Legal Ethics

Will Popular Bankruptcy Judge Return, After Dress Incident?

Lawyers in Boston are still waiting and wondering whether a popular bankruptcy judge, who resigned from the bench after a much-publicized cross-dressing incident but then changed his mind, will be allowed to return to the bench.

Whether U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Somma will be allowed to rescind his resignation was the talk of a recent bankruptcy conference, reports Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. In response to a letter signed by 200 lawyers seeking to have Somma reinstated, the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would defer his resignation date from April 1 to May 15, but there has been no word about whether it is still effective. He has been on paid leave since approximately Feb. 15.

“We’re all continuing to wait with some hope,” says Michael Pappone of Goodwin Procter, who signed the letter. “We’re all speculating. All of us who supported urging him to reconsider certainly hope that the 1st Circuit allows him to withdraw his resignation and restores our excellent bankruptcy bench in Massachusetts to full strength.”

Court officials refuse to comment on Somma’s status, reports the Boston Globe.

Somma resigned after he rear-ended a pickup with his Mercedes on Feb. 6 in Manchester, N.H., and was arrested for drunken driving. He subsequently pleaded no contest to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated and agreed to pay $600 in penalties, the Globe notes.

What really captured public attention, however, was how he was dressed at the time of his arrest: “Somma had just left a gay bar and was wearing a black cocktail dress, fishnet stockings and high heels,” writes the Union Leader, a New Hampshire newspaper.

Many lawyers praise Somma as unusually fair and thoughtful judge, the Globe reports. While the drunken-driving incident reflects a significant judgment lapse, it should not require him to resign, they say, and what he was wearing at the time is irrelevant to his work as a judge.

Additional coverage:

Wall Street Journal Law Blog: “Bar Urges Dress-Wearing Judge to Reconsider Resignation” “Judge Decides ‘Media Frenzy’ After Arrest Doesn’t Require Him to Quit”

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