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N.H. Judge Reprimanded for Sexist Comments

Concord — A veteran New Hampshire judge has retired and been reprimanded after he made comments believed to disparage female lawyers.

The New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee formally reprimanded John Lewis in a decision released last week. The Strafford County judge had retired in September following a complaint that he said the legal profession is being diminished because more women are becoming lawyers.

The complaint against Lewis also said he suggested aggressive prosecution of child sexual assault cases may do more harm than good to families and the public. Some of the lawyers interviewed told the committee during the probe that crime victims routinely leave court believing that Lewis didn’t care about them.

The 67-year-old Lewis said his comments, made at July meetings with the county attorney’s office and public defender’s office, were misunderstood and that he was only speculating about why the reputation of the legal system is suffering. He told the committee he was trying to make the point that sexism and gender discrimination still exist and must be overcome. He also said he was tired at the end of a long week.

“We need to be on the lookout that, as has happened in the past, sexism doesn’t raise its ugly head and diminish or cheapen what is going on as far as women’s representation in the professions,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Nothing I said was meant to insult women, cheapen women or demean women in any way.”

Among the comments the commission said he made:

∎  In Russia, people don’t respect doctors because medicine is seen as dominated by women and he sees the same thing happening with the legal profession in the United States;

∎  People respect leaders in the male-dominated business world;

∎  More women lawyers hurts education because fewer women are becoming teachers.

The reprimand did not include direct quotes from Lewis or the witnesses, instead paraphrasing statements about what was said in the meetings.

The judicial committee ruled that his comments violated the code of conduct by giving at least the appearance that Lewis may be biased against women. Lewis accepted the ruling but denied any other potential violations.

Lewis had been an associate justice since 2001. He was placed on administrative leave shortly after the complaint was made and retired while he was on leave. He did not preside over any hearings after the complaint was made.

Lewis, who prosecuted gender discrimination suits as a lawyer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has agreed not to take senior status on the court and will not serve in any judicial capacity.