WASHINGTON — Inappropriate conduct in the federal judiciary is "not pervasive" but also "not limited to a few isolated instances," according to a report issued Monday by a group examining its policies on sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct.
The group, formed at the request of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, wrote that of "the inappropriate behavior that does occur, incivility, disrespect, or crude behavior is more common than sexual harassment."
Roberts, in his annual report on the federal judiciary issued on New Year's Eve, had promised a "careful evaluation" of its standards of conduct and procedures for dealing with inappropriate behavior. Roberts' report came out the same month that 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski retired following accusations by women, including former law clerks, that he had touched them inappropriately, made lewd comments and shown them pornography.
The working group of judges and judiciary officials tasked with studying the judiciary's workplace conduct policies said that, based on advisory groups it talked with, individual interviews it conducted and surveys it administered, it "believes that inappropriate conduct, although not pervasive in the Judiciary, is not limited to a few isolated instances."
The group offered more than 20 recommendations for further action. It urged revising the codes of conduct the judiciary has for judges and employees, improving the process of identifying and correcting misconduct, and boosting education and training.
The report did not mention the Kozinski case directly. It did, however, discuss the unique position of law clerks among the judiciary branch's 30,000 employees. It noted the "power disparity" between a judge who has tenure for life and law clerks who work with a judge for one to two years. The report acknowledged "strong disincentives" for law clerks to report inappropriate conduct, in part because the judge's recommendation is often crucial for future jobs.
"Law clerks and others with whom the Working Group spoke expressed concern about the seeming lack of punishment for a judge who, under allegations of serious misconduct, retires or resigns and thereby terminates the disciplinary proceeding," the report said. "Some believe that if the disciplinary process compels a life-tenured judge to leave the bench under the cloud of alleged misconduct, then the process has produced an appropriate result. ... But others noted that a judge who meets the service requirements for retirement benefits suffers no monetary penalty and may return to legal practice."
The group says it plans "to monitor ongoing initiatives and measure progress to ensure its goals are fulfilled."