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November 01, 2018 INTRODUCTION

Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Courts

By Marla N. Greenstein

Court systems hold themselves to the highest ideals: fair, impartial, accessible. But courts are also workplaces and places where individuals from all walks of life engage with each other. A court workplace may be a bustling urban environment or an isolated space with a handful of employees. The judges in any given court location may be a diverse group of individuals representing a variety of culture and background or appear to be a fairly homogeneous group of similarly situated people.

Articles in this issue range from the personal reflections of successful women legal professionals to policy reforms that attempt to directly address workplace harassment. The personal reflections look back at a time when there were few women judges and complaints of workplace harassment were largely ignored. All emphasize the fundamental need to treat everyone in the workplace with dignity and respect.

As I write this introduction, the additional hearing addressing allegations of attempted sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has concluded and the final vote deferred for one week. Women are recalling their own personal experiences, many from years ago, that were triggered by the issues raised and the various responses by those involved. The haunting questions of who to believe are heard differently by those accused than by those who are the accusers. Our life experiences inform our assessment of what is a most likely truth.

But those life experiences cannot limit us from being open to others’ truths. The June 2018 Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group found that the courts, like other employers, are not receiving reports of harassment, in part because the victims of harassment are not confident that action will be taken or their interests protected. Fundamentally, employees are reluctant to report harassment because they are not sure they will be believed and fear retaliation, either directly or indirectly. The report also noted the special obstacles that exist for law clerks who develop personal bonds with the judges they work for, often in very close work settings.

It is our hope that by addressing these issues directly in this Judges’ Journal, judges, legal professionals, and court employees all can participate in a meaningful discussion. Our courts strive daily to provide justice and exhibit the highest ideals of fairness and integrity. It is essential that the women who participate at every level in the courts are heard, protected, and respected. 

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Marla N. Greenstein

Marla N. Greenstein is the executive director of the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct. She is also a former chair of the ABA Judicial Division’s Lawyers Conference. She can be reached at [email protected].