It has been virtually two months since I submitted a Statement for the Record for the March 17, 2022 House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing, detailing my private expertise of harassment and retaliation by a former DC Superior Court decide. Back once I was a legislation clerk, I may by no means have imagined how my clerkship expertise would inform my advocacy work now.
I made a decision to clerk as a result of I hoped it will launch my profession as a prosecutor. However, starting simply weeks into the clerkship, the decide for whom I clerked started to harass me and discriminate in opposition to me based mostly on my gender. He would throw me out of the courtroom, telling me that I “made him uncomfortable” and he “just felt more comfortable” with my male co-clerk. He informed me I used to be “bossy,” “aggressive,” “nasty,” and “a disappointment,” and that I had “personality issues.” The day I discovered that I handed the DC Bar Exam, he referred to as me into his chambers and informed me, “You’re bossy! And I know bossy because my wife is bossy!” I can not keep in mind a day throughout my clerkship when I didn’t cry within the toilet at work or cry myself to sleep.
The decide finally ended my clerkship early, telling me that I “made him uncomfortable” and “lacked respect for” him however he “didn’t want to get into it.” He didn’t approve of the truth that I didn’t conform to office gender stereotypes—as a result of I used to be assertive, assured, and voiced my opinions. When I reached out to Human Resources (HR) for the DC Courts, they informed me there was nothing they may do as a result of “HR doesn’t regulate judges” and that “judges and law clerks have a unique relationship.” They requested me, “Didn’t I know that I was an ‘at-will employee?’” They refused my requests for a reassignment.
I reached out to my legislation college for help and help. I discovered that the decide had a historical past of misconduct, and that a number of professors and directors had been conscious of it on the time I accepted the clerkship.
One yr later, I accepted a place with the DC U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO)—a job I had been working towards since I began legislation college 5 years earlier. Two weeks into coaching, the USAO alerted me that the decide had made adverse statements about me throughout my background investigation. I used to be informed that I “would not be able to obtain a security clearance” and that my job provide was being revoked. I used to be devastated. One week later, the USAO additionally canceled a beforehand scheduled interview for a special place, based mostly on the decide’s identical adverse reference. I used to be solely two years into my authorized profession, and the decide appeared to have limitless energy to trash my status and destroy my profession.
I filed a proper grievance with the DC Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure (CJDT), the regulatory physique for DC judges. I participated within the investigation of my former supervisor. I found that judicial regulatory our bodies are set as much as shield misbehaving judges, not mistreated legislation clerks—however that’s not uncommon, when the misbehaving decide’s mates and colleagues are those deciding whether or not to self-discipline him. There aren’t any efficient safeguards to forestall the kind of mistreatment I skilled, nor are there actual treatments out there for mistreated clerks.
The former decide has since been “involuntarily retired” from the DC bench, for causes aside from mistreating his clerks. While I’m relieved that he can now not abuse his place of energy, this looks like inadequate punishment, contemplating the injury he has accomplished to my life.
I now spend my time writing, talking, and advocating to forestall harassment within the judiciary. I’ve been pressured to grapple with my complicated feelings surrounding clerkships—together with whether or not I feel legislation college students ought to clerk, contemplating the unregulated surroundings of a judicial chambers.
Early in my legislation college profession, I spotted that I needed to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) on the DC USAO. I selected to clerk in DC Superior Court as a result of that’s the jurisdiction by which DC AUSAs apply. The decide for whom I clerked was a former AUSA himself. At least considered one of my professors made calls on my behalf to assist me safe the clerkship. I knew legislation college rankings had been affected by the variety of college students who secured judicial clerkships, and that my legislation college was incentivized to encourage me to clerk. But clerking appeared like a great profession transfer. It would provide me a crash course in trial lawyering and judicial decision-making. My legislation college instructed me to simply accept the primary clerkship I used to be supplied, so I did.
Unfortunately, as extra tales about judicial misconduct have come to mild, so too have revelations that legislation colleges are conscious of the scope of the issue. However, legislation colleges both push college students to clerk for notoriously misbehaving judges, as a result of the clerkships are so prestigious, or they dissuade girls and minorities from clerking for sure judges, thereby foreclosing essential skilled alternatives.
While legislation colleges are at present a part of the issue, they are often a part of the answer. I’m working productively with legislation colleges on some urgently wanted reforms. These embrace inside databases the place alumni can report on their clerkship experiences, in addition to follow-up protocols to examine in with alumni as soon as their clerkships have ended. I additionally hope to conduct a pilot program within the fall, contacting the previous 10 years’ value of legislation clerks from numerous establishments, to manage small-scale office tradition assessments. These modifications will assist allow potential clerks to keep away from misbehaving judges. All legislation colleges ought to implement these reforms.
When college students from my alma mater contact me searching for recommendation about clerkships, I provide interview ideas and steerage. However, it feels flawed to enthusiastically encourage college students to clerk. Clerkships could be useful experiences, and so they can foster lifelong skilled connections. Yet judicial chambers are workplaces conducive to harassment, and mistreated clerks have restricted avenues to report misconduct or search assist.
The federal judiciary is at present exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it distinct even from Congress. The Judiciary Accountability Act (JAA) (H.R. 4827/S. 2553) would start to deal with the shortage of office protections within the federal judiciary. The JAA would lastly allow judiciary staff—together with legislation clerks and federal public defenders—to sue their harassers and search damages for hurt accomplished to their careers, reputations, and future incomes potential. The JAA would additionally revise the judicial grievance course of, create a confidential reporting system and standardized Employee Dispute Resolution (EDR) plan, and require the judiciary to gather and report some information on judicial complaints, office tradition, and clerkship hiring.
Congress ought to cross the JAA this yr. However, we additionally want a tradition shift within the authorized occupation. It shall be fairly a leap to go from the present panorama—the place legislation clerks don’t file complaints in opposition to judges as a result of they concern retaliation by the decide or reputational injury—to a spot the place legislation clerks really feel comfy suing their Senate-confirmed former supervisors.
The authorized group deifies judges and dissuades legislation clerks from talking out in opposition to them. We are taught in legislation college that judges deserve absolute respect and whole deference. Speaking out in opposition to a decide can value a legislation clerk her present job, her status, and even her total authorized profession. Furthermore, establishments—together with courts, judicial regulatory our bodies, authorized employers, and even legislation colleges—shield misbehaving judges, not mistreated clerks. There are extra crooked judges on the bench than the authorized occupation would care to confess. Current information factors seize solely a fraction of the judges partaking in misconduct, since legislation clerks not often file formal complaints.
Few former clerks are prepared to talk brazenly about their adverse clerkship experiences. This wants to vary. By discouraging clerks from speaking concerning the harassment we skilled, the authorized group sends a message that mistreated clerks must be ashamed of what occurred to them. We ought to imagine and affirm legislation clerks, and we must always encourage everybody—no matter their identification—to carry their full selves to work, together with to a judicial chambers.
Until we are able to successfully handle the issue—by stopping harassment within the judiciary, eradicating extra harassers from the bench, and punishing judges who mistreat their clerks—legislation colleges and attorneys ought to cease pressuring college students to clerk. A judicial clerkship ought to now not be one of many required “check boxes” for a authorized job. Furthermore, legislation colleges ought to cease purveying the harmful message that candidates should settle for the primary clerkship they’re supplied.
My story about judicial misconduct shouldn’t be uncommon. I hope extra former clerks will really feel empowered to inform the reality about clerkships. We owe it to the following era of attorneys to make sure that their workplaces are protected, and we must always take forceful steps to make sure that misconduct within the judiciary is now not tolerated.
Aliza Shatzman is an legal professional and advocate in Washington, DC, who writes and speaks with regards to stopping harassment within the judiciary. Follow her on Twitter @AlizaShatzman.