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In a CNN op ed piece, Kara Alaimo shares her take on the news in mid-October that the United States Supreme Court has changed the way it hears oral argument after Justice Sotomayer spoke out about the ‘manterrupting’ by male justices and male attorneys that she and the other female justices have endured.


Alaimo mentions a 2014 study that found that in the tech industry, “men interrupted people who were speaking twice as often as women [and that] men are also three times more likely to interrupt women than they are to interrupt other men.”


Until I read Alaimo’s article, I hadn’t heard of the term manterrupting before, although I was familiar with the term mansplaining. For those of us (boomers) who grew up in a time when the male pronoun was the default pronoun to describe any person, especially lawyers for other professionals, this was a reality whose time had come to be called out.

Growing up in the 1960s as a little brown girl-- I am half Guamanian (Chamorro) and half white, I lived a life of subtle discrimination from being mixed race, in addition to the pre-Title IX life that all girls experienced back then. As an adult woman, it’s been exciting to see how far we minority women have come in the last 50 years.


Practicing family law in San Diego County, I have been blessed to argue in a progressive court system. Since my first day in court—December 9, 1994, I haven’t felt discriminated against for being female or mixed race. To the contrary, I’ve felt blessed to have an experience as a lawyer that I never dreamed possible as a little girl.


Since retiring from litigation in 2015, except for my Bitcoin Belle case, I have noticed that the men who are in my life, including the male attorneys and divorce professionals I work with are almost all respectful, with very little interrupting.

Quasi-retiring from litigation gave me a skewed perception on what’s really going on in the world. Sure, I have been witness to the public ugliness that certain male politicians have had in interrupting others to control the conversation, but I hadn’t seen manterrupting as that big of a problem for me, because it wasn’t making it hard for me to do my job, except in one instance.


That one instance is the male attorney who is my opposing counsel in the Bitcoin Belle case.

For those of you who don’t know me, for the last year I have been writing the memoir of my client, Belle Harris’ seven-year battle for justice in her divorce. We all know those ugly divorce cases that take years to get through the process. We hate working on those cases because usually at least someone in the mix is unreasonable. It could be both divorcing parties and their lawyers, or just one.


It doesn’t matter, because the result is the same. Whether it’s litigation or mediation, getting these people divorced and on their way is what we do. We feel like we’re part of the solution when we get them out of the system quickly, but the more things drag on, the messier it gets. For me, I start to feel energetically drained by these cases.

I tried to get off Belle’s case several times. Yet, the way that I was raised—that you don’t abandon your responsibilities, kept me as her lawyer. She needed legal counsel. Her ex-husband, Conrad Harris (a lawyer) and his attorney, Tad Small were taking advantage of her in a way that would sicken any ethical divorce lawyer. By the way, all of these names are pseudonyms, in case your confidentiality alert flags were starting to raise.


This brings me back around to discussing Tad Small’s manterrupting. It was and still is extremely irritating. All of us who litigate know too well that feeling we’re opposing a bully lawyer who enjoys disrupting the proceedings by injecting bogus objections, in addition to just simply blurting out things like, “But, your honor …” They come in all different sizes and flavors.


One of my (least) favorites is the ‘charming interrupter’ who interrupts constantly, while fake apologizing for his constant blurting out with a ‘I just can’t help myself’’ vibe.


Ok, we get it. This man-child is an irritation. But, he’s also a big joke. We talk about him to our colleagues and laugh. We try not to get down about it because as seasoned lawyers we’ve learned how to handle ourselves. Like many other female attorneys, I have no problem in raising my voice and saying, “Don’t interrupt me, I am speaking.” I’m happy to report that several judges have called out these lawyers, asking them to be respectful or telling them not to interrupt. So, yes, it’s an annoyance, but does it get in the way of justice?


I would have said, no, it’s not really that big of a deal, before I started writing Bitcoin Belle’s Fight for Justice, then I started seeing a pattern. As I was telling Belle’s story about all the things that her ex-husband, Con, was pulling, I noticed that Tad Small’s manterruptions were a part of a much bigger picture. Small wasn’t just interrupting me when I was talking, he was engaging in a number of other unethical practices. He was suborning his client’s perjury. He wasn’t cooperating with providing financial information consistent with Family Code 271, which requires that a spouse managing a business voluntarily provide information on the business.


In fact, the more I looked at Tad Small’s behavior, the more his manterruptions were just a part of a ‘win at any cost’ mentally that we see in sleazy divorce lawyers whose actions make all of us look bad.

From Belle’s case, where the manterrupting lawyer’s actions are a threat to justice is when he takes advantage of a harried judge or overscheduled court calendar.


In horror, I watched Tad successfully manterrupt two of the three female judges we’ve had in the last seven years. We have had a total of five judges, so I’ve got a small sampling of his behavior in front of the male judges as well.

With Judge #1 (female, new judge with less than 4 years’ experience) Tad was the most successful. He had been in front of her before and I had not. He immediately initiated a weird kind of intimacy with her, talking about procedural things, laughing, etc, but in a way that you’d talk to someone you were dating. I remember thinking it odd, looking at Belle. It was the WTF look.

Were they friends? What’s going on here? He was establishing his alpha dog role. I got it. That happens, but most judges don’t buy it.


Instead, our first judge continued to conduct the hearing in a way that demonstrated Tad’s control of the courtroom. He consistently interrupted me when I was talking, then he’d interrupt the judge (in that friendly way that kids interrupt their moms to give them more information.) I couldn’t believe it. After the hearing, Belle’s take on it was exactly the same. Is it any surprise we got orders that ended up being reversed (modified) two years later?


Tad’s approach to Judge #2, another female judge didn’t work so well. To her credit, this judge didn’t flirt with counsel and was focused on getting the facts. She didn’t call him out on his interrupting, but at least she gave orders that allowed Belle to stay in the game.


Tad’s brand of manterrupting a judge is always friendly, with a big smile, as if to say, “Just doing my part to help you out, your honor!” When he interrupts me, it’s more like he’s mandated to stop the evil witch lawyer from misleading the court. I must have been accused of ‘misleading the court’ at least 100 or more times in this case.

Judge #3 was a young male judge who was pretty savvy to Tad’s interruptions. When we were in a chambers conversation, I was watching the judge’s face. He gets this, I thought. The judge didn’t call him out on his manterruptions, but neither was he persuaded by them. He was skilled at turning Tad around by asking strategic questions.


Judges #4 and #5 (female and male respectively) were seasoned judges who also got it. Neither of them called him out on it, which isn’t surprising, because judges often do their best to maintain a civil relationship between opposing counsel.

This was at times frustrating for me because I was raised to be respectful of others—especially in a court of law. A part of me wanted the judge to play the wise parent to Tad’s outbursts, but I also understood that often I would respond by interrupting back, so I could understand the judge’s need to be impartial.

It truly is akin to having two kids in the back seat of a car fighting, with the “Well, he started it,” comment.


I remember when I read the initial CNN article published on October 13, 2021, on this topic when Justice Sotomayer said that before Justice Roberts changed the system, she would also “respond in a way that she knew was probably not idea. ‘I interrupt back,’ she said.” While I don’t doubt the findings of the studies, nor in any way minimize the importance of calling out manterrupting, but I don’t want this to be an indictment against men.


I am grateful for all the professional men who do not interrupt. An otherwise good guy who was raised in a home where his father manterrupted, probably picked up that bad habit. When he’s self-aware, he will correct it. As our cultural norms change, we’ve got to be assertive, yet diplomatic, when letting others know when they’re interrupting us. I’ve found that humor often helps with this, or simply letting the person know. As human beings we often will tend to default to bad habits when we’re tired or stressed, so sometimes saying, “Hey, are you okay? I’ve noticed you’ve interrupted me several times during our conversation, which isn’t really like you.”


The takeaway that I’ve gotten from the awareness of manterrupting is that it happens everywhere in every context. We need to be aware of it so we can help one another is solving the problem, not in being critical of it as a concept and letting it further polarize us.

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