Advertisement

California's chief justice has had her own #MeToo moments

California's chief justice has had her own #MeToo moments
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in her downtown San Francisco offices at the courthouse earlier this year. (David Butow/For The Times)

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Monday that she has had her own #MeToo moments during her legal career, being addressed as “sugar and honey and dear” and one of the “girls.”

During a meeting with reporters, the state’s top judge also confirmed that a state appellate justice who resigned Oct. 31 had been under investigation for improprieties.

Advertisement

Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing of the San Jose-based Court of Appeal faced allegations of bigotry, sexual harassment and discrimination against women when he retired, the San Jose Mercury News reported last week.

Cantil-Sakauye confirmed that justices on the 6th District Court of Appeal asked the state Judicial Council to investigate complaints against Rushing.

The Judicial Council, which Cantil-Sakauye heads, hired an outside law firm to look into the charges and then forwarded a report back to the judges.

They in turn sent the report to the Commission on Judicial Performance, which has the power to publicly censure or remove state judges.

The San Jose newspaper, which said it obtained a copy of the confidential report, said it showed that Rushing looked at images of nude women in his chambers, made personal comments about the appearances of female employees and disparaged some people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or national origin.

Rushing, 80, appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Rushing also favored male lawyers on the court’s staff, allowing them to telecommute and giving them more complex legal cases, and once asked female lawyers to pack his belongings before his apartment was fumigated, the report allegedly said.

The chief justice said she received a short letter from Rushing announcing his departure from the court. He retired Oct. 31.

The investigation of complaints against him occurred this year, she said, and the San Jose newspaper said it involved allegations made over a 10-year period.

Cantil-Sakayue, a former prosecutor, trial court judge and state appellate justice, suggested she may have suffered more serious gender discrimination than being called “honey” and “sugar” but declined to discuss it.

“I’ve had a few ‘me-toos’ in the past, but I’m not telling them, at least not on the record,” said Cantil-Sakauye, 58, who met with legal reporters in her chambers.

She said the court system has ethics instruction for judges and that includes education about sexual harassment.

The basic instructions are what children are taught in kindergarten, she said.

“Keep your hands to yourself, don’t say anything you wouldn’t want said to yourself and behave,” she said.

Advertisement

She said the Judicial Council did not make public its report on Rushing because the council was acting as a lawyer giving confidential information on a labor mater to the 6th District justices.

If Rushing had not resigned, the allegations might have eventually been made public by the Commission on Judicial Performance, the watchdog agency for judges, she said.

Women across the country in recent weeks have made public many sexual harassment complaints against men in a wide variety of positions, from the entertainment industry to Congress.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that six former clerks and externs of U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski complained he had made improper comments to them and showed pornography to one.

Nancy Rapoport, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas law professor, wrote on her blog two days ago that Kozinski made inappropriate comments to her in the mid-1980s when she clerked for a different 9th Circuit judge.

Rapoport wrote that Kozinski invited her to join him and his clerks for drinks after work. She agreed.

“When I showed up, none of his clerks were there,” she wrote. “Just him.”

She said he asked her what single women in San Francisco did for sex. The 9th Circuit is based in San Francisco. Kozinski’s chambers are in Pasadena, but he travels to San Francisco to hear cases.

When she told him she had to go home to absorb news that her mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, he offered to “comfort” her, she wrote.

As a result of that encounter, she has told female law students she would not write them letters of recommendation for clerkships with him because they would be at risk of being sexually harassed, she said.

Rapoport, reached by phone Monday, said she was 26 at the time and chalked up the encounter to an “awkward situation.”

Rapoport’s blog comments were first reported by the Daily Caller.

Kozinski, in an interview Friday with The Times, said he had no recollection of the incidents reported by the Washington Post. He declined to comment Monday about Rapoport’s allegations.

Advertisement
Advertisement