Dems Want Stronger Action on Sex Harassment in Judiciary (1)

Jan. 8, 2019, 3:57 PM; Updated: Jan. 8, 2019, 8:38 PM

The federal judiciary must do more to address sexual harassment in its ranks, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats say.

The judiciary needs “to implement measures to improve the reporting and investigation of claims of sexual harassment and misconduct in the courts,” Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, said in a press release.

The Jan. 7 release included the text of a letter sent last week to James C. Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which oversees judicial operations.

Duff “is reviewing and discussing the letter with staff, and will update” the committee concerning the judiciary’s progress in a timely manner, a spokesperson said.

That office spearheaded a working group appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. last year following sex assault allegations against then-Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that trained the #MeToo spotlight on the judiciary for the first time.

The judiciary is rapidly implementing the group’s recommendations provided in its report last June, Roberts recently said.

Those steps include creating an office of judicial integrity to “provide a national clearinghouse for monitoring workplace conduct issues,” including sex harassment, and the development of video training for judges and law clerks about their rights and responsibilities, Roberts said.

But Democrats said the group’s efforts may not go far enough.

They strongly urged the courts’ office to conduct “a comprehensive, retrospective review of the prevalence of sexual harassment” in the judiciary, their letter said.

The office should also provide a means “for the confidential reporting of claims of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct and establish a clear, uniform process to ensure” that such claims are investigated by independent investigators, the Democrats said.

They requested that the courts’ office report back within 90 days.

Though Senate Democrats are in the minority and can’t compel the courts’ office to act, they could enlist allies in the Democrat-controlled House to schedule oversight hearings before the House Judiciary Committee, Charles Gardner Geyh told Bloomberg Law.

Geyh teaches at Indiana University Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law. His scholarship includes judicial conduct and ethics.

(updates with reporting on courts' office action throughout; comment)

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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