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From the Archives: Wear slacks to court and go to jail

From the Archives
Nov. 14, 1938: When Helen Hulick, left, appeared in court wearing pants, the presiding judge objected and forbade her from testifying due to her apparel. The next day, Hulick again wore slacks to court. She was held in contempt, sent to jail and issued a dress. At right, Hulick’s attorney William Katz and notary Jeanette Dennis work on getting her released.
(Andrew H. Arnott / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

On Nov. 9, 1938, Helen Hulick, 28, wore slacks to court to testify against two men. Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled the case, asking Hulick to return wearing a dress.

Hulick was quoted in the Nov. 10, 1938, Los Angeles Times. “You tell the judge I will stand on my rights. If he orders me to change into a dress I won’t do it. I like slacks. They’re comfortable.”

After Hulick’s next court appearance, on Nov. 15, 1938, The Times reported:

In a scathing denunciation of slacks — which he prosaically termed pants — as courtroom attire for women, Municipal Judge Arthur S. Guerin yesterday again forbade Helen Hulick, 28, kindergarten teacher, to testify as a witness while dressed in green and orange leisure attire.

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Miss Hulick, who Thursday was ordered to return to court in a dress, was called to testify by Dep. Dist. Atty. Russell Broker against two [men] accused of burglarizing her home.

After she was sworn in as a witness, Judge Guerin stopped the proceedings and declared:

“The last time you were in this court dressed as you are now and reclining on your neck on the back of your chair, you drew more attention from spectators, prisoners and court attaches than the legal business at hand. You were requested to return in garb acceptable to courtroom procedure.

“Today you come back dressed in pants and openly defying the court and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner. It’s time a decision was reached on this matter and on the power the court has to maintain what it considers orderly conduct.

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“The court hereby orders and directs you to return tomorrow in accepted dress. If you insist on wearing slacks again you will be prevented from testifying because that would hinder the administration of justice. But be prepared to be punished according to law for contempt of court.”

Slack-shrouded Miss Hulick was accompanied by Attorney William Katz, who carried four heavy volumes of citations to appear in whatever dress she chose.

“Listen,” said the young woman, “I’ve worn slacks since I was 15. I don’t own a dress except a formal. If he wants me to appear in a formal gown that’s okay with me.

“I’ll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism.”

::

The next day, Hulick showed up in slacks. Judge Guerin held her in contempt. Given a five-day sentence, Hulick was sent to jail.

The Los Angeles Times reported that during booking, “after being divested of her favorite garment by a jail matron and attired in a prison denim dress, Miss Hulick was released on her own recognizance after her attorney, William Katz, obtained a writ of habeas corpus and declared he would carry the matter to the Appellate Court.”

A Nov. 19, 1938, Times article reported that the Appellate Division overturned judge Guerin’s contempt citation during a habeas corpus hearing. Hulick was free to wear slacks to court.

Of course, Hulick overdressed for a Jan. 17, 1939, followup court appearance.

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Helen Hulick
Jan. 17, 1939: Helen Hulick, 28, was cited for contempt by a judge for wearing slacks to court. But after winning an appeal of that ruling, she showed up to testify in a dress.
(Gordon Wallace/Los Angeles Times)

Judge Arthur S. Guerin died in 1962. After the above 1939 photo, there are no further mentions of Helen Hulick in the Los Angeles Times archives.

This article was originally published on Oct. 15, 2014.


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