Sexual Harassment Reflections from a Judge

sexual harassmentWith all of the sexual harassment allegations flying around the state and the nation, and with the continued drumroll of the #MeToo movement, I recently paused to reflect and celebrate.

#MeToo Reflections

My reflections took me back to my young lawyer days as a litigator at the Daley Center.  There was an elderly male judge who all of the law firms liked to use for settlement conferences.  It was true that he had a pretty good track record for getting cases resolved.  This judge would hold early pretrials in his chambers.  He would frequently “hit on” me.  One time, I was wearing a navy nautical-inspired jacket with gold buttons when he complimented me on same.  I told him I was attending a “Nautical Night” cancer fundraiser at the Monroe Harbor Yacht Club that evening.  The judge responded with a lecherous grin:  “Nautical Night—does that mean you get to be naughty?”  He then proceeded to also invite me to meet him for coffee early one morning.  This was at least 25 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

In those days, I was an associate handling cases for my male supervising partners.  Do you think they knew of this judge’s reputation for sexual harassment?  The women of the firm had to keep subjecting ourselves to this treatment because it was the male partners or their male insurance clients who would select this judge for the settlement conferences.

This example does not even come close to what many of my female lawyer friends and even my female judicial colleagues have endured.  And, I could share far worse examples of being sexually harassed by former legal colleagues.

Isn’t it about time for this to end?  What can you do to be an ally of those who are being tormented by sexual harassment?  As the Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, I am endlessly looking for opportunities to educate lawyers and judges about professional behavior.  I owe that to my young self and to all of those who have #MeToo stories to share.

Celebrating Women Lawyers

Yet, I also wish to celebrate the many achievements of women lawyers and the strides that are being made to achieve equality in law firms, in law schools and in government and corporate environments.  I recently tried a very long financially complex divorce case. One day, the husband was not in attendance.  One of his attorneys called to my attention that everyone in the courtroom on that day was female—the wife, the four attorneys, the court reporter, the court clerk and me.  We all paused for just a moment with smiles on our faces, and then, we got back to work.  This day was a far cry from so many days for so many of us, when we were the only one or two women present in the courtroom or the deposition.

Sexual Harassment Training

With the Illinois legislature beginning to undergo sexual harassment training and apparently adopting legislation that would require all elected officials to be so educated, will this apply to the third branch of government?  Sign me up as an educator for my colleagues!

Hon. Debra Walker
Hon. Debra Walker was elected judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2008. Prior to joining the bench, Walker was a partner with Clausen Miller, P.C. where she specialized in defending professionals sued for malpractice. She has served on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism since its inception in 2005. She currently is Chair of the Commission.
Hon. Debra Walker

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Hon. Debra Walker
Hon. Debra Walker was elected judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2008. Prior to joining the bench, Walker was a partner with Clausen Miller, P.C. where she specialized in defending professionals sued for malpractice. She has served on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism since its inception in 2005. She currently is Chair of the Commission.
Hon. Debra Walker

Latest posts by Hon. Debra Walker (see all)

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