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Roberts Promises Evaluation of the Judiciary's Sexual Misconduct Policies

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Chief Justice John Roberts released an annual report on the federal judiciary, but one thing caught the attention of the media more than anything else -- the judiciary's sexual misconduct policies.

Most of the report dealt with how the judicial system responds to natural disasters, such as the recent California wildfires that caused court personnel to evacuate buildings. However, it was another disaster in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal that caused one celebrated judge to leave the building.

"Events in recent months have illuminated the depth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and events in the past few weeks have made clear that the judicial branch is not immune," Roberts said.

The Kozinski Disaster

Judge Alex Kozinski, a 32-year veteran of the Ninth Circuit, retired abruptly after allegations by 15 women that he made sexually explicit remarks to them and otherwise sexually harassed them. The Ninth Circuit initiated an inquiry, which was then assigned to the Second Circuit.

In Robert's 16-page report, he addressed sexual harassment in two paragraphs. He said the problem should concern all men and women in the judicial branch.

The administrative office of the courts will evaluate standards of conduct and procedures for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior, Roberts said, "to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee."

The brief reference in the report brought widespread attention, like a black eye, to the issue. Tragically, it has been an issue with Kozinski for decades.

"Degrading ... and Just Gross"

His problems graduated from rumor to reality in 2008, when he got caught posting internet images and videos of naked men, women, masturbation, public sex, and other material he admitted was "degrading...and just gross." He told the Los Angeles Times that he thought the site was private.

The chief judge survived a judicial ethics review at the time, but the latest revelations showed more of the same. Heidi Bond, who clerked for Kozinski, said he repeatedly showed her pornographic images on his computer.

The Washington Post broke the story, including accounts from six former clerks or staffers who said the judge subjected them to inappropriate conduct or comments. As the accusers multiplied, Kozinski quit.

On the same day, a handbook for federal clerks was revised to say that they should report anybody who sexually harasses in the workplace. Even judges, the handbook said, are not protected by confidentiality in those circumstances.

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