of the women judges who serve in this state have been honored by selection to The Daily Record’s Top 100 Women and its Circle of Excellence. To the best of my knowledge its selection criteria appropriately consider not a nominee’s clothing style but her professional competence and achievements as well as service to the community.

Maryland’s premier professional publication has demeaned itself and the women judges who serve in state and federal courts throughout this country, by addressing an important issue in such a thoroughly offensive, sexist and unprofessional manner.

The editor’s note and thoroughly inadequate apology, which accompanied your removal of the Spice Girls photo after receipt of the many responses on the blog post, further serve to reinforce your trivialization of this issue. You claim that in attempting “to draw readers to the study’s very important results, we used a headline and illustration that seemed to trivialize the message the blog post was attempting to convey. Clearly this was not our intent.”

Clearly it was your intent, and the headline and illustration didn’t just “seem” to trivialize the issue. They succeeded in doing so. Moreover, if you truly believed that the University of Albany Center For Women in Government & Civil Society’s study was so important and wanted to draw anyone’s attention to it, you would have had one of your staff writers or guest columnists write a feature article for publication in the main section of the paper rather than posting a brief and superficial blog.

Finally, The Daily Record owes the women judges of Maryland a genuine and credible apology. Merely stating “and we apologize” at the end of your Editor’s note after attempting to deflect responsibility doesn’t come close.

Carol E. Smith
Associate Judge (retired)
Baltimore City Circuit Court


I write this letter as a member of the Maryland Judiciary and as chair of the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Women Judges. While the article was substantively noteworthy, the manner in which it was delivered was entirely outrageous, inappropriate and demeaning. The photograph and the reference to the Spice Girls and “girl power” are an insult to the Judiciary and the judges, men and women, who hold the position. The important message is clearly lost by the insensitive manner in which the article was presented.

Several female members of the Maryland Judiciary have sent letters to you in protest of this article so I will not reiterate all that has been expressed. Suffice it to say, however, the sentiment expressed in those letters is certainly adopted by the NAWJ.

Perhaps the person who wrote the article, the person who did not edit it and the person who published it would benefit from sensitivity training. At the very least a formal apology is owed to the members of the Judiciary, and the editor’s note is not sufficient.

As an officer of the Maryland Chapter of the NAWJ, I would be more than happy to discuss this issue with you further, in an effort to insure that this type of article does not again appear in The Daily Record in the future.

Toni E. Clarke
Chair, Maryland Chapter
National Association of Women Judges Inc.