Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in a year-end report for the federal judiciary that he approves of changes recommended by a working group he started after a top appeals court judge retired from the federal bench amid a sexual misconduct controversy.
In the 15-page report, released on New Year’s Eve, Roberts said the group concluded that the judicial branch could do more to encourage employees to encourage people to come forward to report abuse and misconduct.
The three main areas he laid out include revising published guidance, streamlining internal procedures for dealing with complaints, and expanding training programs to raise awareness of misconduct. He also said the proposed changes “make clear that the duties of confidentiality shared by judges, law clerks and court employees do not pose any obstacle to reporting or disclosing misconduct.”
Roberts created the group, which published a report in June, after Judge Alex Kozinski retired from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2017. The abrupt exit came after multiple women, including former female law clerks, accused the judge of sexual misconduct, including inappropriate touching and showing them pornography.
Roberts didn’t mention Kozinski by name, but did note broadly that there have been instances in which senior officials abuse their power.
“Recent events have highlighted that the very qualities that make the position of law clerk attractive — particularly, the opportunity to work with a senior member of the legal profession in a position of mentorship and trust — can create special risks of abuse,” Roberts wrote.
Roberts said the working group found that misconduct is more likely to take place in the form of “incivility or disrespect” rather than overt sexual harassment, and it often goes unreported.
He also said the group found some positive news, determining that the judiciary already has “key foundations” in place for “combatting (sic) inappropriate conduct, including committed leadership, an ethos of accountability, positive workplace policies and practices, and established training programs.”