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Yes, this is a CLE

What does an Italian sausage egg bake have in common with the Castle Doctrine? Nothing, actually—unless you’re in the legal kitchen of retired Family Court Judge Leslie Riddle.


Riddle, who could be reasonably described as a cross between Judge Judy and Paula Deen, has somehow convinced the South Carolina Bar to green-light an unusual series of online continuing legal education and cooking classes called “Whipping Up Some Justice.”

She pitched the idea of a cooking-oriented CLE last fall as an alternative to all the traditional programs that are “so freaking boring,” she said. Since then, she’s recorded three episodes, two of which are available for download on the bar’s website.

The bar’s CLE director, Terry Burnett, said he wanted to “give lawyers an opportunity to realize that CLE is not tedious.” He added that he was “certain that we’re the only CLE provider in the country doing anything like this.”

“Whipping Up Some Justice” opens with whimsical music and a panning close-up of yellow Dutch ovens on a gas range. Then Riddle, the show’s petit but spunky host, is standing in the midst of a large kitchen set and wearing a blue apron and white toque, both emblazoned with the S.C. Bar logo.

Riddle has been honing her culinary skills since she was a kid. She was given pots and pans as a gift in high school and proudly claims to own every “Bon Appétit” magazine published since 1997.

“My children have never eaten a box cake,” she said. Box cake is the sort of offense that can land you in Family Court, apparently.

The first episode of “Whipping Up Some Justice,” which costs $60 and is worth three-quarters of an hour credit, features Columbia criminal defense lawyer Jack B. Swerling as a guest chef. He and Riddle are longtime friends, but their initial unscripted banter is … well, let’s call it a tad awkward.

Riddle, who is dwarfed by the hulking lawyer, takes Swerling’s “big meaty hands” into hers then asks him about how he ended up in the Palmetto State: “So when you were living in New Jersey they really didn’t throw you in a big giant bag in the back of a trunk, some gang, I mean not a gang, but maybe, um, oh, I don’t know, like the mafia or anything?”

Swerling deadpans, “I’ll have to take the Fifth Amendment on that, actually.”

Swerling also plays a starring role in the goofy YouTube commercial for “Whipping Up Some Justice” in which Riddle leaves court in a convertible, shows up at Swerling’s house and drags him away in his bathrobe because he’s late for a CLE.

“A lot of people have commented on it. They got some laughs out of it,” Swerling said of the ad and his cooking segment. “I think it definitely was a success.”

In a subsequent episode, Riddle is in the kitchen with Jim Blackburn, the former North Carolina prosecutor who, after going into private practice, lost his law license and served several months in prison in the 1990s on charges of forgery, embezzlement and fraud. (Serving box cake to children was not among his crimes.)

While helping Riddle cook up some chili and broccoli slaw with cornbread, Blackburn likens onions sizzling in a saucepan to new clients who are reluctant to tell their full story: “These onions, it’s like the first meeting with a new client. They’re not ready. They’re not transparent.”

Later, Blackburn’s cooking segment transitions into a discussion of his spectacular meltdown and the related issues of mental illness and substance abuse in the legal profession. It’s an odd pairing, cooking and talk of personal ruination, but the episode is in contention for a national award from The Association for Continuing Legal Education.

“As we’re getting people acclimated to the idea, it’s gaining in popularity,” Burnett said. “One of the challenges is for us to continue to produce programs that will be of interest both from a culinary and continuing legal education perspective to a broad range of practitioners.”

Luckily, Riddle has a pantry full of ideas. In fact, she’s already prepping for a series of six more episodes about the “forks and knives of Family Court,” with each show focusing on one course of a six-course meal, from duck spring rolls to tomato tarts.

She also has a list of lawyers who want to be guest chefs, though she is still waiting to hear from state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean H. Toal, who told attendees at a recent legal seminar that she’d do an episode, according to Riddle.

“We’ve floated the idea of the chief justice making biscuits with me,” she said. “We’ll see what she looks like when I throw flour on her.”

Spoken with the bravado of a judge who’s already retired.

Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @SCLWBantz

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