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Former court workers urge Congress to protect court workers from discrimination and harassment

“Judiciary employees continue to be harassed and discriminated against with little recourse,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said during the House Judiciary Committee hearing. “Time and time again we have been told by law enforcement officials that there is no problem, that we should let them deal with it themselves.

Three former federal judicial employees — a lawyer, a public defender and a senior administrative official — spoke to the committee about a workplace culture that discouraged reporting, describing the harassment they experienced and what they experienced. characterized as shortcomings in the process for resolving misconduct complaints.

Last year lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation to extend to employees of the justice system the same anti-discrimination rights granted to other government employees and to protect whistleblowers. The proposal would create an independent special advocate to investigate workplace complaints and report its findings to Congress and an oversight committee made up of people with experience enforcing civil rights laws.

Federal judicial leaders acknowledged their work was not done, but said Thursday that sweeping legislation was unnecessary and inappropriate. The justice system, said U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson, has already made “significant progress and improvements and has done so rapidly” by creating new reporting channels, providing confidential employee counseling and expanding protections against abusive behavior.

“Some changes don’t happen overnight. This is an ongoing effort, and we anticipate that some changes will need time to take root,” said Robinson, a member of an advisory group, who recommended a long list of court policy changes.

Robinson and Judge M. Margaret McKeown echoed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s concerns about congressional interference with the inner workings of a separate and equal branch of government.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) said he understands concerns about the separation of powers and the imperative for the judiciary to retain its independence.

“Autonomy by a separate branch” of government is “acceptable, but it must be comparable, accountable and transparent,” he said, adding “we must hold everyone accountable.”

Laura C. Minor, who worked for the US Courts Administrative Office for more than two decades, told lawmakers that the judiciary has long struggled to deal with misconduct. The changes proposed by the justice system are insufficient, she said, and many complaints still go unreported because people fear reprisals.

“From what I can see today and what we’ve all heard, the judiciary’s insistence on self-policing only serves its interest in protecting itself,” said Minor, who was responsible for Equal Employment Opportunity for the Administrative Office of the Court and former Secretary of the Judicial Conference, the decision-making body of the federal courts.

Among the witnesses on Thursday was former public defender Caryn D. Strickland, known in court for two years as “Jane Doe” in her lawsuit challenging the judiciary’s handling of her misconduct allegations. When Strickland first reported sexual harassment and discrimination from her supervisors, she said she was “obstructed at every turn as legal authorities protected my abusers and punished me.”

The Justice Department defended the justice system’s anti-discrimination policies as comprehensive and meaningful, and argued in Strickland’s case that it had no right to sue because court employees are not covered. by some civil rights laws.

“If their position prevails, I will have absolutely no recourse against the denial of my right to be free from gender discrimination,” she told lawmakers on Thursday.

Although Strickland said efforts to resolve her claims had been humiliating and intimidating, she decided to testify publicly because lawmakers “have the authority to provide justice workers with meaningful protections against harassment and discrimination.”

More than 20 former and current court employees have filed a brief in support of Strickland, whose case is pending before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Former employees and lawyers also said on Thursday that abusive treatment is pervasive in courthouses due to the power disparity between judges and their junior court aides, who depend on their bosses for job recommendations after a one-year apprenticeship.

Former legal assistant Aliza Shatzman has described the negative job reference she received after reporting harassment and discrimination by a DC Superior Court judge. The judge, who is no longer on the bench and is not named in a letter Shatzman provided to the committee, criticized her for being “bossy” and “aggressive” and for not behaving the way he is. was waiting for the clerks to act, she said.

Shatzman urged Congress to expand protections and expand rights for those who work in DC’s local courts, where judges are also appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

“For clerks seeking justice for themselves and accountability to the judges who harassed them, the message from the DC Judiciary is one of deafening silence in the face of misconduct,” the letter reads. Shatzman.

“The judiciary is uniquely insulated from scrutiny and uniquely irresponsible to the public.”


Washington

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