Gender Bias in the Courtroom

May 21, 1993

The Committee on Gender Equality has recommended and Judge Thomas J. Bollinger has agreed that he take sensitivity training. He displayed a lack of sensitivity, to say the least, with his sentence and his comments in a rape case in Baltimore

County Circuit Court last month. He criticized the law and the victim while letting the convicted man off with probation before judgment.

The committee's recommendation is compassionate, to say the least. His attendance at training sessions would be the sum total of his "punishment." This is sort of a professional probation before judgment. Others interested in the administration of justice in Maryland, including this newspaper, have called for an investigation of the judge by the state's Commission on Judicial Disabilities, and, if appropriate, some form of censure.

The state bar and the state judiciary established the Committee on Gender Equality to look into what is a national problem. That is, inappropriate treatment of women at all stages of the judicial process. After a two-year study in 1989, it concluded among other things that gender inequality in courtrooms was widespread enough to produce judicial partiality. Women and men were not getting equal justice before the law.

A number of steps have been taken since then that seem to have improved the situation greatly. Things are by no means perfect, but the Bollinger case is probably an exception to the rule. There are still too many exceptions in the area of fairness, but far fewer than three years ago, according to those monitoring the situation.

The best way to end gender bias in the judiciary is to increase the number of women judges. When that report was issued in 1989, only 9 percent of the state's judges were women. Fifteen percent are today. That was accomplished by Gov. William Donald Schaefer's doing a far better job than his predecessors. Since January 1989, 20 percent of his nominees have been women.

In a state in which only about 22-24 percent of the lawyers are women, that sounds pretty good. But it could be a lot better. For a number of years now about as many women as men have graduated from the state's law schools. The percentage of women lawyers in the prime age group for judgeships is probably somewhat higher than 22-24.

Whatever happens in the Bollinger case, there must be a determined effort by individual lawyers, the state bar and other bar associations, the judiciary and other branches of state government to create an environment in which nothing like it will occur again.

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