Free the Squawk!

Oh my God! They’re going after Squawk!

It all started back in May, when Appellate Squawk (who somewhat disappointingly turns out not to be a bird with legal superpowers but a human female working for the New York Legal Aid Society) published a post poking mild fun at her office’s training about the importance of asking clients to clarify their gender. Here’s a taste:

Lawyer: [Reading from a card] I need to know whether your name expresses your internal deeply-held sense of your gender which may or may not be the same or different from your sex assigned at birth –

Defendant: Yeah, whatever. Then they handcuffed me to a chair and started throwing lighted matches on my lap, causing imminent danger to my manhood –

Lawyer: Tut, tut, gender isn’t a matter of stereotypical physical characteristics –

Defendant:   – so I confessed. But I can prove it’s false because there’s a surveillance tape showing I was on the other side of town at the time. My wife  –

Lawyer:  Your wife? What gender identity does they go by?

Defendant: Yo, are you calling me a FRUIT?

Lawyer: That’s a very discredited terminology. The term is non-binary gender fluid –

Defendant: Will you lower your voice? I’m in a holding cell with 20 other guys, you know what I’m saying?

Lawyer: I’d feel so much better about our relationship if you’d only come out of the closet.

Defendant: But I’m a man. Like Muddy Waters says, “M-A-N, I’m the hootchie cootchie man -”

Lawyer: You sexist pig, how dare you! (Exit)

That should give you the general idea. It’s typical Squawk snark about the absurdities of criminal defense. But apparently it was enough to put some people over the edge, and the Legal Aid Society has started an investigation into the matter.

Scott Greenfield has more details about the original training,

As it turns out, soon after the announcement of the new discrimination and harassment policy, a CLE was held, where the lawyers were instructed that the first thing they must do when meeting their clients was not to ask about the case, not to ask about the defense, not to ask about anything having anything to do with that nasty old-school mission of criminal defense. How horrifying! How exhausting!

No, the first and foremost concern was that LAS lawyers were directed to ascertain their self-identified gender and sexual orientation. It didn’t matter that there was nothing to suggest a gender or sexual orientation issue. They must put it first. And never, but never, call a client “Mr. Smith,” as that would presume their gender, even if no one had ever shown them the respect of using an honorific before. As a last resort, they were trained to use the word “Mx.,” which always serves well in the holding cell to identify defendants who tend not to be particularly woke.

(Scott may be exaggerating a bit. He does that sometimes.) [Update: Scott clarifies in an email that no, he was not exaggerating at all about the substance of the training, which is apparently as self-parodying as it sounds…which is not nearly as self-parodying as the fact that Squawk’s post has triggered an investigation.]

Scott also has samples of the complaints, some of which are kind of amazing.

I am reporting the content of this blog as creating a contributing to a hostile work environment. Please read it. It is terrible.

Some of the complaint is a little more specific.

[Squawk’s] email has served as a huge distraction from doing my job today. I am upset and really troubled that someone who works at the Legal Aid Society-an organization whose motto is to make the case for humanity-is joking about the importance of honoring a person’s preferred pronoun and gender.

Actually, if I understand Squawk’s point correctly, she wasn’t joking about the importance of honoring a person’s preferred pronoun and gender. She was joking about CLE session’s over-emphasis on gender and pronouns.

Yes, I know people with non-traditional gender identities and sexual orientations are going to face special problems when arrested and jailed. I also know this is not news to most criminal defense lawyers. But criminal defense lawyers are supposed to represent the interests of their clients, and I’m pretty sure that for even the most gender atypical of criminal defendants, their main interest when meeting their lawyer is getting the hell out of jail.

It is disturbing that the message indicates that an attorney cannot zealously represent their client while inquiring about a client’s preferred pronoun and gender identity. If anything, by asking a client about their pronoun *furthers* an attorney’s ability to best represent their client.

Well, in the abstract, sure, the more a lawyer knows about their client, the better. But this conversation isn’t taking place in the abstract. It’s taking place in jail. There is no privacy in jail. It’s a terrible feeling, and Squawk doesn’t think their lawyers should be making it worse:

One of the many annoyances of being accused of a crime is having to put up with humiliating questions from your lawyer. Like, “Was your grandmother a drug addict?” “When was the last time you had sex?” or “Do you hear voices?”

So even if the client is a tough-talking street thug who sometimes feels he’d rather be a pretty girl, that may not be the sort of thing he feels comfortable sharing with a total stranger while locked in a cell block with a thousand other tough-talking street thugs.

Then there’s the possibility, also raised by Squawk, that the client may feel insulted that his lawyer is implying he’s less than 110% manly man. We can discuss whether he’s a bad person for thinking that being gay or transgender is an insult, but that doesn’t change the fact that zealous representation will be more difficult if he feels insulted by the very first thing his lawyer says.

But I’m drifting off the main point here. I’m not a lawyer, and I really have no business telling lawyers how to do their job. (Although, some lawyers, damn…) My point is that Squawk’s post wasn’t making fun of LGBTQ people. It was making fun of the people in her office who think LGBTQ issues are more important than proper representation of clients.

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