WASHINGTON — A former law clerk said she was repeatedly sexually harassed by the prominent federal judge she worked for, the late Judge Stephen Reinhardt, and that the judiciary's new system for reporting misconduct remains inadequate.
The former clerk, Olivia Warren, said in congressional testimony Thursday that Reinhardt often made disparaging comments about her appearance and expressed surprise that her husband would be attracted to her. She said the judge had a shelf in his office that was reserved for photographs of female law clerks whom Reinhardt found attractive.
She said the judge called her "a stupid little girl" when she expressed her disappointment in Reinhardt's unwillingness or inability to grasp the harm of sexual harassment.
Warren, a Harvard Law School graduate, worked for Reinhardt in 2017 and 2018 until his death at age 87. He was a staunch liberal who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter and served for more than 37 years on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It had been among the more liberal appellate benches until President Donald Trump appointed 10 of its 29 judges since 2018.
Warren now works for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, North Carolina. A yearlong clerkship for a federal judge is a coveted job for new and recent law school graduates.
Warren testified at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee's panel on the courts about protecting employees of the judiciary from harassment and other workplace misconduct. The hearing follows the reprimand of a federal judge in Kansas, U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia, for sexually harassing female employees and having an extramarital affair with an offender.
Reinhardt's wife has also died. An email sent to one of his sons early Thursday was not immediately returned. A before-hours voicemail left with the 9th Circuit in California was also not immediately returned.
Last year, the judiciary revised its codes of conduct for judges and judicial employees to more clearly spell out inappropriate workplace behavior, including sexual harassment.
Under the revisions, judges and judiciary employees have a responsibility to report misconduct. Retaliating against anyone for reporting misconduct is unacceptable.
The changes approved by the policymaking body for the federal court system, the Judicial Conference of the United States, came after more than a year of study and work. The review was prompted by reports of allegations by former law clerks of another 9th Circuit judge, Alex Kozinski, that Kozinski had touched them inappropriately, made lewd comments and shown them pornography.
Kozinski, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, retired soon after.
The allegations against Kozinski enraged Reinhardt, Warren said. Reinhardt told her he planned to publicly confront one of Kozinski's accusers at an event at the University of California, Irvine. Leah Litman, a former law professor at the Irvine campus who said Kozinski had touched her inappropriately, acknowledged Thursday that Reinhardt had in fact publicly insulted her. Litman, who now teaches law at the University of Michigan, was in the audience for Warren's testimony.
Warren said the changes adopted by the judiciary have not removed the barriers that law clerks confront if they want to take the very delicate step of coming forward. She said she received no assurance that her allegations would remain confidential and was stunned that she was told to approach other judges with her complaint.
"Surely there must be some better system than one that requires abused clerks to report their abuse to the courts or the friends and confidantes of their abusers," Warren said.
Jackie Koszczuk, a spokeswoman for the judiciary, said in a statement that the judiciary is taking Warren's testimony seriously. "We are committed to addressing this new information and continuing to refine our processes and procedures for protecting our employees and addressing misconduct," Koszczuk said.