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Ex-law clerk tells Congress she was sexually harassed by federal judge

Posted February 13, 2020 2:40 p.m. EST

— A woman who served as a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge who died in 2018 told Congress on Thursday that she was sexually harassed by her former boss and that systems set up by the judiciary to report instances of sexual allegations are inadequate.

The new allegations from Olivia Warren, a lawyer who works on death penalty litigation, came during a House subcommittee hearing focused on protecting federal judicial employees from sexual harassment. She described Judge Stephen Reinhardt as someone who "demeaned his employees, a man who demeaned women and a man who sexually harassed me." She recounted a series of inappropriate comments as well as a crude drawing displayed in chambers. She clerked for Reinhardt in 2017 and 2018.

In written testimony supplied to the committee, she testified that Reinhardt "routinely and frequently made disparaging statements about my physical appearance, my views about feminism and women's rights, and my relationship with my husband (including our sexual relationship)."

She said she was coming forward because she is concerned that new systems set up to protect judicial employees "did not appear to provide a truly confidential option to report" and "it was unclear to me what would happen if I proceeded with reporting."

Reinhardt served as a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1980 until he died suddenly in March 2018 at the age of 87. He was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter. When he died, The New York Times' headline referred to him as a "liberal lion of federal court." CNN has reached out to the Ninth Circuit and has attempted to reach Reinhardt's adult children for comment following the testimony.

Warren's allegations come after Chief Justice John Roberts launched an evaluation in 2017 of how the judicial branch handles allegations of sexual harassment. Roberts acted after the judiciary was rocked by a Washington Post story that detailed accusations of sexual misconduct from several former clerks and junior staffers against Judge Alex Kozinski, also of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kozinski, who announced his retirement after the report surfaced, apologized for his actions in a statement released by his lawyer but also defended what he called his "broad sense of humor."

In September 2019, the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, established at the direction of Roberts, updated the Judicial Conference of the United States on the status of recommendations it had made to improve the judiciary's procedures. Those include revising the code of conduct to state "clear and consistent standards describing inappropriate workplace behavior," and creating a National Office of Judicial Integrity as a resource for employees to report and receive advice about workplace misconduct.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for James C. Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, said, "No judiciary employee should suffer the kind of harassment described by former law clerk Olivia Warren today." The spokesperson said the office is "deeply concerned about the new information we have learned through Ms. Warren's statement " and that "we take her statement very seriously."

"We are committed to addressing this new information and continuing to refine our processes and procedures for protecting our employees and addressing misconduct," the spokesperson said.

The House subcommittee called Thursday's hearing in part to question the adequacy of some of the judiciary's recent steps. In a letter to the Judicial Conference, Chairman Hank Johnson noted that a panel of judges had publicly admonished Carlos Murguia, a federal judge in Kansas, for sexual misconduct after the new recommendations had been released. He wanted Duff to come and discuss how the 10th Circuit Judicial Council had dealt with some aspects of the Murguia case. Duff declined to appear at the hearing, saying in a letter last week that he was not prepared to discuss the Murguia matter because the complaint "remains under review."

Rarely do sexual misconduct allegations against federal judges become public, even belatedly, and rarely are judges who misbehave subject to any sanction, a 2018 CNN investigation found.

In her testimony, Warren said she has never "wept as hard as she did at the memorial service for Reinhardt."

"The juxtaposition of my anger and my grief and my shame was impossible to bear," she said.

She said that after her first year attending Harvard Law School, a faculty member who was a former Reinhardt clerk helped her get a job with the judge. But that soon after she began, she was subject to a stream of comments about her physical appearance.

"Mainly, he suggested I was horrifically unattractive," she said. "He questioned whether my husband could possibly be real, given how unlikely it seemed to him that any man could ever be attracted to me."

At one point, she alleged that the judge made clear "he did not believe my marriage had been consummated."

She said that the atmosphere in chambers worsened after the start of the #MeToo movement and allegations of sexual harassment had been made against Kozinski.

"He frequently discussed and always cast doubt upon credible allegations of sexual harassment," she said in a written statement supplied to the committee. "The doubts he expressed were sometimes based on his assessment of the attractiveness of the accuser, and sometimes based on his general incredulity that men could be harassing women."

She said that a drawing in chambers reflecting a woman's breasts was on display during her training period. "Judge Reinhardt referenced the drawing when he came to my office," she said, and asked her if she liked it. "In addition to emphasizing how proud he was of the nipples he had drawn on the chart and confirming that he and the clerk had made it, he asked me a question about whether or not it was 'accurate.' "

"Based on his tone and demeanor, I understood his question to be asking whether or not the drawing looked like my breasts," she recounted.

In her testimony, Warren said that she attempted to report Reinhardt's conduct after her clerkship had ended but that there are "systemic barriers to reporting harassment and misconduct by judges that are unique to the legal profession."

She said that new reporting polices and rules implemented by the new working group are inadequate.

"These rules did not appear to provide a truly confidential option to report harassment or misconduct and it was unclear to me what would happen if I proceeded with reporting through any of the avenues offered," she said.

At the hearing, Johnson noted that the judiciary "has made meaningful changes" but "after the testimony we heard today, it is clear that much more needs to be done."

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