Updated Wednesday 8:54 a.m.
By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — An outspoken Nebraska federal judge calls himself a “dirty old man” and, in a randy, roundabout way, in a blog posted Tuesday advises a young lawyer to dress less suggestively.
This is the same Lincoln judge who told Congress to “go to hell” in the blog in October, urging his fellow judges to declare all of their employees “essential” so they could continue working during the federal government shutdown.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf posted an item Tuesday on his blog called “On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress.” He recounted how he “freaked out” when his “tall, statuesque, and beautiful daughter Lisa” showed up for her sister’s wedding in a low-cut dress and he forced her to put on a “demure white sweater” due to his “old guy’s sense of decorum.”
“In candor, I have been a dirty old man ever since I was a very young man,” he wrote. “Except, that is, when it comes to my daughters (and other young women that I care deeply about). And that brings me to the amusing debate about how (mostly) young female lawyers dress these days.”
Referring to a Slate article about female lawyers who dress “too sexy” for the courtroom, Kopf then told the story of a local lawyer in her late 20s who is “wonderfully talented and very pretty.”
“She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes,” he wrote.
In a recent case involving the lawyer, he said “every female law clerk in the building” slipped in and out of the courtroom to get a look at her.
“I am not exaggerating. I later learned that word had gotten around about this lawyer’s dress. Acknowledging that the lawyer was really good, the consensus of the sisterhood was uniformly critical. ‘Unprofessional’ was the word used most often. To a woman, the law clerks seethed and sneered. They were truly upset.”
Based on that, in an effort “to educate the bar,” Kopf laid out the following rules for young women lawyers to follow when considering how to dress for court:
• You can’t win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.
• It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.
• Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an “ignorant slut” behind your back, tone it down.
Nebraska Watchdog emailed Kopf about the column, but he has not replied. After the Omaha World-Herald followed up on our Tuesday story with a column Wednesday, Kopf took to his blog again to respond. Kopf, who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said he doesn’t honestly care how the columnist or others remember him, but does “care passionately that federal trial judges be seen as individuals with all the strengths and weakness (baggage) that everyone else carries around.”
“If, on balance, you think the post was harmful to the image of the federal judiciary and truly treated women as objects, I am very, very, very sorry for that, but I would ask you to pause and reread it,” he wrote. “I hope you will find upon objective reflection that the mockery I make of myself and the hyperbole and somewhat mordant tone I employed, made a point worth considering. In the rough and tumble world of a federal trial practice, it is sometimes necessary to see and react to that world as it is rather than as we wish it would be.”
President George H.W. Bush appointed Kopf to the bench in 1992 . Kopf has generated headlines before, notably in 2004 when he struck down a ban on partial-birth abortions. In fact, in his latest blog, he writes that if he is remembered for anything, it will be for striking down state and federal partial-birth abortion statutes. He also dismissed a lawsuit against a state judge who barred the words “rape” and “victim” in court in 2007.
Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.