U.S. Supreme Court building. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.
Recently published allegations of sexual harassment against federal appeals judge Alex Kozinski are putting a new spotlight on past ethics and privacy controversies that involved his web use in the courthouse and ties to an adult pornography site.
The Washington Post on Friday reported that six women said Kozinski, once the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, asked them to view pornography or subjected them to inappropriate comments. One of the women, Heidi Bond, clerked for Kozinski in 2006-2007 and the next year for Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy.
“I have been a judge for 35 years and during that time have had over 500 employees in my chambers,” Kozinski said in a statement Friday. “I treat all of my employees as family and work very closely with most of them. I would never intentionally do anything to offend anyone and it is regrettable that a handful have been offended by something I may have said or done.”
Kozinski told the Los Angeles Times on Friday: “If this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried.”
Years earlier, Kozinski played a central role in a 2000 controversy that erupted in the Ninth Circuit after judges there discovered a contractor hired by the management arm of the federal judiciary was monitoring the web use of the then 30,000 employees of the federal courts.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Court had discovered that 3 to 7 percent of the judiciary’s internet use was likely nonbusiness related. Using special programs, the office identified computers that had been used to download sexually explicit files, and dozens of employees were disciplined.
Ninth Circuit judges, including Kozinski, saw the monitoring as privacy violations and voted to disable the anti-hacker software. Kozinski wrote a legal memorandum suggesting the monitoring violated federal law. The judges also sent letters to the head of the Administrative Office who, in turn, warned them that Congress would step in and hold oversight hearings if the judges did not immediately take steps to block the downloading of pornography.
The office’s then-director, Ralph Mecham, said he did not act on his own and that the monitoring policy had been put in place by the Judicial Conference of the United States, which was headed by then Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
The conference subsequently reached a temporary compromise with the judges in which the Administrative Office restarted the security measures. The office agreed, for the time being, to stop monitoring what was being downloaded.
“It was a serious mistake for Mr. Mecham and the [technology] committee to try to ram this through without the normal process of consultation and deliberation that has been the hallmark of judicial governance,” Kozinski said at the time. “I’m glad they have recognized their error and withdrawn their highly intrusive proposal.”
Rehnquist at the time declined to comment on the dispute. “Tell Kozinski to watch pornography at home and not in his own court,” Rehnquist allegedly told Mecham, according to a complaint Mecham later filed against Kozinski for disabling the internet monitoring system.
A lawyer for Kozinski, Mark Holscher, told Bloomberg news at the time that Mecham’s claims were investigated and found without merit. “It is unfortunate that he would raise them now with purported quotes from Chief Justice Rehnquist after he passed away,” Holscher reportedly said.
Kozinski found himself embroiled in another pornography-related controversy in 2008 when the Los Angeles Times reported that Kozinski was operating a public site showing sexually explicit photos and videos.
The site, according to the report, included “a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows,” “a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal,” and “a graphic step-by-step pictorial in which a woman is seen shaving her pubic hair.” Kozinski told the Los Angeles Times he thought the site was for his private storage and that he was not aware the images could be seen by the public.
Kozinski, who was presiding over an obscenity trial at the time, told the Los Angeles Times that, while some of the material was inappropriate, he believed other content was “funny.” The judge asked the Ninth Circuit to conduct an inquiry into the newspaper’s report. He declared a mistrial and recused himself from the obscenity case.
The Ninth Circuit asked Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. to refer the inquiry to another circuit. Roberts turned the investigation over judicial misconduct to the Third Circuit. In June 2009, Third Circuit Chief Judge Anthony Scirica, writing for his court’s 11-member judicial council, issued a public memorandum “admonishing” Kozinski.
The memorandum recounted Kozinski’s testimony to the judicial council in which he said he did not visit and had no interest in pornographic websites. Kozinski added:
“Now, I do want to make it clear that I do remember some of the sexually explicit files. And, frankly, I don’t know why I kept them. Some I thought were odd or funny or bizarre, but mostly I don’t have a very good reason for holding onto them. I certainly did not send them to anyone else or ask anyone to send me similar files. I did not appreciate, when I put the server online, that the files could potentially be accessed by others and myself, or the consequences of having my name associated with those files. Had I been aware, I would never have saved them.”
The 37-page memorandum described Kozinski’s possession of the “sexually explicit offensive material” as “judicially imprudent.”
According to the memorandum: “Moreover, once the judge became aware in 2007 that offensive material could be accessed by members of the public, his inattention to the need for prompt corrective action amounted to a disregard of a serious risk of public embarrassment. We join with the Special Committee in admonishing the judge that his conduct exhibiting poor judgment with respect to this material created a public controversy that can reasonably be seen as having resulted in embarrassment to the institution of the federal judiciary.”
Report: Ninth Circuit Judge Kozinski Accused of Sexual Misconduct
Discipline Issue Looms Against Judge Alex Kozinski
Judicial Panel Admonishes Kozinski for Sexually Explicit Files
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