Sexual harassment and fidelity to procedures

As discussed in a previous blog post, in September 2019, the Judicial Council for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit publicly reprimanded and admonished Judge Carlos Murguia, a U.S. District Judge for the District of Kansas, for (1) giving preferential treatment and unwanted attention to female court employees through sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate text messages, and excessive, nonwork-related contact, often after work hours and late at night; (2) engaging in a years-long extramarital sexual relationship with a drug-using individual who was on probation for state-court felony convictions; and (3) being habitually late for court proceedings and meetings for years.

A review of that decision was begun by the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, focusing on whether the judge’s conduct might be grounds for impeachment, including whether there was a pattern and practice of judicial misconduct and whether the judge’s “failure to cooperate in and lack of truthfulness during the misconduct proceedings, which unnecessarily delayed the proceedings and prevented fulsome corrective action, constituted additional judicial misconduct.”

However, the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee concluded the proceedings after the judge resigned.  The Committee has previously held that the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act does not apply when a judge is no  longer in office.  The Committee did not release the report of the special committee, did not make additional findings or conclusions, and did not describe the conduct that the Judicial Council had found constituted sexual harassment.  It did provide some additional details “to the extent necessary to demonstrate fidelity” to its procedures but only those that did not jeopardize the confidentiality and anonymity requested by the victims and witnesses.

Below is a timeline of the Murguia case:

2016

4/2016             Judges in the District of Kansas begin receiving information from judicial employees about Judge Murguia and give that information to the Chief District Judge.

5/2016             The Chief District judge reports to the Chief Circuit Judge that a former employee of Judge Murguia alleges that he had sexually harassed her.

10/2016           The Chief Circuit Judge conducts an informal investigation; Judge Murguia expresses remorse and agrees to participate in assessment and treatment by a medical professional.

Sometime after 10/2016
The Circuit’s certified medical professional indicates that the judge had successfully completed treatment.

2017

2/2017             The Chief Circuit Judge notifies Judge Murguia that, although there was credible evidence of misconduct, a formal complaint would not be filed against him because he had admitted his improper behavior, seemed willing to correct his behavior, and his evaluation and treatment had been successful.

11/2017           The Circuit learns of more allegations about Judge Murguia and hires a retired FBI investigator to investigate.

2018

8/2018             Based on information gathered during the investigation, the Chief Circuit Judge identifies a complaint of judicial misconduct.

9/2018             The Chief Circuit Judge appoints a special committee to investigate.  14 former and current staff members are interviewed, including 3 judicial employees whom Judge Murguia had allegedly sexually harassed.

2019

4/23/2019       The special committee holds a hearing that includes testimony by Judge Murguia.

7/2019             The special committee issues a report to the Judicial Council.

9/30/2019       The Judicial Council issues its reprimand and admonishment.

2020

2/6/2020         In a letter to the secretary of the U.S. Judicial Conference, the Chief District Judge, and the Chief Circuit Judge, the House Judiciary Committee states that the Judicial Council’s order raises questions about “the adequacy of the Judiciary’s recent steps to better protect its employees from wrongful workplace conduct.”

2/18/2020       Judge Murguia resigns effective April 1.

3/3/2020         Based on his resignation, the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee concludes disciplinary proceedings against Judge Murguia.

3/6/2020         In a joint statement, several members of U.S. House argue that the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee’s order “unfortunately underscore[s] that the judiciary’s processes for handling workplace misconduct continue to fall short.”

 

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