Excerpts from Sheila Weller, “America’s Most Sexist Judges,” Redbook Feb. 1994, at 83.

If you go before the bench, you have every fight to expect justice.

But the shocking reality is that there are courtrooms where women will never receive a fair trial.

Last March, Judge Edwad Cottingham, 65, of the Fourth Circuit Court in Bennettsville, South Carolina, right, was given the task of deciding punishment for Magistrate J. Archie Lee, 67, of Horry County. Lee had been suspended - and then resigned - after being indicted for sexually assaulting women who appeared before him.

The charges ranged from breast-fondling to, in one case, ordering a woman to kiss his exposed penis.

Lee pleaded no contest. He could have gotten a maximum of 36 years in prison, but Judge Cottingham gave him only a three-year suspended sentence, 400 hours of community service, a $ 500 fine, and mental health counseling, saying that his invalid wife needed him at home.

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In April 1992, Judge Gail Craytor, 61, of the 17th District Court in Idabel, Oklahoma, reduced the sentence of a man who killed his wife to just five years - four of them suspended. But after crediting the killer for time already spent in jail, Judge Craytor allowed his release in only three months, citing the fact that he had not used a firearm (he had beaten his wife to death). Two years earlier, when another husband shot and killed his wife with an elephant gun, Judge Craytor suspended the man's entire 25-year sentence and released him from prison after he served less than six months.

Last June Judge Frank Eppes, 71, of Tenth Circuit Court in Oconee County, South Carolina, heard the case of a man who'd kidnapped his ex-wife and her mother, bound them with duct tape, and repeatedly shocked his ex-wife with an electric cattle prod. Judge Eppes wiped aside the man's guilty pleas and suspended the entire 95-year sentence he had given him earlier in favor of a combined five years' probation and 60 months of house arrest - saying the attack was "a domestic thing."

In April 1981 Judge I. Sylvan Brown, then 52, of Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona, threw out a jury's guilty verdict in a rape and kidnapping trial, insisting the victim (who was kidnapped at gunpoint by a man on probation for drug possession) could have escaped and that her story, including being forced naked onto his car hood, was not credible. Attorney Dianne Post, a women's rights activist, remarked, "Anyone who knows how hot car hoods get in Arizona in July knows that no one would voluntarily he on one!" The rapist's conviction was later reinstated by a state appeals court.

Judge Thomas Bollinger, S2, of Baltimore County Circuit Court, granted mere probation to a 44-year-old man who w-as found guilty of raping his 18-year-old employee after she got drunk and passed out on his bed. At the sentencing last April, Judge Bollinger said the victim had "facilitated" the crime by getting drunk, and he worried that criminalizing intercourse with a sleeping woman might make many husbands, in the eyes of the law, rapists. When the victim's lawyer described the scenario of a woman left vulnerable on a bed as the defendant's "dream come true," Judge Bollinger remarked it was "the dream of a lot of males, quite honestly." After angry demonstrations by women's groups, Judge Bollinger said he was misinterpreted; he was sorry he hadn't added "unfortunately" to his "dream of a lot of males" remark. Nevertheless, he was fined $ 500 and agreed, grudgingly, to take a rape-sensitivity course.

Judges are supposed to be our ultimate guardians of law. Respected as scholars, admired as model citizens, they are rewarded with a level of prestige and honor rarely matched by any other profession. In their role as champions of justice, we trust them to make fair and objective decisions, umnotivated by personal prejudices - racist, sexist, or otherwise.

But theory is not the same as practice. Women judges, lawyers, and litigants say that sexism is shot through the U.S. judiciary. "Today sexism is as much a part of our judicial fabric as are our polyester robes," says Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell of Santa Clara County Superior Court in California. "Insensitivity to women by judges is endemic," says Judge Miriam Waltzer of the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.

I constantly hear reports from every, state about judges who are biased against women," says Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund's National judicial Education Program to Promote Equality for Women and Men in the Courts. Although complaints involve judges of all ages and backgrounds, many observers say the most common offenders are men over 50. That means there's lots of opportunity; the vast majority of the 28,750 judges presently. on the bench are men - and most of those are over 50. Their abuses are often shocking.

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In 1990 Judge Leamon Freeman, 64, of Oklahoma County District Court, interrupted a policeman's testimony about a rape victim's suffering to point out that some women don't like being raped. In 1992 Justice Nicholas Figueroa, 60, of New York Supreme Court, sparked protest when he argued that a specific rape hadn't been violent and that the victim's suffering was lessened by the fact that she'd been molested before.


Does a marriage license give a man the right to beat his wife? Judge William J. O'Neil, 64, of Carroll County Superior Court in New Hampshire, seems to think so. Last May he sentenced Stephen Sarno, 40, to a mere 28 days (to be served over consecutive weekends) for beating Susan Sarno, 33, from whom he'd been separated for a year. Sarno stalked his estranged wife on a camping trip. When he found her in a tent with another man, he hit her repeatedly in the face with a flashlight; she needed 17 stitches. Judge O'Neil reasoned that because the couple wasn't yet divorced, "she was still his wife"; therefore, "I can't conclude that the attack was completely unprovoked. I think that would provoke the average man." The judge did concede that the assault went too far. He told the woman, "To have slapped you might have been more normal." The judge's superior later apologized publicly to Susan Sarno for the "insensitivity" she experienced in court.

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