I’m sure you’ve heard of San Francisco federal Judge Alex Kozinski. Fifteen women accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct over a long period of time. Under pressure, he announced his retirement. Here’s the story:
You’d think a person in such a high position would be better behaved. Is Judge Alex Kozinski’s behavior common?
I worked for over 30 years in the criminal justice system in Minnesota. I’ve worked with everyone involved in the system: prosecutors, defense lawyers, probation officers, deputies, and judges. Of course, most people didn’t engage in inappropriate sexual behavior, but there were a few—
One thing to remember is that 30+ years ago, the work place was much different everywhere, not just in courtrooms. Men who behaved badly generally got away with it for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the stories, similar to Judge Alex Kozinski, that I remember.
1. My friend, a female judge, started her career as a law clerk in the 80s. Each morning, many of the law clerks gathered in a conference room for coffee. That included my friend and both male and female clerks. Like clockwork, a senior judge came through the room and said hello. He would walk behind one of the female clerks, reach forward with his hands, and grab her breasts. He did this often and yet nothing happened to him. Sounds like Judge Alex Kozinski, doesn’t it?
2. One judge had a court reporter who could have been an actress: beautiful, shapely, and blonde. The reporter wasn’t married. Her judge and another judge from down the hall, began to ask her about her dating life—in inappropriate detail. She tried to ignore them. Finally, the two judges showed up at her apartment at night, asking to get in. She eventually sued them both and won.
3. A particularly hard-working judge was talking with his law clerk. She excused herself to go to the bathroom. But he followed her, even going into the bathroom with her. She was able to kick him out.
4. A prosecutor attended the employer sponsored educational seminar on sexual harassment. Afterward, he was so excited by what he saw, he went back to his office and groped his secretary’s breasts. He was fired.
Why do these people act like Judge Alex Kozinski?
There are obvious reasons like they had the opportunity and felt they could get away with it. I think the most critical problem is power. Like Judge Alex Kozinski, each of these people I knew, had immense power. As a result, many of the things they did and said were not questioned. People flatter judges, laugh at bad jokes, and pretend to be fascinated with everything a judge says. That could lead some to feel they can get away with any kind of behavior.
Today, luckily, the courtroom (and behind in the judge’s chambers) behavior has changed. Not only are the females empowered, but most of the male judges are equally considerate. It’s better for all of us.