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Chief Justice Roberts calls for review of procedures for protecting court employees from misconduct

Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday called for a review of the federal judiciary's procedures for protecting cour...

Posted: Dec 21, 2017 8:24 AM
Updated: Dec 21, 2017 8:24 AM

Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday called for a review of the federal judiciary's procedures for protecting court employees from misconduct, two days after a prominent federal judge resigned under a cloud of sexual abuse allegations by former law clerks.

James Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts, said in a memo circulated to federal courts that Roberts had asked him "to establish a working group to examine the sufficiency of safeguards currently in place ... to protect court employees, including law clerks, from wrongful conduct in the workplace."

Chief Justice John Roberts called for a review of the federal judiciary's procedures for protecting court employees from misconduct

The announcement comes two days after a prominent federal judge resigned under a cloud of sexual abuse allegations by former law clerks

Duff said he planned to report back by May 1.

Judge Alex Kozinski, a three-decade veteran of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, quit on Monday after multiple former clerks and junior staffers came forward with claims of sexual misconduct. The complaints began with a Washington Post story earlier this month that included the account of one former clerk who said Kozinski made her look at pornographic images and asked whether they sexually aroused her. Other women claimed Kozinski inappropriately touched them.

Dahlia Lithwick, a journalist who works for Slate, wrote a personal account of unwanted behavior from Kozinski and referred to an atmosphere of "open secrets" regarding his sexual advances. Contacted by CNN after the Slate essay appeared, Kozinski said he had no comment.

Last week, the chief judge of the 9th Circuit, Sidney Thomas, said grounds existed to open an inquiry into the allegations in news reports, and Chief Justice Roberts directed the matter to the New York-based 2nd Circuit for review by a committee of judges.

Based on the federal judiciary's usual practice for misconduct complaints, that review is likely to end now that Kozinski has retired. Federal rules state that a retired judge is no longer subject to disciplinary procedures. A spokesman for the US courts system said Wednesday that the 2nd Circuit had not yet taken any action on the pending Kozinski matter.

As Kozinski announced his retirement Monday, he said in a statement, "Family and friends have urged me to stay on, at least long enough to defend myself. But I cannot be an effective judge and simultaneously fight this battle." In 2009, he was reprimanded by a committee of judges that followed up on a report in the Los Angeles Times that his private computer server containing sexually explicit material was accessible to the public.

Separately on Wednesday, a group of former judicial law clerks, professors and attorneys was preparing a letter to be sent to Chief Justice Roberts, Duff, and Judge Anthony Scirica, chairman of the judiciary's conduct committee, requesting changes in the system for reporting harassment. The group was asking officials to make clear to law clerks that judges cannot compel their silence on misconduct, as judges do on case deliberations. The group is also seeking a confidential national reporting system for judicial employees who have witnessed misconduct.

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