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Judge reprimanded for comment about proliferation of women lawyers; was he misunderstood?

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Judge reprimanded for comment about proliferation of women lawyers; was he misunderstood?

Apr 10, 2014, 05:50 am CDT

A now-retired New Hampshire judge has been reprimanded for linking the proliferation of women lawyers to a worsening public regard for the legal profession.

Judge John Lewis of Strafford County says he was making a point about sexism in society in his off-the-cuff remarks during a July 2013 meeting with public defenders. Lewis, 67, retired from his position as a supervisory judge in Dover in September after complaints by some who attended the meeting. The Associated Press, WMUR, the Eagle-Tribune and the New Hampshire Union Leader have stories.

The New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee released the reprimand (PDF) last week.

According to public defenders interviewed by the committee, Lewis said the legal profession risks losing respect because so many more women are becoming lawyers. In Russia, Lewis reportedly said, doctors are not respected because medicine is a female-dominated profession. Lewis also reportedly said the teaching profession has been harmed because females are choosing careers in law over education.

The committee found that Lewis created the appearance of impropriety by using words that may have reasonably been interpreted to show bias based on gender.

The committee also said its investigation raised concerns about Lewis’ treatment of alleged victims in sexual assault cases. In a different meeting, Lewis was accused of saying that aggressive prosecution of child sexual assault cases may ultimately do more harm than good to the families and the public. Lewis tells the Union Leader those remarks were about a specific case.

Lewis agreed to the reprimand. He said in a statement to the committee (PDF) that he didn’t intend to demean or insult women. “My exploratory comments were not meant as a put-down, a criticism or a statement blaming women for wanting to be professionals and seeking to rise as far as they could go in the work arena,” he said. “What I feared was that our society’s continued sexism might be at work, as it has in the past, to diminish the work women did.”

Lewis said his daughter has just finished law school and his wife is a feminist. He formerly prosecuted sex and other discrimination cases for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and pursued sex discrimination cases on behalf of women while in private practice.

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