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Jeremy M. Lazarus Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press
Published: 24 August 2009

RICHMOND, Va. (NNPA) - The Supreme Court of Virginia has overhauled its Website for Virginia's courts with the aim of making it more "user friendly."
But one thing has not changed on the high court's redesigned site at www.courts.state.va.us: The state's highest court still clings to its practice of using sexist language to describe members of its administrative staff.
For three years, the Free Press has campaigned to get Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell Sr. to eliminate the male-only staff descriptions in a bid to get the court to live up to its stated policy of "nondiscrimination in both employment and access."
Representatives from the state NAACP and civil rights watchdogs like the ACLU also have spoken out against the sexist wording, as have officials from women's groups, university professors, legislators and female attorneys who have won top Virginia State Bar awards.
But, in ushering in the new look, the state's first Black chief justice appears to have ignored the calls for change and squandered the opportunity to alter the wording and end the overt sexism on the site.
The antiquated wording can be found in the information section about the state's highest court. The information on the Supreme Court, which also is available in a printed pamphlet, is designed to inform citizens, students and teachers about the court's history, staff and role.
Here is the language found under a section titled "Administration of Virginia's Judicial System":
"The Chief Staff Attorney and his staff review petitions for appeal … The Court Reporter is a distinguished member of one of the law schools in Virginia. His main responsibility is to supervise the compilation, indexing and publication of the written opinions of the Court."
The "his" references seem to suggest that those two positions are reserved for men. None of the other positions described on the Website, including that of the executive secretary, include overt masculine references.
The information about the Supreme Court is one of seven items included in the information section on the Web site. A review shows the rest of the items either do not include any references to gender or carefully use "he or she" if the sentence calls for a pronoun. Chief Justice Hassell did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Katya N. Herndon, the director of the Supreme Court's legislative and public relations office, said the court's executive secretary and the justices reviewed the redesigned Web site before it was unveiled to the public.
She said the descriptions of the two Supreme Court positions might not have attracted attention because the chief staff attorney and court reporter currently are men, adding that the information on the Web site is an electronic version of the pamphlet her office sends out in response to requests for information.
Herndon expects the online information to remain unchanged until copies of the printed version begin "running low." When that happens, "we would go back and look at the information to see if anything should be changed," she said.
That is likely to be some time from now, Herndon said. The pamphlets "usually last for years."

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