On January 31, 2018, the Conference of Chief Justices passed a resolution “in support of commitment to awareness and training on workplace harassment” that encourages “the judicial branch of each state, territory, and the District of Columbia to establish and maintain policies: (1) to provide every judge and employee with training that addresses the various forms of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, and related intimidation and reprisal that are prohibited by law; and (2) to establish procedures for recognizing and responding to harassment and harassment complaints.” The resolution also provides that the National Center for State Courts “shall create a repository of resources that address workplace harassment in the state courts, including model policies and procedures.” The explanation for the resolution states:
- WHEREAS, the Conference of Chief Justices is committed to the rule of law and to strict observance of laws relating to conduct in the workplace; and
- WHEREAS, the Conference of Chief Justices has historically championed gender equity in the state courts and in 1988 passed a resolution urging each Chief Justice to establish separate task forces devoted to the study of gender bias in the court system and minority concerns as they relate to the judicial system; and
- WHEREAS, recent events have raised public awareness of pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace in government, the media, and private industry; and
- WHEREAS, State codes of judicial conduct require judges, in the performance of their judicial duties, not to manifest bias or prejudice or engage in harassment (including sexual harassment) and not to permit court staff, court officials, or others subject to the judge’s direction and control to do so; and
- WHEREAS, a judicial disciplinary commission exists in every state to hold judges accountable; and
- WHEREAS, as a separate branch of government, the judicial branch has the duty to protect its employees against harassment and intimidation in the workplace.
On February 7, in his State of the Judiciary Address, the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court advised the legislature that he is creating “a working group of judges, retired judges, law clerks, court staff, and court administrators to examine what changes are needed in the Court System’s anti-Sexual Harassment policy and procedures, and to make recommendations to ensure that the Court System’s policy and procedures reflect best practices.” He noted that the Alaska Court System has had a “zero tolerance” anti-sexual harassment policy for years, which is provided to new employees, including judges, when they are appointed. Although stating he was “unaware of any instance of sexual harassment committed by any sitting judge or other court employee,” the Chief Justice explained that, “in the light of the grim evidence of pervasive sexual harassment and assault we have seen in the last year, including that widely reported occurring in the federal courts, I am not so naive as to think it can’t happen here” and concluded “that the Court System must do more proactively to ensure that no court employee will be subjected to sexual harassment of any kind” and “to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee.”
In his 2017 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that he has asked the Director of the Administrative Office to assemble a working group “to consider whether changes are needed in our codes of conduct, our guidance to employees—including law clerks—on issues of confidentiality and reporting of instances of misconduct, our educational programs, and our rules for investigating and processing misconduct complaints.” The Chief Justice explained:
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.
. . . These concerns warrant serious attention from all quarters of the judicial branch. I have great confidence in the men and women who comprise our judiciary. I am sure that the overwhelming number have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies.
The Chief Justice’s action followed news stories that Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit had sexually harassed numerous clerks.
Below is a timeline of recent events regarding workplace harassment in the judiciary.
Sexual harassment and the judiciary timeline
12/8/2017 Washington Post publishes article, “Prominent appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski accused of sexual misconduct”
12/14/2017 Based on news reports, the Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit identifies a complaint against Judge Kozinski under the Rules for Judicial Conduct and Judicial Disability Proceedings (https://tinyurl.com/y7kj6rgo)
12/15/2017 Washington Post publishes article, “Nine more women say judge subjected them to inappropriate behavior, including four who say he touched or kissed them”
Chief Justice Roberts transfers the complaint against Judge Kozinski to the 2nd Circuit (https://tinyurl.com/ybqdq9q8)
12/17/2017 The 9th Circuit creates a special ad hoc committee on workplace environment (https://tinyurl.com/y7adz29s)
12/18/2017 The Federal Judicial Center revises the law clerk handbook to add clarifying language regarding reporting workplace harassment (https://tinyurl.com/y8ydvsoe)
12/19/2017 Judge Kozinski retires, effective immediately (https://tinyurl.com/yauwm8e3)
12/29/2017 The 7th Circuit appoints a committee to examine its process for raising and considering claims of harassment (https://tinyurl.com/y7vb37bh)
12/31/2017 In his 2017 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice Roberts announces creation of a working group to examine the federal judiciary’s practices for investigating and correcting sexual harassment in the workplace (https://tinyurl.com/yaxgx4gp)
1/31/2018 The Conference of Chief Justices passes a resolution “in support of commitment to awareness and training on workplace harassment in the judicial branch” (https://tinyurl.com/y8l6v993)
2/5/2018 Based on Judge Kozinski’s retirement, the 2nd Circuit Judicial Council concludes the complaint against him (https://tinyurl.com/yarbcy6k)
2/7/2018 The Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court announces creation of a working group to examine what changes are needed in the court system’s anti-sexual harassment policy and procedures (https://tinyurl.com/y7oqbon4)