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Ex-Ga. Chief Justice Chooses ‘Tomato Sandwiches’ When Mistaken for Restroom Attendant

Posted Apr 2, 2010 7:43 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Being a lawyer and then chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court didn’t shield Leah Ward Sears from slights and mistaken assumptions over the years.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), Sears recalled an incident when she was a newly minted lawyer attending a luncheon at a private club to celebrate the merger of her prestigious law firm with another. “I was the only woman of color in the sea of lawyers present, and I felt like I had finally made it,” she writes.

But during a restroom break, another woman there tried to hand Sears her hat, apparently mistaking her for the restroom attendant.

A decade later, Sears was attending a swanky cocktail party when an older woman approached her. “The next time, I want you to make sure you put more ice in my drink," the woman said, apparently believing Sears was the cocktail waitress.

Sears, now a partner at Schiff Hardin in Atlanta, writes that she has learned she has to “forgive and forgive and forgive” and to handle such mistakes with finesse.

“Growing up in Georgia, I've learned that the Southern way to handle such gaffes is to act as though they never happened, to jump to the subject of tomato sandwiches or the like,” she said. She did that in both the restroom and waitress incident, politely explaining the mistake and then brushing it off.

“Tomato sandwiches? It may sound trite, but it works,” Sears writes. “Especially when I consider the many women—and men too—black and white, who endured their own indignities and even harm so I could go to any college I wanted and pursue any profession I chose.”

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “High Court Speculation Doesn’t Derail Ga. Chief Justice’s Schiff Hardin Plans”

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