Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Sunday that the federal court system needs to examine its rules and procedures to make sure law clerks and other employees can report wrongdoing if they are subjected to sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.
"Events in recent months have illuminated the depth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and events in the past few weeks have made clear that the judicial branch is not immune," Roberts said in his year-end report on the federal judiciary.
He appeared to be referring to veteran Judge Alex Kozinski, who served on the 9th Circuit Court in California but decided to retire two weeks ago after a series of women reported he had shown them pornography or made sexual comments when they worked for him as law clerks.
Their accounts put a spotlight on a special problem for the judiciary, where law clerks frequently work in close quarters and in confidence for a powerful judge.
Several of the women said they felt they had nowhere to go if they were mistreated or subjected to harassment while at work. They also knew the judge's positive recommendation could be crucial for future career opportunities.
Their complaints followed similar concerns about sexual harassment or abuse of women working in Hollywood, the media, Congress and elsewhere.
Roberts said the judiciary will undertake "a careful evaluation of whether its standards of conduct and its procedures for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior are adequate to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee."
He said he had appointed a working group to consider if changes are needed "in our codes of conduct, our guidance to employees — including law clerks — on issues of confidentiality and reporting of instances of misconduct, our educational programs, and our rules for investigating and processing misconduct complaints. These concerns warrant serious attention from all quarters of the judicial branch."
The chief justice said he had "great confidence in the men and women who comprise our judiciary. I am sure that the overwhelming number have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies."
He devoted much of his report to lauding the work of federal employees who helped their communities and kept the courts open despite devastating hurricanes and flooding in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida, and wildfires in California.
"Let's not forget the victims of the disasters that occurred over the past year," he wrote. "I hope we can all find opportunities to assist our fellow citizens who remain in need."