Other Opinion: #MeToo reaches the judiciary
Federal appeals court judge Alex Kozinski has long been an icon in the American legal community. Young lawyers who clerked in his chambers often went on to do the same work for Supreme Court justices. He was known for his brilliance and lively writing style. And now, he has resigned from his position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit after facing more than a dozen allegations of sexual harassment and a pending investigation into his reported misconduct.
The Post first reported on the stories of six women who say Kozinski treated them inappropriately during their time as clerks or junior staffers in the 9th Circuit. Two former clerks remember Kozinski showing them pornography in his office. One woman described Kozinski openly fantasizing about her exercising naked. "If this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried," Kozinski said - before nine more women came forward to share their own stories of harassment.
One-time Kozinski clerk Heidi Bond recalled the judge describing her as his "slave" and calling her into his office alone to share a list of the women he and his friends had slept with in college. Kozinski also left her with the impression that judicial confidentiality - the principle that neither clerks nor judges should share what takes place in a judge's chambers - barred her from speaking out about his misconduct. Another 9th Circuit clerk harassed by Kozinski, Emily Murphy, felt similarly adrift: As Kozinski was the circuit's chief judge at the time, any complaint she filed would go to him.
Kozinski's story marks the judiciary's first confrontation with the national reckoning over sexual harassment and assault sparked by the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The charges against Kozinski are not nearly as dire as those against Weinstein, who stands accused of numerous violent assaults. But the story is otherwise familiar. "Everybody knew," wrote former 9th Circuit clerk Dahlia Lithwick. And yet, as with Weinstein, no one did anything. Both men held incredible power over young people at critical points in their careers. Both used their clout and their reputation for brilliance to shield themselves from consequence. Law professors continued to recommend clerkships with Kozinski to their students, and the Supreme Court continued to draw from his pool of clerks.
The judicial branch must put in place confidential mechanisms for clerks and other judicial employees to report misconduct. It has taken some welcome steps already: The Federal Judicial Center has amended the Law Clerk Handbook to make clear that judicial confidentiality does not prevent the reporting of harassment or abuse. And Chief Justice John Roberts has directed the establishment of a working group to combat sexual harassment and assault - which should include current and former law clerks who can shed light on their particular experiences.
Kozinski's betrayal was all the greater because of his assigned role as an arbiter of justice. For that same reason, the judiciary has a particular obligation to prevent abuses like his.
-- The Washington Post