Chief Justice John Roberts orders misconduct review as #MeToo reaches federal courts

DCNFKevin Daley, DCNF

John Roberts and other members of the US Supreme Court arrives before Pope Francis addresses the joint session of Congress on September 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Pope is the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to address a joint meeting of Congress, including more than 500 lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and top administration officials including Vice President Joe Biden. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Chief Justice John Roberts asked the Judicial Conference of the United States Wednesday to determine if sufficient safeguards exist to protect federal court employees from harassment and sexual misconduct.

In a memo circulated to all employees of the federal judiciary, Judicial Conference Director James Duff said that Roberts asked him to “examine the sufficiency of the safeguards currently in place within the judiciary to protect court employees, including law clerks, from wrongful conduct in the workplace.” The order came shortly after a prominent federal judge abruptly retired after 15 women accused him of various forms of harassment.

The Judicial Conference, led by the chief justice, sets administrative policy for all federal courts.

Duff said he will form a working group to consider the matter and issue a report by May 1, 2018. He also reminded employees of existing protocols for reporting misconduct.

The order came just two days after Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals retired in disgrace amid mounting allegations of sexual misconduct. The allegations run a shocking spectrum of impropriety. Former clerks, employees, and colleagues in the legal community claim he showed female subordinates pornography, talked frequently about intercourse, propositioned coworkers for sexual liaisons, and groped women in social and professional settings.

Though Kozinski’s predations were quite well known, his vaunted status as a distinguished jurist went unchallenged for over three decades. Clerkships in his chambers were highly-coveted among law students, as his proteges frequently went on to clerk at the Supreme Court. Other of his clerks have gone on to become federal judges themselves, including Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit and Judge Paul Watford of the 9th Circuit.

The judge continues to deny wrongdoing, but has apologized that past conduct made others uncomfortable.


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