What happens when judges judge themselves Statistics compiled by Aaron Kessler. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds. I couldn't move," the woman said in a deposition. And then he pulled me to him again, and he kissed me again and stuck his tongue down my throat, and he pressed himself against me.
And then he started to try touch my breasts, and I kind of pushed away and said In recent months, powerful men in Hollywood, the media, Congress and other spheres have been accused of sexual harassment.
A common theme has been men abusing their positions in settings where women feel they have no recourse. The abuse women have suffered in the nation's courthouses has been a largely untold story. And its system for complaints -- where judges police fellow judges -- is a world so closely controlled and cloaked in secrecy that it defies public scrutiny.
Read More Rarely do sexual misconduct allegations against federal judges become public, even belatedly, as in the Waco episode or as they did in late , with myriad complaints against California-based US Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski that drew national attention in the current MeToo moment, forcing his resignation. The nearly federal judges who sit on trial and appellate courts are appointed for life.
They have the authority to interpret the law on sex-based offenses. Their attitudes about harassment could reverberate in legal disputes that arise in other realms. But the judiciary itself is hiding the depth of the problem of misconduct by judges. CNN compiled and reviewed nearly 5, judicial orders related to misconduct complaints and available online over the past 10 years. The documents, covering an array of misbehavior beyond sexual misconduct, are remarkably short on details.
The CNN analysis found that: Very few cases against judges are deeply investigated, and very few judges are disciplined in any way. In many years, not a single judge is sanctioned. None of the actual complaints more than 1, are filed annually are made public. In the public judicial orders, claims are sparingly summarized, and accused judges' names rarely appear. Some orders refer to "corrective action" by a judge without saying what happened. Judicial orders are dumped onto circuit court websites as a series of numbered files with no indication of the allegations, person complaining or outcome.
The practice makes it even more difficult to identify the most serious misconduct cases hidden among the opaque lists of documents because each order must be opened and individually read to gain even minimal information about the nature of the complaint. In the month period that ended September 30, , there were 1, complaints filed. Of those, only four were referred to a special committee for the most serious level of investigation, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts.
In , of the 1, complaints, four went to a special committee. Going back to , fewer than 10 cases annually were deeply investigated and even fewer resulted in disciplinary action. In six of the past 11 years, not a single judge was reprimanded, suspended or otherwise sanctioned for misconduct.
In some cases, judges simply retire -- and receive their full pension. Woman in deposition describing assault by Judge Walter Smith After Smith cornered the clerk in Waco, she told supervisors and word eventually made it to a regional boss who was, in the woman's telling, upset about the incident and wanted to stop her from outright quitting. According to the woman, Hudspeth called her and said, "What do you want me to do about it?
What exactly do you want me to do about this? Smith declined to comment. The woman left her job soon after the incident. Sixteen years later, the case resurfaced when a lawyer who clashed with Smith in a separate matter unrelated to sexual misconduct was tipped off by a court employee about the episode. After he filed a complaint against Smith, a judicial council investigated the woman's story. It verified the harassment, ordered "sensitivity training" and temporarily blocked new cases from being assigned to Smith.
The lawyer was not satisfied with either the scope of the investigation or the penalty, so he appealed and a second investigation was launched. Smith retired before it finished and eluded further discipline. Overall, the data compiled by CNN and separately collected from court officials could suggest that if people have valid complaints about judges, they are not using the system or not getting through it.
CNN sent a written request to Roberts asking if he would address questions about the overall system for resolving complaints and whether he had been aware of problems before the Kozinski matter became public.
Roberts declined the request. Judges have vigorously fought efforts from Congress to install an inspector general to oversee potential judicial wrongdoing, based on the constitutional separation of powers and the view that they can root out wrongdoers on their own.
Courthouses are unique ecosystems that can add to the potential for secrecy and unaddressed misconduct. In their insular world, law clerks and staff may be intimidated by a judge or otherwise worried about harming their careers by speaking out. These MeToo victims and survivors will be at Trump's State of the Union address "The relationships between law clerks and their judges are mostly built on worshipful silence," Dahlia Lithwick, a former 9th Circuit law clerk, wrote in Slate.
Which is, as it happens, part of the problem. But the buildings are filled with far more employees of lower rank, such as the deputy court clerk in Waco, who might be even less willing to speak up about harassment. A judge can be forcibly removed from office only through impeachment and conviction. But that process, which is controlled by the House and Senate and is the same one used for removing a president, has occurred only three times in the last 30 years , for issues related to bribery and perjury.
A committee led by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in noted the potential dangers of a system in which judges are judging judges. There are 13 circuit courts of appeals, and the circuits vary on how many years' worth of orders they post and the accessibility of the documents.
Some sites include records back only until September , when federal law required the on-line posting. The documents rarely include the name of the judge who was the subject of the complaint or the specifics of the grievance asserted. The vast majority of the orders issued were only one or two pages and comprised of boilerplate procedural language. Of the 4, orders reviewed, more than a third of them -- 1, -- were only a single page in length. Another 1, were only two pages long.
If there were patterns to detect, for example in judges who were repeat offenders, the system does not make it easy. Many of the documents are posted as non-searchable, scanned documents -- meaning that they cannot be searched for names, keywords or any content at all that a public citizen may seek to find.
To try to assess the complaints and look for patterns, CNN used software designed to recognize the text images and converted the documents to searchable versions for analysis. One indicator of a more serious complaint is referral to a "special committee. Because the nature of the potential offense is rarely spelled out, it is impossible for the public to know if allegations of sexual misconduct occur with any frequency.
After former law clerks publicly asserted that US Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski had sexually harassed them, CNN searched the orders for any references to "law clerk" and found that most of those instances involved complaints that a judge had let a law clerk handle his or her duties. University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong, who teaches constitutional law and has focused on how sex discrimination claims are handled, also cites the insularity as a problem.
She said some judges might balk at taking action against a colleague knowing that they would be hearing cases together in the future. Administrative officials of the US judiciary minimize the importance of a publicly accessible, easily deciphered disciplinary system. They say the complaints are overwhelmingly frivolous, the product of litigants unhappy with a case decision rather than an individual judge's behavior.
Judiciary officials who spoke to CNN only on condition of anonymity say that when a real offense arises, the confidential process encourages judges to resign quietly, or perhaps seek alcoholism treatment or counseling, rather than to escalate the situation. That two-year study was requested in by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was trying to head off congressional intervention in judicial discipline. Now, more than a decade later, Roberts has established a working group to examine the judiciary's procedures for protecting court employees from misconduct.
It is supposed to report back to the chief justice in May. Breyer declined a request for an interview about the state of the disciplinary system since the report. Mazie Hirono, concerned about the potential for sexual abuse among judges, has begun asking judicial nominees, who are subject to the Senate confirmation process, whether they ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed verbal or physical harassment. The Hawaii Democrat is also asking whether they faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to such conduct.
Many of the documents are provided to the public as non-searchable, scanned documents -- meaning that they cannot be searched for names, keywords or any content at all that a public citizen may seek to find. It is difficult to detect patterns among judges in various circuits or how they compare to other circuits.
It's very difficult for someone from outside to know what's happening, and it's not always easy for insiders to know what was happening. It is exceedingly rare that judicial officials discipline a judge who was the subject of a complaint, according to the CNN review.
Many of the instances that involved reported sexual misconduct had come to light from earlier media reports or another outside party. The federal judiciary's general statistics that are made public reinforce that view of scant remedial action.
In its public reports going back to , in fact, no censures, reprimands, suspensions or other "remedial action" occurred in most years , , , , , In the rest, there were no more than three instances of suspension, reprimand or other remedial action in any given year. The judiciary's rules dramatically restrict when the name of the judge can be made public. University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman, who has long studied the third branch, said it is difficult to assess whether the judiciary has a sexual harassment problem.
Circuit chief judges dismiss the overwhelming majority out of hand because they target a court ruling, rather than a judge's conduct. Of the rest, the most common complaint is personal bias against a litigant or attorney complaints in Other major categories cover conflicts of interest complaints in or racial, religious or ethnic bias complaints in , according to figures provided by the courts' administrative office.
The courts do not separate out complaints that relate to a judge's conduct toward an employee. They may be included in a catch-all category for "other misconduct," for which complaints were filed in If the facts of a complaint are "reasonably in dispute" after an initial inquiry, the chief judge is required to send the complaint to a special committee to investigate. That action is rarely taken. Of the nearly 5, complaints filed between the and fiscal years, 33 went to a special committee, CNN found.
In those situations when a complaint was investigated deeply, a party may appeal to the Judicial Conference Conduct Committee. Since , that committee has issued reports in only 15 cases. CNN found that in several high-profile cases, judges simply resigned while a complaint was pending.
The judiciary's published statistics do not specifically tally such situations, although they do note when a complaint was ended because of an "intervening event," which could cover a resignation. In glare of media spotlight Much of the known judicial action related to sexual misconduct was taken because of forces outside the established system, such as media coverage or complainants using other law enforcement channels.