Federal Law Clerk Handbook Addresses Sexual Harassment

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On the same day Judge Alex Kozinski retired, the handbook for federal clerks was revised to address sex harassment complaints against judges.

Public allegations against Kozinski probably prompted the sudden change, even though the jurist's behavior went unchecked for decades. In any case, the handbook specifically lifts the veil of confidentiality that has hid him and other judges from scrutiny.

The revision says nothing in the handbook "prevents a clerk, or any judiciary employee, from revealing misconduct, including sexual or other forms of harassment, by their judge or any person."

Kozinski Connection

Heidi Bond, a romance novelist, said she feared violating confidentiality rules when she clerked for Kozinski. She broke the silence in an online post under a pseudonym.

The Washington Post then broke the story with allegations that the judge showed the former clerk pornographic images on his computer and asked if it aroused her sexually. A half-dozen former clerks and staffers revealed other troubling tales of sexual misconduct.

Under pressure from the fall-out, Kozinski resigned. Her secret out in the open, Bond explained how the confidentiality rule affected her.

"On the last day of my clerkship, he told me that the beauty of judicial confidentiality was that it went two ways," she wrote. "As long as I never, ever told anyone what had happened in chambers with him, he would never tell anyone what had happened with me."

A Final Chapter?

Kozinski's career ended on a dreadful note, but judicial confidentiality and its impact on clerks will likely continue for some time. Who knows what other secrets will be told.

Bond, for her part, says Kozinski was "one of the most brilliant, capable legal minds sitting on the federal bench." But she wants nothing to do with debates about his future.

However, she wants the revised handbook to open the door for clerks to speak openly about judicial misconduct. She also urges creation of a new institution for clerks to air their concerns.

"I understand that there are reasons why no such institution exists now -- judicial independence and confidentiality must be fiercely protected," she said. "I also believe that the judiciary is capable of coming up with a solution to this problem."

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