Federal judge reprimanded for 'very serious' long-term misbehavior involving employees and felon

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A federal judge in Kansas has been publicly reprimanded for sexually harassing court employees, having an extramarital relationship with a convicted felon on probation and being late for court engagements.

The Judicial Council of the 10th Circuit publicly reprimanded U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia of Kansas City, Kansas, in a Sept. 30 order, report Law.com, Bloomberg Law, the New York Times, the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Kansas City Star.

Murguia is an appointee of President Bill Clinton. His sister is a judge on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was also appointed by Clinton, according to Law.com.

The judicial council said a public reprimand was the most severe sanction available to it. “Although we appreciate the public reprimand may cause embarrassment to the judiciary, misconduct that rises to this level calls for transparency and a powerful disincentive,” the council said.

Murguia’s conduct was “very serious and occurred over a lengthy period,” the council said.

The judicial council said, however, that the evidence and facts were insufficient to recommend impeachment.

According to the judicial council opinion, Murguia:

• Gave “preferential treatment and unwanted attention to female employees of the judiciary in the form of sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate text messages, and excessive, non-work-related contact, much of which occurred after work hours and often late at night.”

The judicial council said the harassed employees were reluctant to tell Murguia to stop his conduct because of his power as a federal judge, though one finally did so. Murguia continued the behavior nonetheless.

• Had a years-long relationship with a felon, convicted of state-court crimes, who was using drugs and on probation. The felon is back in prison for probation violations.

Whether a judge’s affair, even with a felon, is misconduct depends on the circumstances, the judicial council said. In this case, “Judge Murguia placed himself in such a compromised position” that he was at risk of extortion, the order said.

• Was habitually late for court proceedings and meetings for years, partly because of regularly scheduled lunchtime basketball games. Murguia’s tardiness often required attorneys, parties and juries to wait, and sometimes made attorneys late for proceedings in other courtrooms.

Murguia was counseled about his tardiness fairly early in his judicial career “but his conduct persisted nevertheless,” the judicial council said.

Murguia had admitted to the misconduct, apologized for his behavior and promised to stop.

When he was first confronted with the allegations, however, Murguia “did not fully disclose the extent of his misconduct,” the judicial council said. “He tended to admit to allegations only when confronted with supporting documentary evidence. His apologies appeared more tied to his regret that his actions were brought to light than an awareness of, and regret for, the harm he caused to the individuals involved and to the integrity of his office.”

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, chief judge of the Kansas court, told the New York Times that several judges in the district had reported “concerns and allegations” about Murguia. An investigation followed in which a special committee of five judges interviewed 23 people. The judicial council, made up of seven district and circuit court judges, adopted the special committee’s conclusions about the three types of misconduct.

Murguia emailed a statement to the New York Times. “I accept responsibility for my inappropriate actions,” he told the newspaper. “I publicly apologize to the victims and to the other members of my staff for the impact my conduct has had on them.”

“My actions have not and will not interfere with the fair administration of justice,” he said. “I continue to strive to be a responsible person and employer.”

Murguia also apologized to his colleagues, former wife, family and friends in a statement to the Kansas City Star. Murguia and his wife divorced in 2018, according to the newspaper.

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