President's Message

Heather Stern
WLALA President 2018-2019

March 2019

Two steps forward, two steps back?  Yes, it is Women’s History Month, a month where many are celebrating the vital role of women in American history.  Yes, at the end of this month, we are going to co-host with our Sister Bars a powerful event on change-making that will help us all use our voices together to effect real change.  (If you haven’t seen the flyer, you really must check it out here


And yet, have you read the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s opinion in Martinez v. Stephen Stratton O’Hara (filed Feb. 28, 2019)?  It is eyebrow raising.  Among other things, the decision recites conduct of the plaintiff/appellant’s attorney, Benjamin Pavone, in April 2017 that manifested gender bias and caused the Court of Appeal to report Mr. Pavone to the State Bar.  Quoting from the opinion, which was written by Presiding Justice Richard D. Fybel, who happens to specialize in legal ethics: “The notice of appeal signed by Mr. Pavone on behalf of plaintiff referred to the ruling of the female judicial officer as ‘succubustic.’ A succubus is defined as a demon assuming female form which has sexual intercourse with men in their sleep.  We publish this portion of the opinion to make the point that gender bias by an attorney appearing before us will not be tolerated, period.” 


Yes, that’s right.  Mr. Pavone apparently considered it good advocacy to characterize his female judicial officer’s ruling as “succubustic” in his notice of appeal, a critical document sure to be read by the Court of Appeal.


Good for the Fourth District in calling Mr. Pavone out for accusing a female judge of being “a demon assuming female form which has sexual intercourse with men in their sleep.”  But it is extremely disappointing that it had to be done. 


I’m sure we’ve all been there, or at least I know I have.  We’ve had someone call us a bitch (or worse), or accuse us of being overly dramatic or emotional in a way we know they would never accuse a man, or insinuated (or expressly stated) presumptively that we must not be able to do whatever fill-in-the-blank task because we have family obligations, or simply get angry with us because they “just had a fight with [their] wife” (as though that is an excuse). 


And now we know it happens to judges and justices too.


It will be interesting to see what the State Bar does.