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Court: Do Not Call Attorneys ‘Babe’

June 4, 1999

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ Maryland’s second-highest court has ruled that the word ``babe″ is not to be used in addressing female lawyers during legal proceedings.

The Court of Special Appeals said Thursday the term is derogatory and evidence of gender bias.

The ruling involved a deposition hearing in a 1994 lawsuit by a woman seeking damages from a lawyer she said had given her genital herpes.

As the woman, Betty Sue Aude, left the room, Alan Harris, who represented the defendant, joked that Ms. Aude was going to meet another boyfriend.

Ms. Aude’s lawyer, Susan Green, complained about the remark, and asked Harris: ``You got a problem with me?″

``No, I don’t have a problem with you, babe,″ Harris said.

``Babe? You called me babe? What generation are you from?″ Ms. Green replied.

``At least I didn’t call you bimbo,″ Harris responded, according to court records.

Ms. Green obtained an order prohibiting Harris and his client, who was eventually found to have negligently infected Ms. Aude, not to have contact with Ms. Aude or her family. Harris was also ordered to pay $1,500 to Ms. Aude’s lawyers for time spent seeking the order.

``I’ve run into gender bias. However, I have never run into a situation where it has been so outrageous, so totally without provocation,″ Ms. Green said. ``Sometimes you’ve just got to say enough is enough.″

Harris, 69, explained: ``It’s just a way my generation speaks. There was no offense intended, and it certainly was not meant to gain any advantage. It was just in the casual course of conversation.″

The appeals court disagreed, ruling that Harris’ behavior was a ``crass attempt to gain an unfair advantage through the use of demeaning language.″

``When used to address another attorney in the context of a discovery deposition or court proceeding, all of the ... definitions of the word `babe’ are gender biased and derogatory,″ Judge Sally Adkins wrote.

Harris said that despite the ruling, ``I’m not going to take the term out of my vocabulary. I have the right of free speech.″

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