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New Sexual Misconduct Rules for Federal Courts

The federal judiciary has imposed new guidelines for how it will handle complaints of misconduct levied against its members. The #MeToo movement and egregious charges publicly laid against former Ninth Circuit court judge Alex Kozinski may have motivated the federal judiciary to take another look at its rules. Fifteen women accused Kozinski of misconduct before he stepped down. Law clerks have complained that judiciary rules requiring confidentiality as to judicial deliberations made it very difficult for them to make complaints about judges who made lewd comments or bullied them.
D.C. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland announced the new system to reporters. It is explicit under the new rules that “unwanted, offensive, or abusive sexual conduct, including sexual harassment or assault” are prohibited. Additionally, treating clerks, litigants or others “in a demonstrably egregious or hostile manner” or creating a hostile work environment is also a violation of the code of conduct. Members of the judiciary are obligated to report “reliable” information about misconduct or observations of impairment by judicial members.
The new rules are also intended to provide a number of avenues for bringing forth complaints of misconduct. Importantly, the rules make it clear that an employee’s duty of confidentiality “does not prevent, nor should it discourage, an employee or former employee from reporting or disclosing misconduct, including sexual or other forms of harassment, by a judge, supervisor, or other people.” Judge Garland asserted that the disciplining of judges will remain under the control of the judiciary itself and the rules do not apply to the Supreme Court.