Revision to federal law clerk handbook addresses sex harassment complaints

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The handbook for federal law clerks was revised to address sex harassment complaints against judges on Monday, the same day that Judge Alex Kozinski of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced his immediate retirement amid sexual misconduct allegations.

The change follows calls for revisions to the handbook to make clear that confidentiality rules don’t prevent sexual harassment complaints against judges, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.

The revision was placed in a section of the handbook that says law clerks owe judges complete confidentiality as to case-related matters.

The revision reads: “However, nothing in this handbook, or in the Code of Conduct, prevents a clerk, or any judiciary employee, from revealing misconduct, including sexual or other forms of harassment, by their judge or any person. Clerks are encouraged to bring such matters to the attention of an appropriate judge or other official.”

One former Kozinski clerk, Heidi Bond, now writes romance novels under the name Courtney Milan. In an online post, she said her fear of violating confidentiality rules kept her from disclosing that Kozinski had asked her to look at pornography on his computer at least three times. The stress had affected her work, she said.

“On the last day of my clerkship,” Bond wrote, Kozinski “told me that the beauty of judicial confidentiality was that it went two ways. 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 letter signed by more than 300 former federal law clerks seeks a national reporting system for federal law clerks and other judiciary employees that bypasses having to make complaints to the judges for whom they work. The letter also seeks assurance that individuals considering reporting sexual harassment or misconduct need not fear retaliation.

Kozinski said in his retirement announcement that he has “always had a broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike. In doing so, I may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace. It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; this was never my intent. For this I sincerely apologize.”

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