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Should Judges be Members of All-White Country Clubs?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on May 23, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Do the people that surround you and the organizations you choose to affiliate with define you as a person?

It certainly can seem that way. But the real question for attorneys and judges is: do they affect your sense of judgment? And, does your membership give organizations that support questionable causes a sense of credibility you do not wish to give?

The Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville is one such example. There are about 600 voting members in this exclusive country club, and none of them are minorities or women. One of their members, Judge George C. Paine II, is a federal bankruptcy judge stationed in Nashville.

His membership in the club came under scrutiny by the Judicial Council of the Sixth Circuit, where his court is located. According to the Judicial Code of Conduct, federal judges cannot participate in clubs that discriminate on the basis of race or gender.

However, in the commentary to the rules, judges can still continue to participate if they make efforts to eliminate the discrimination. If their efforts fail, they can remain in the organization for two years.

In a 10-8 decision, the Judicial Council voted to allow Paine to remain a member of Belle Meade, citing his efforts to encourage diversity in the organization, reports The New York Times. Despite Paine's efforts, however, there are still no minorities or female members. Paine also noted that other federal judges had been members of Belle Meade, with no negative repercussions.

As an attorney, maintaining a good public image is good for business. It's good for overall law firm business as well. Knowing that a managing partner is a member of an all-white boys club would certainly cause some discomfort for minority clients. As a federal judge, it seems the stakes are equally as high. Maintain membership in a club that has a history of discrimination, and your future decisions may seem inappropriate, or biased.

Certainly, your association in a country club does not mean that you believe in every policy that the country club has held in the past. But, it clearly seems hard to separate yourself from possible negative implications.

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