As the #metoo trending topic pushed sexual harassment to the front page of many papers, influencers in Hollywood, Congress, and the media were called to the carpet for their poor behavior. Victims in these cases for the first time felt heard and found some form of justice.
Unfortunately the same is not true for one select group of victims. A recent special report revealed the realities of sex crimes committed by federal judges. Being appointed as a judge for life also seems to come with a secret level of protection against ever being brought up on sexual harassment charges. In over 5,000 complaints, judges ended up immune to any punishment.
There are 900 federal judges in the United States. While it would be wrong to say that they are all guilty of sexual harassment, there are many cases where it has quietly ignored.
One example occurred in 1998 with U.S. District Court Judge Walter Smith. He called a county clerk into chambers for what appeared to be business.
This was not a professional call as Judge Smith became physically aggressive with the clerk. Even though he was at work and in his professional role, he forced himself on the female clerk.
According to the victim:
“He basically came over to me and put his arms around me and kissed me, and I just froze. I couldn’t move. And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’
And I just freaked out. … And then he pulled me to him again, and he kissed me again and stuck his tongue down my throat, and he pressed himself against me. … And then he started to try touch my breasts, and I kind of pushed away and said … ‘I need to go.”
This account was shared during a deposition tied to a complaint against Judge Smith. The claim went into a system set up using peer review that seems to have no real consequence for abuse.
The system for complaints against judges in a widely guarded secret. It is extremely rare for this type of charge to become public, and even the victim rarely knows the outcome of their case.
Each judge is given the freedom to interpret laws tied to sex crimes and abuse within their courtroom. This free reign seems to push beyond the courtroom as they are often allowed to also self-regulate things like sexual abuse of the employees working under them.
While some lower-level judges are elected to their positions, those at the federal level are assigned for life. This may give some of them a false sense of security as there is never a need for re-election or input from the public.
There is a system set up to handle issues with judges. When there is a problem with a judge, the victim starts by filing a formal complaint.
Over the last ten years, there have been countless formal complaints against judges in the United States. A recent report took a closer look at 5,000 of these allegations that were uploaded to an online database.
There is no way of telling how many of the reports against judges have merely not been uploaded. The details of the 5,000 online reports are telling none the less.
According to the report, it appears many complaints are not ever investigated. The allegations listed turn into a dead end as far as action against the judge.
For the most part, the lack of follow-up on the court documents in just a start of the problem. The judge in question is not ever listed, so it does not become a matter of public record.
The lack of information related to the suspect in each case it odd. This is not a standard part of any other type of case; the defendant is usually one of the most accessible pieces of the case information to find.
Because the complaints are lobbied in an internal system, the punishment for any of the abuses also seems to be lacking at best. In some cases, the unnamed judge may face “sanctions” without the victim being told what they are.
Since many complaints received no real follow up, most go without any sanctions. Even though there are on average over 1,000 complaints each year against judges, there are many years where not even a single judge was formally sanctioned.
In the 12 months before September of 2016, there were 1,303 complaints filled. Of those filed, only four were turned over for further investigation. The investigation is handled by the Administrative Office of the US Courts.
These same dismal numbers were also found in 2015. A total of 1,214 reports turned into four going on for further investigation via the Administrative Office of the US Courts committee.
Going all the way back to 2006, most years saw fewer than ten total cases going to the committee for review. There is no one really taking much care of responsibility to listen to the complaints and act accordingly.