Harassment is key issue in Askew case

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 20, 2003

If Judge Verbena Askew ever wondered what it was like to be on the other side of her bench in a court of law, she found out Friday.

For seven hours the Newport News jurist was examined by a panel about her courtroom conduct and, most importantly, about the charge of sexually harassing another woman who was one of her employees. The latter issue was reportedly settled financially between Brenda Collins and the City of Hampton.

For Askew, what is at stake are a second eight-year term and her reputation.

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As with anyone else in this country, legal innocence is presumed until proven otherwise. Regrettably, the moment you go to court for anything, people are willing to brand you with the word ‘Guilty.’

We see Askew’s time under the spotlight not as a persecution for the possibility that she might be a lesbian; her sexuality is her own business, after all. Rather, it is more troubling that an employee claims her boss used her status for personal gain. Harassment of any kind, especially on the job, is an ugly thing.

If nothing else, this episode should serve as a cautionary tale for people in supervisory positions that they should conduct themselves properly at all times, and behave stringently with employees while on the job.