Women in the Law

The word 'he' is 'not the default universal personal pronoun,' judge says

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Judge Martha Warner headshot

Judge Martha C. Warner of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Florida. Photo from the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

A Florida appeals judge used her dissent last week to criticize a lawyer who used a male pronoun to refer to her in court papers.

Judge Martha C. Warner of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Florida pointed out the error when she dissented to the court’s refusal to certify a case to the Florida Supreme Court.

Law360 and Law.com have coverage of Warner’s Jan. 19 dissent.

Warner said a lawyer had used the word “he” to refer to her in the motion for rehearing or certification. The mistake didn’t appear to be a typographical error, she said, because “he” was used twice.

Warner said a quick look at the court’s website would reveal that she is a woman.

“Granted, gendered pronouns are tricky in this day and age, but ‘he’ is not the default universal personal pronoun,” Warner wrote.

“More importantly, this error reveals the tenacious grip that the male image has in the legal profession to the detriment of women who have joined the profession in droves since I began practicing 48 years ago,” Warner said. “It still is an issue that women are mistaken for court reporters or paralegals by both judges and lawyers. No man would suffer that same misidentification, which relegates the woman to a less important role.

“We all need to be cognizant and remove from our thinking the male-centric image of lawyers and judges.”

Law360 and Law.com revealed that the lawyer who used the wrong pronoun was Thomas J. Butler of Miami Beach, Florida. Butler expressed regret for the mistake in an interview with Law.com.

“I made a mistake in referencing Judge Martha Warner as ‘he’ instead of ‘she.’ I had confused Judge Warner with a different judge. I apologize for the mistake,” Butler told Law.com. “I believe we should all be mindful of pronouns when referring to everyone.”

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