California judiciary has paid nearly $645K in 6 years for gender-based misconduct claims

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Since 2012, the California judiciary has paid settlements totaling almost $645,000 to people accusing judicial officers of sexual harassment or gender discrimination, the Recorder reported last week.

That information comes from 64 pages of settlement agreements provided by the state’s judicial branch after a public records request by the Recorder. Those records are heavily redacted; none identifies the accuser and only a few identify the accused. Specifics were also removed. And the Recorder notes that the settlement agreements often contain confidentiality clauses.

The documents are not the first to shed light on sexual harassment or discrimination claims in the California judicial branch. The California judiciary adopted new rules in May that require courts to disclose all financial settlements of misconduct claims against judges. The California Judicial Council modified Rule of Court 10.500 to authorize this, although it left in place the courts’ authority to withhold information on investigations of other kinds of judicial misconduct.

In response to the new rules, the Recorder asked California’s 58 county-level trial courts, six appellate courts, state Supreme Court and Judicial Council for records of any financial settlement on sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex. The Judicial Council responded with the 64 pages of settlement agreements.

Those settlement agreements are low on details due to the redactions. However, they show a range of settlement payments in courts across the state. An unnamed female court employee received a $2,500 settlement payment in 2012 from Alpine County Superior Court, which serves Californans in the Sierra Nevadas east of Sacramento.

On the high end was a payment of $150,000 in 2015 to a woman who worked for the Tehama County Superior Court in Northern California. That woman had claimed gender discrimination and whistleblower retaliation, and her settlement agreement said she released Judge John Garaventa, among others, from any claims. (Garaventa was the court’s presiding judge until December 2015, according to Courthouse News.)

Another payment of $150,000 was made in 2013 to a female employee of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, which serves San Jose. The accused is not named, but an email from the Judicial Council to the Recorder said it was one of three cases settling sexual harassment claims against judicial officers. The agreement contains a clause requiring the parties not to initiate contact with the media, and another requiring them to answer questions about the matter by saying it’s private and the parties had reached an amicable resolution.

The Judicial Council’s records aren’t the only ones the Recorder has received in response to its public records requests. The Alameda County Superior Court, which includes Berkeley and Oakland, responded by putting all of its settlement records the on its website. Many other courts said they had nothing to report, the Recorder said in early June.

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