LET US HEAR FROM YOU!
We welcome letters to the editor on issues presented in the magazine. Email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. All opinions, statements, and conclusions expressed in letters to the editor represent the views of the respective authors and do not necessarily carry the endorsement of the WSBA or its Board of Governors. Publication of letters to the editor is not to be deemed an endorsement of the opinions, statements, and conclusions expressed by the author(s).
In Response to ‘Pronoun Chaos’ Letter to the Editor
I remember the first time I misgendered someone in a professional setting. It was inadvertent, but I guessed wrongly based on the pitch of their voice, and our interaction became very bumpy.
I did not want to do this again, both as a matter of good manners and as a matter of professionalism. Thereafter I resolved to avoid using gendered language whenever possible.
I discovered with pleasure that in professional interactions the gender of the person with whom I am speaking or about whom I am writing is usually not relevant. Sometimes I had to think carefully, but isn’t that what we get paid for? When in doubt, my best friend has been the gender-neutral use of “they,” which traces its origins perhaps as far back at the 14th century (see “A brief history of singular ‘they’” https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/ ).
Recently a practice has evolved of listing preferred pronouns on Zoom calls and email signature lines. This greatly simplifies life; just use the expressed preference and carry on doing the work.
All this may be news to no one, but I feel compelled to write because a recent Bar News letter claimed that this creates a “burden.” Perhaps it does. Courtesy and professionalism may be marginally more burdensome than discourtesy and unprofessionalism, but that is part of the job. I take pride in being a small part of a great profession, even if it is occasionally burdensome. I urge every member of the WSBA to show the same courtesy, professionalism, and pride.
Randy Winn, WSBA #25833
We wish to take this opportunity to respond to the letter in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Bar News entitled “Pronoun Chaos.” The letter states common misconceptions about gender identity and gender expression. As judicial officers in King County who wrote and/or supported the recent amendments to the Washington Code of Judicial Conduct regarding gender expression and identity, we thought it would be appropriate to correct those misconceptions.
The “Pronoun Chaos” letter refers to the “natural” and “binary” world and conflates the concepts of sex and gender. It is helpful to appreciate the difference between “sex” and “gender.” While “sex” may refer to immutable characteristics, such as chromosomes and reproductive organs, “gender” refers to one’s subjective understanding of their place on a continuum of identities.
Sex itself is not binary. Approximately 1.7 percent of all people are intersex—people born with sex traits that do not fit binary medical definitions of male or female sexual or reproductive anatomy. Another .5 percent have clinically identifiable sexual or reproductive variations. The medical truth is that the world has never been, and never will be, naturally binary as is relates to a person’s sex.
Gender is also not binary. Gender attributes are a social construct not based in science. While we often think of people as men or women, we cannot choose another person’s gender. A person’s gender can only be identified by that person. It is their subjective understanding of their own identity.
As judicial officers, we have worked extensively with people, young and old, who have had the courage to share their sex and gender identities with us. We see the expression of trust and safety on the faces of litigants, jurors, witnesses, and attorneys when we address them accurately and respectfully. For young people in the court system, this is of particular importance. Multiple scientific studies show two important facts: (1) most children have a stable sense of gender at a young age and (2) supporting a child’s expressed gender is linked to better mental health outcomes.
The “Pronoun Chaos” letter suggests that the WSBA should deal with “real issues, such as innocent people in prison and the wrongly convicted.” This idea ignores the role courts and lawyers play in society. Justice is not for some, not just for the cisgendered, not just for those with lawyers, not just for the innocent—justice is for everyone. Justice means meeting people where they are at, respecting who they are, and treating them with dignity.
The letter also suggests that recognizing people’s pronouns is a “burden.” Being polite should never be a burden. It should be standard procedure for any lawyer or judicial officer. Using proper pronouns is no more difficult than spelling or pronouncing someone’s name correctly, holding a door open, or saying please and thank you. For readers who are not compelled by this argument, consider this: People who feel safe and comfortable in a deposition, a courtroom, or other legal proceeding are more likely to be honest, forthcoming, and cooperative. If for no reason other than the search for the truth at the heart of every case, respectful and correct address matters.
Finally, gendering litigants correctly is the law. The Washington State Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 2.3, now includes a prohibition on discrimination based upon gender expression or identity. Judges have an obligation to use an individual’s proper gender and they also have an obligation to require lawyers do the same. The Rules of Professional Conduct, RPC 8.4(g), also prohibit discrimination based upon gender expression or gender identity.
We appreciate that the concepts of gender identity and gender expression are new for some members of our community. The justice system, however, is exactly the crucible where fairness and equity are created, expected, and enforced. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with our justice system stakeholders to make our courthouses safe and welcoming to all.
Jonathon Lack, King County Superior Court Commissioner, (he/him)
Johanna Bender, King County Superior Court Judge, (she/her)
Janet Helson, King County Superior Court Judge, (she/her)
Cindi Port, King County Superior Court Judge, (she/her)
WSBA—Too Political for My Blood
The recent [issue of Bar News, February 2023] addressing environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) should be all governors need to put a stop to the WSBA’s “woke” agenda, assuming (1) that governors are acting in their capacities as governors of what should be an apolitical body and (2) that governors are not actually in favor of integrating the anti-capitalist and pro-woke agenda of ESG into the Bar structure.
Some 20 states have or are in the process of passing anti-ESG laws for a reason. That reason should trickle down to the WSBA so that the current political focus of the WSBA is not forced upon its members as if they are all in agreement with the current “woke” politics of the WSBA.
Ask yourselves if the states have differing opinions on ESG, then is it possible that the membership of the WSBA has differing opinions on ESG too?
Must WSBA members have ESG forced upon them by an organization they are forced to join? If so, then the cure would be Janus, or in other words, a voluntary bar association. That way the “woke” faction of the WSBA can get as political as they want; and the remainder can say NO simply by not joining.
Inez Petersen, Enumclaw
Systemic Racism Is Long Gone, Part Two
It appears that my critique of systemic racism [September 2022 Bar News] has raised a firestorm. In the words of the apocryphal quote often attributed to George Orwell, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
The phrase, “systemic racism,” uses the adjective “systemic” to modify the word racism. The Random House Dictionary, second edition, defines systemic as: “1. of or pertaining to a system; 2. [physiology] pertaining to or affecting the body as a whole; 3. systemic pesticide—absorbed and circulated by a plant or other organism so as to be lethal to pests that feed on it.” The concept embodied in this definition of systemic is that something is very widespread or even universal.
Systemic does not appear to describe any racism present in America today.
There are Black people in many prominent and important positions throughout society. There are Black teachers, doctors, mayors, police chiefs, legislators, lawyers and judges, Black justices on both the Washington Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, a mixed-race vice president, a Black defense secretary, and a mixed-race former president. White audiences and the general public support Black entertainers and athletes, many of whom have become multi-millionaires. This great number of Black people who have succeeded in our society counters the notion of systemic racism.
Further, Washington state’s Law Against Discrimination, RCW 49.60.030, reads in part: “(1) The right to be free from discrimination because of race, creed, color … is recognized as and declared to be a civil right …” The law goes on to say that the right to be free from discrimination covers employment, public accommodations, real estate transactions, credit transactions, insurance transactions, health maintenance organization transactions, and commerce. The right includes the remedy of damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees. RCW 49.60.030 (2). The Washington Law Against Discrimination has been on the books since 1949. This law is an example of systemic anti-racism.
Leland Ripley [December 2022/January 2023 Bar News] cites white mob violence from 100-plus years ago as evidence of systemic racism. But those historical mob incidents do not describe what is going on today.
The George Floyd incident is current. The Minneapolis Police Department use of force neck restraint policy, adopted in 2002 and revised in 2012, is risky and brutal and should be banned from use by all police departments. But the use of that bad policy is not evidence of systemic racism unless it was routinely used against Black people and never or almost never used against white people in the same circumstances.
The subject of Black and white mob violence brought up by Mr. Ripley goes both ways. If we take a journey back into history we come to the 1831 Nat Turner incident in Southampton County, Virginia. Nat Turner and his men used axes and blunt instruments to slaughter approximately 60 white people, mostly women and children and mostly people who had nothing to do with slavery. This atrocity impeded the previously growing abolitionist movement in the South.
Black crime in America in recent decades has mostly been Black perpetrators harming Black victims. But when there is interracial crime it is overwhelmingly nonwhite perpetrators harming white victims. About 5 1/2 times more in 2018. See Table 14; Percent of violent incidents, by victim and offender race or ethnicity, Criminal Victimization, 2018, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 2019, NCJ 253043.
It should be noted that the FBI’s crime statistics practice is to group whites of European extraction together with Hispanics, Arabs, and India Indians all as “white.”
This statistical practice artificially inflates the number of whites involved as perpetrators of interracial crime.
The idea that Black people are always the victims and that white people are always the oppressors is so baked-in to the minds of some people that they cannot see the reality that shows this idea to be false.
Hardships face both Black and white working people in America. Massive immigration inflates the number of job seekers in certain job markets, strains public services, and puts further pressure on available housing. Corporate outsourcing and offshoring along with artificial intelligence and robotics take away more jobs. The misguided drug war incarcerates many young Black men thus harming their chances for upward mobility.
There are serious problems facing Black people in America, but systemic racism is not one of them.
Tom Stahl, Ellensburg
Letters to the editor published in Bar News must respond to content presented in the magazine and also comply with Washington General Rule 12.2 and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990).* Bar News may limit the number of letters published based on available space in a particular issue and, if many letters are received in response to a specific piece in the magazine, may select letters that provide differing viewpoints to publish. Bar News does not publish anonymous letters or more than one letter from the same contributor per issue. All letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, civility, and grammatical accuracy.
*GR 12.2(c) states that the WSBA is not authorized to “(1) Take positions on issues concerning the politics or social positions of foreign nations; (2) Take positions on political or social issues which do not relate to or affect the practice of law or the administration of justice; or (3) Support or oppose, in an election, candidates for public office.” In Keller v. State Bar of California, the Court ruled that a bar association may not use mandatory member fees to support political or ideological activities that are not reasonably related to the regulation of the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.
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Furry Friends of Bar News
Over this past summer we asked WSBA members on social media to share their work-from-home coworkers, and you can check out these pawsitvely hard-working legal professionals at wabarnews.org/2022/12/14/furry-friends-of-bar-news/. You can still share a pic of your furry coworker: email email@example.com.