Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski announced his immediate retirement Dec. 18, according to a statement provided to Bloomberg Law by the court.
Kozinski said in the statement that it was never his intent to make his clerks feel uncomfortable, and apologized for doing so.
“I’ve always had a broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike. In doing so, I may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace,” the statement says.
Kozinski said he’s retiring because he can’t be an effective judge and simultaneously “fight this battle,” according to the statement.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit announced Friday that Chief Judge Sidney Thomas filed a complaint against Kozinski in light of allegations of sexual misconduct.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. transferred the case to the Second Circuit Dec. 15.
It’s “unlikely in the extreme” that the complaint process will move forward now that Kozinski has retired, Charles Gardner Geyh told Bloomberg Law in an email Dec. 18.
Geyh teaches and writes in the areas of judicial conduct, ethics, and procedure at Indiana University Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law.
Legacy up for Grabs
The news about Kozinski’s alleged misconduct wasn’t a surprise; what was a surprise was how long it took to come out, Deborah L. Rhode told Bloomberg Law Dec. 18.
Rhode is a professor at Stanford Law School, whose expertise includes ethics and professional responsibility and gender & sexual orientation discrimination.
He had a reputation for being an “abusive employer” and for liking pornography, Rhode said.
His legacy will be forever tarnished and “rightfully so,” she said.
Kozinski’s decision to retire was “the right decision for Kozinski personally and for the federal judiciary as an institution,” Howard J. Bashman, an appellate attorney who has argued at the Ninth Circuit told Bloomberg Law in a Dec. 18 email.
Now the judiciary has to take steps to prevent this from happening in the future, Bashman said.
Others in the legal community share Bashman’s sentiment.
More than 200 law clerks, attorneys, professors, and students have signed a letter to Chief Justice Roberts—including Third Circuit Judge Anthony J. Scirica, Chair of the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability; Judge Jeremy D. Fogel, Director of the Federal Judicial Center; and James C. Duff, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts—asking the judiciary to address the problem of workplace harassment and offering suggestions on how to do it.
One suggestion is for the judiciary develop a confidential national reporting system that any judiciary employee “can access if she feels she is being harassed or if she believes she has witnessed misconduct by a judge or another judiciary employee,” the letter says.
It also proposes that Roberts address sexual harassment in his year-end report as a way to assure victims wishing to speak up that they need not be afraid.
The letter never mentions Kozinski by name but its impetus is clear from context. By taking action, the judiciary can provide “a much-needed example for the legal profession as a whole,” the letter says.
Because of the misconduct allegations, people “likely will, and no doubt should,” think less of Kozinski as a person, Bashman said.
Kozinski the judge was nevertheless brilliant and had a “masterful writing style,” and “it might be possible to distinguish between Kozinski the judge and Kozinski the person in reflecting on his legacy,” he said.
A Washington Post article says that 15 women have accused Kozinski of sexual misconduct.
President Ronald Reagan nominated Kozinski to the Ninth Circuit in 1985. He served as chief judge from 2007–2014.