The investigation of now-retired Justice Conrad Rushing, who resigned from the bench amid claims of sexual harassment and misconduct, raised novel questions about workplace claims leveled against elected judicial officers and how they should be handled, judicial branch leaders said in a meeting with reporters on Monday.
The Commission on Judicial Performance can consider whether a judge’s actions violated canons and merit discipline. But the commission does not police courthouses for workplace law violations.
“My understanding, at least in this particular case, you have a justice who is the presiding justice, so there’s a complaint against him,” chief administrative officer Martin Hoshino told reporters Monday. “So where do you go with that? And after you get information that suggests something has happened here, where does it go then. It can’t go to the actual person that it was about.”
Rushing, the former administrative presiding justice on the Sixth District Court of Appeal, has remained mum about the allegations, first reported last week by the San Jose Mercury News.
California’s chief justice on Monday said the justices on the Sixth District Court of Appeal sought legal help to investigate complaints that one of their colleagues had engaged in alleged sexual misconduct and gender bias.
Tani Cantil-Sakauye, speaking to reporters at an annual meet-the-press gathering, said leaders of the appellate court approached the Judicial Council’s legal services decision for recommendations on hiring a law firm to look into allegations made by court staff against Rushing, who was then then-administrative presiding justice.
The Sixth District justices also forwarded the accusations to the Commission on Judicial Performance, Cantil-Sakauye and Hoshino said. The chief justice said she knows nothing more about the complaints and their resolution.
“I received a [resignation] letter from Connie Rushing,” she said. “I can’t even remember the language, whether it was ‘retire’ or ‘resign,’ but it was one or two sentences on plain paper and the envelope.”
Rushing, who served as the Sixth District’s administrative presiding justice for more than a decade, retired on Dec. 4.
Days later the San Jose Mercury News reported that a court-commissioned investigation, completed by a Sacramento law firm, had concluded in May that Rushing had viewed nude photos of women in his chambers, commented regularly on women’s appearances and gave preferential assignments to male employees while making women staffers pack his household belongings.
The report also found that Rushing made disparaging comments about Portuguese-Americans, according to the Mercury News.
The Commission on Judicial Performance will not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. Sixth District court leaders, too, have declined to comment on “personnel matters” involving Rushing or court employees. Judicial Council officials have said the administration’s role was limited to helping the appellate court find a law firm.
Elected judicial officers, like lawmakers, “have to find their own way to figure out how they mete out discipline and preserve their workplaces among themselves,” Hoshino said.
Cantil-Sakauye added: “If a judicial officer is elected in his or her county or state or jurisdiction the authority to remove [him or her] lies with voters or the Commission on Judicial Performance. I am not their boss.”
The chief justice said she has experienced harassment during her legal career—”being called ‘sugar’ and ‘honey’ and ‘girls’ while I was a trial lawyer”—but she declined to offer more specifics about those instances.
Cantil-Sakauye said the environment for women in the judicial branch “has definitely improved,” although “we can always do more.”
“What we’re seeing today is kind of a symptom of overall treatment in the workforce,” Cantil-Sakauye said.