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Can the Chief Justice Stop Judicial Sexual Harassment?

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 11, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the 2017 year end report drafted by Chief Justice John Roberts, in addition to applauding the successes of the federal judiciary, he acknowledges that sexual harassment in the workplace is inexcusable and has no place in the courthouse.

To that end, Justice Roberts explains that in 2018, the court will perform a careful evaluation of "whether its standards of conduct and its procedures for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior are adequate to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee." While this is clearly better than doing nothing, the justice's statement raises the question of whether or not this discussion and evaluation should occur behind closed doors.

Clerking in Silence

One issue with the court's policing themselves is the obvious lack of transparency that results. As prior court clerks have noted, there is an unofficial code of silence among court clerks that applies beyond just that worst kept secret that clerks actually write most of the opinions of the court. And while the public may not be too shocked to learn that young lawyer law clerks write most of the decisions for judges, attorneys know the truth: Recent grads may have sharp minds, but that cannot overcome a distinct lack of life and practice experience.

Are New Methods Needed to Protect Court Staff?

Justice Roberts was likely surprised to see the allegations against the recently retired-amid-scandal Judge Kozinski. As The New York Times, and anyone who read his report, understood it, the section in Robert's report about reviewing the court's standards of conduct and procedures for investigating and correcting problems, was inspired by the allegations levied against former Judge Kozinski.

Clearly times have changed, and 2017 seemed to herald a clear new societal no tolerance policy related to sexual harassment. Despite the fact that the laws prohibiting the despicable conduct alleged against individuals like Weinstein and Kozinski have been on the books for a long time now, the same misconduct continues to be found out over and over again.

Roberts concludes the section of the report about the review of court policies by stating: "I am sure that the overwhelming number [of the judiciary and court staff] have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies."

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