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Judge Threatens To Jail Attorney for Using Maiden Name

July 13, 1988

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A federal judge told an attorney he doesn’t allow anyone to ″use that Ms.″ in his courtroom, ordered her to use her married name or go to jail and found her colleague in contempt for protesting.

″Do what I tell you or you’re going to sleep in the county jail tonight. You can’t tell me how to run my courtroom,″ Senior U.S. District Judge Hubert I. Teitelbaum told attorney Barbara Wolvovitz.

The judge told Ms. Wolvovitz, whose husband is University of Pittsburgh law professor Jules Lobel, that she must go by the name Mrs. Lobel in his courtroom.

When her co-counsel, Jon Pushinsky, protested, Teitelbaum found him in contempt of court for ″officious intermeddling″ and gave him a suspended sentence of 30 days in jail.

During a disjointed dialogue Friday that covered about 20 pages of court transcript, Teitelbaum told Ms. Wolvovitz that Mrs. Lobel is her legal name ″under the laws of the state of Pennsylvania.″

″And that’s what I want you to be, to call yourself from here on in this courtroom,″ he said. ″That’s an intolerable kind of thing.″

The judge claimed a married woman must petition Common Pleas Court for permission to use her maiden name. The Pennsylvania Family Law Practice and Procedure Handbook said no legal procedings are required if a woman chooses to use her maiden name.

Teitelbaum, presiding over a race discrimination suit against PPG Industries Inc., also asked each of the six female jurors on Friday if she used her husband’s name or maiden name. All used their husbands’ names.

When the trial resumed Monday, Teitelbaum denied Ms. Wolvovitz’s request for a mistrial, and the attorney again refused to be called Mrs. Lobel.

″What if I call you sweetie?″ said Teitelbaum, 73, a former U.S. attorney appointed to the federal bench by President Nixon in 1970.

The judge declared he would refer to Ms. Wolvovitz only as ″counselor.″

The trial began June 23, but the issue of ″Ms.″ in Teitelbaum’s court never surfaced before Friday.

The case went to jury Wednesday. Ms. Wolvovitz said she would not decide whether to file a complaint against the judge until after the jury delivers its verdict.

Teitelbaum declined comment Wednesday to The Associated Press.

According to the American Bar Association, Ms. Wolvovitz could file a complaint with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The chief judge could handle the matter himself or take it up before the circuit council, which could then decide to publicly or privately admonish him, said Ernest Zavodnyk, with the Chicago-based ABA’s judicial administration division.

Ms. Wolvovitz, 36, said Monday she was ″in shock for two days.″

″I’ve practiced for 10 years. I’ve gotten into arguments with judges but never over something like this. I can’t quite understand what happened,″ said Ms. Wolvovitz, who had never previously argued a case before Teitelbaum. ″After it was over and the jury left, I had tears in my eyes.″

″We didn’t know what to do. She started crying. I started crying,″ said Ms. Wolvovitz’s client, Charles Gavin.

Teitelbaum retreated Monday on his threat to jail Pushinsky, saying, ″Did you really think you were going to jail?″

When Pushinsky said he didn’t ″draw any conclusions,″ Teitelbaum said, ″I just thought over the weekend I’d let you think about it.″

″I never thought he was such a neanderthal,″ said National Organization for Women President Molly Yard, a Pittsburgh resident who is familiar with Teitelbaum. ″I can’t understand how anybody who’s bright enough to be on federal court can make such an error in judgment.″

She said she would contact NOW’s southwestern Pennsylvania council to look into the incident.