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Lawyer's Vulgar Slur Towards Women Is Unworthy of the Profession

May 3, 2010
Lynda A. Bennett
NJ Law Journal

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the "Fighting Words" piece, reported in your April 26 edition [Inadmissible, p. 3], about an episode involving Long Beach Township Attorney Richard Shackleton.

Thank you, Mr. Shackleton, for providing us with this teaching moment.

First, you have reminded us that there is at least one word that retains its power to shock. By shouting "Go fuck yourself, you rotten cunt" to a fellow attorney you certainly communicated that you were displeased with Marianne Bessey's exercise of her First Amendment right to object to the shooting of live animals as an activity of your gun club. And congratulations for managing to simultaneously convey that her being a woman is particularly upsetting by using one of the most offensive words one could imagine.

Thank you also for teaching us about the strength of repetition. First, you effectively reinforced the message by refusing to apologize for use of language which, if broadcast on the airwaves or used in any court proceeding, would clearly subject you to censure and/or disciplinary action. Then, you boldly declared your glee at verbally socking women in the gut by reportedly stating "I'm happy to say that I meant every word of it." Finally, your reiteration to NBC News that "I think that's what she is and I think she deserved it" in lieu of an apology signaled your true feelings about the need to put outspoken women in their place.

We expect that you will have additional opportunities and forums to attempt to defend and further explain your repugnant behavior. Perhaps along the way, you will figure out that your vulgar language was offensive and patently unprofessional, regardless of the circumstances that precipitated your remarks. To put it in context, you may want to give some thought to how you would react if a wife, sister or daughter were on the receiving end of such comments.

Please also bear in mind that even though you uttered these hateful words on your "free time," your public statements in support of your remarks in lieu of apology resonate far beyond the context of a personal conversation. We are especially concerned as public officials are expected to set the tone, and their actions should not, in any way, create the appearance that prejudice may play a role in the administration of justice. Such actions betray the public trust.

The New Jersey Women Lawyers Association is an independent association of New Jersey women lawyers which is committed to be the voice on all issues of importance to women engaged in the practice of law in the state of New Jersey . The NJWLA is gravely concerned that silence in response to such conduct will be interpreted as condoning intolerable and unacceptable behavior. If these inflammatory statements had been made to a female co-worker, our Supreme Court has recognized that there is a clear duty to not only take swift action to implement strong and aggressive measures to prevent such invidious harassment, but also to correct and promptly remediate such conduct.

The fact that tempers run high at times is no excuse for such conduct. We need to retain respect for our adversaries, whatever the forum. Mr. Shackleton's words reflect the worst form of sexism and utter disregard for women. The use of such a slur is beyond the pale and unacceptable in today's society. Therefore, we hope that others will join in a clear response that New Jersey does not tolerate a culture which condones the marginalization of women lawyers, or women generally.

Lynda A. Bennett, President
New Jersey Women Lawyers Association