Under Fire, Judge Rescinds Ban On Pantsuits In Court

Upon reflection - and many calls from people who thought "I was out of my mind" - King County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Burrage has decided to let women lawyers wear pantsuits in her courtroom.

On Tuesday, Burrage criticized two attorneys for wearing pantsuits and told them not to return to her courtroom in the future unless they were wearing skirts or dresses.

Her comments ruffled more than a few skirts. The judge, who is no stranger to controversy, received nearly 20 calls from people who disagreed with her decision. She was criticized in newspaper editorials and lampooned by some colleagues.

"I hadn't expected such a big commotion," said the 47-year-old judge, who serves in the Regional Justice Center in Kent. "It wasn't out of the ordinary. Most judges require certain attire for court. We need to say something or else the standards will keep slipping and slipping."

Burrage normally handles civil cases but was hearing a criminal case when the dressing down occurred. The public defender and the deputy prosecutor were wearing pants. Both objected when Burrage told them to start wearing skirts.

Their complaints helped prompt Burrage to reconsider, although she said she still expects them, and other women attorneys, to comply with her desired dress code.

"I hope attorneys will show me respect by choosing to wear a skirt," she said. If not, "I may call them back and talk to them and ask them why - I hope they wouldn't do it out of spite."

That may or may not happen.

Burrage is a frequent target of criticism. She has been rated "not qualified" by the King County Bar Association and had never tried a case before joining the bench in 1996.

Before that, she ran unsuccessfully for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. She was also the executive director of a legal group that handled appeals of property-rights cases.

Linda Keene's phone message number is 206-464-2210. Her e-mail address is lkeene@seattletimes.com