A bipartisan group on the House Judiciary Committee is questioning the judiciary’s efforts to address harassment in the workplace after a federal trial judge in Kansas was found last year to have repeatedly sexually harassed his employees.
A letter, dated Thursday and signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Reps. Hank Johnson, Jim Sensenbrenner and Mary Gay Scanlon, focuses on the conduct of U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia, who was found to have sexually harassed staff and had an extramarital affair with a felon on probation.
The Judicial Council for the Tenth Circuit issued a public reprimand of Murguia in September, the strongest sanction in its arsenal. However, the lawmakers on Thursday questioned whether reforms being taken up by the federal judiciary aimed at preventing that kind of judicial misconduct are strong enough.
The House members said the council’s order on Murguia’s conduct “calls into question the adequacy of the Judiciary’s recent steps to better protect its employees from wrongful workplace conduct—steps which we would like to welcome as much-needed progress in this area.”
The letter notes that while the Judicial Conference has been addressing workplace misconduct through a working group, formed in 2017 at the direction of Chief Justice John Roberts, the council’s findings “document very troubling workplace behavior by an active judge that was never reported.”
“We support the Judiciary’s attention to these important matters but find it difficult to square the public record regarding Judge Murguia’s misconduct with the Working Group’s guiding principles and status report,” the members wrote.
The letter is addressed to James Duff, the secretary of the Judicial Conference, as well as U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich and Chief District Judge Julie Robinson for the District of Kansas.
The lawmakers included a series of questions about what steps have been taken in light of Murguia’s conduct, including whether the employees he harassed still work for him and whether there have been any investigations into why none of Murguia’s staff felt comfortable reporting his behavior. They requested answers by Feb. 20.
“We hope there will be a frank examination of the adequacy of the steps taken to address what the Tenth Circuit has documented as Judge Murguia’s misconduct and what further actions are needed to ensure that the Judicial Branch provides a safe workplace for all of its employees,” the letter reads.
The House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the courts also announced Thursday a hearing on Feb. 13 focused on misconduct within the federal judiciary.
The Tenth Circuit Judicial Council found that Murguia gave preferential treatment to female employees in the judiciary and engaged in “sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate text messages, and excessive non-work-related contacts, much of which occurred after work hours and often late at night.”
Murguia admitted to committing the alleged actions, apologized and promised to not continue the behavior in the future, according to the council’s order.
The council’s sanction is not the last action that can be taken against Murguia. Under the federal judiciary’s rules, the matter has been transferred to the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability for further review.
Chief Justice John Roberts ordered the creation of a working group focused on workplace conduct within the federal judiciary in 2017. That group issued recommendations in 2018, including changes to the code of conduct for judges and offering new ways to report issues, and published a status report in September 2019.
Published at Thu, 06 Feb 2020 14:15:00 +0000