Complainant anonymity in sexual harassment discipline

To encourage reporting of offenses and to protect a victim’s privacy, the New Jersey Supreme Court directed that the anonymity of the victim should be preserved in judicial discipline cases involving sexual harassment or similar conduct.  In the Matter of Seaman, 627 A.2d 106 (New Jersey 1993).  Thus, noting that sexual harassment “is personally offensive, highly invasive, psychologically hurtful, and often deeply embarrassing to the victim,” the Court referred to the complainant in the case by her initials in its decision.  It maintained the complainant’s anonymity even though her privacy had already been “shattered” because the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct had followed “conventional practice” and used her full name in its pleadings.  (The judge in that case had engaged in a pattern of sexually harassing behavior toward a female staff member, for example, boasting of his sexual prowess and touching her inappropriately.)  In a subsequent case involving a judge who made an unwanted advance to his law clerk, the Court explained it would follow its practice of using initials to designate the complainant even though her name was known to the public because of the publicity surrounding the matter and a civil lawsuit she had filed against the judge and the judiciary.  In the Matter of Subryan, 900 A.2d 809 (New Jersey 2006).  Accord In re Barr, 13 S.W.3d 525 (Texas Special Review Tribunal 1998) (referring to female attorneys to whom a judge made sexual comments and gestures by their initials to protect their privacy and encourage reporting even though the State Commission on Judicial Conduct had used their full names in its pleadings).

Similarly, in In re Iddings, 897 N.W.2d 169 (Michigan 2017), the Michigan Supreme Court redacted the name of the victim (the judge’s secretary), referring to her as Ms. *****, to protect her privacy.  See also In the Matter of LoRusso, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 8, 1993) (referring to female court employees subjected to a course of uninvited sexual activity, touching, and crude and suggestive comments by a judge as Ms. A, Ms. B, Ms. C, and Ms. D).

Other cases refer to the subjects of the judge’s harassment simply as “complainant” or by job title, without using the person’s name.  See, e.g., Public Admonishment of Hiber (California Commission on Judicial Performance October 23, 1998) (describing inappropriate conduct by a judge towards his “courtroom clerk,” not identified by name); In the Matter of Corwin, 843 N.W.2d 830 (North Dakota 2014) (describing a judge’s conduct that could reasonably be perceived as sexual harassment of his court reporter without using her name); Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Campbell, 623 N.E.2d 24 (Ohio 1993) (referring to each of 4 victims of a judge’s unwelcome and offensive sexual remarks and/or physical contact as “complainant”); In re Deming, 736 P.2d 639 (Washington 1987) (describing a “myriad of improper and offensive comments and sexual innuendos” by a judge to women, with specific examples in which the women are identified without names as an intern, a docket clerk, a deputy prosecutor, a probation officer, and a woman from the county department of assigned counsel).

In other cases, however, courts or commissions follow the usual practice and use the full names of the complainants when sanctioning a judge for sexual harassment.  See, e.g., In re Spurlock, Order (Illinois Courts Commission December 3, 2001) (intimidating and sexually inappropriate behavior toward 4 assistant state’s attorneys identified by name); In the Matter of Henderson, 343 P.3d 518 (Kansas 2015) (offensive and demeaning comments of a sexual nature to female attorneys and staff members identified by name); In re Alonge, 3 A.3d 771, (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline 2010) (conduct “akin to stalking” toward 4 female lawyers identified by name); In re Casey, Opinion (Texas Special Court of Review May 9, 2017) (identifying by full name the chief clerk with whom judge had improper sexual relationship).


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