Former Clerk Alleges Sexual Harassment by Appellate Judge

WASHINGTON — A former clerk to Stephen R. Reinhardt, a prominent liberal appellate court judge who died in 2018, told a congressional committee on Thursday that he “routinely and frequently” sexually harassed her and other female clerks and raged against the #MeToo movement, contending that women lodging allegations of rape and abuse against men should not be believed.

Detailing her experience working for Judge Reinhardt in 2017 and 2018, Olivia Warren, the former clerk, testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee that Judge Reinhardt openly commented on his female clerks’ physical appearances and on her sexual relationship with her spouse.

In one instance, Ms. Warren testified, Judge Reinhardt instructed her to analyze which of the two female candidates competing for a clerkship “had nicer or longer legs” and was more attractive. More frequently, Ms. Warren said, he would disparage her physical appearance and speculate — sometimes in front of other employees — that her husband “must either lack a penis, or not be able to get an erection” in her presence because she was so unattractive.

“There may have been a day in which I was not harassed,” Ms. Warren said. “But I cannot remember one after searching my memory.”

She was called to testify as part of a hearing on protecting federal judicial employees from sexual discrimination and other types of workplace misconduct. But Ms. Warren’s account also complicated the legacy of a renowned federal judge who was once called “the liberal bad boy” of the federal bench by The Weekly Standard: “ideological, outlandish and never dull.” It was the latest instance of allegations of sexual harassment or abuse by a powerful man from a female subordinate who described feeling afraid and professionally trapped in a situation beyond her control.

“I was scared,” Ms. Warren, a graduate of Harvard Law School, testified on Thursday, “scared of offending the judge and alienating his powerful network of clerks, scared of ending my legal career before it had even begun, scared that the judge would exact revenge on me.”

She said she had tried without success to find a way to report Judge Reinhardt’s conduct, informing members of the Harvard Law School administration, including the dean, about her experience and later approaching the federal Office of Judicial Integrity. But ultimately, she said she could not find a confidential way to formally lodge a complaint.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement Thursday that “no judiciary employee should suffer the kind of harassment described by former law clerk Olivia Warren today” and that the court system was taking her testimony “very seriously.”

“We are committed to addressing this new information and continuing to refine our processes and procedures for protecting our employees and addressing misconduct,” the statement said.

Harvard Law School could not immediately be reached for comment. An attempt to reach a member of Judge Reinhardt’s family for comment was also unsuccessful.

Nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Reinhardt struck down as unconstitutional Proposition 8, the California ballot referendum barring same-sex marriage; the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance; and laws prohibiting doctor-assisted suicide. Each of those decisions was reversed or vacated by the Supreme Court, but liberals celebrated them nonetheless.

In her testimony, Ms. Warren described Judge Reinhardt as hostile to the #MeToo movement and “always” casting doubt upon allegations of sexual misconduct, based on his belief that “women were liars who could not be trusted.”

She said the judge was enraged by the scrutiny of Judge Alex Kozinski, a prominent conservative who also served on the Ninth Circuit as an appeals judge, until he stepped down in 2017 after being accused of subjecting his female clerks to routine sexual harassment. Multiple female clerks accused him of asking them to view pornography in his chambers and making lewd remarks directed at them.

The bombshell allegations against Judge Kozinski “became a regular focal point of our lunches and broader discussions with the judge, which often tended towards the graphic and profane,” Ms. Warren said, and added that Judge Reinhardt told her that he intended to publicly confront one of Judge Kozinski’s accusers.

The accuser, Leah Litman, now an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Law School, identified herself on Twitter after Ms. Warren’s testimony. She corroborated her part of the account, writing that Judge Reinhardt in fact had publicly confronted and insulted her about her accusations.

“Even though a lot of people on Twitter will express support for you when you come forward with an accusation like this, a lot of people — including very powerful and admired people — will be angry with you,” Ms. Litman wrote. “They will demean you and undermine you in ways you can see and ways you cannot. That is part of why it is not fair to say it is the responsibility of the person who is subject to harassment to do something about it.”

Ms. Warren told lawmakers on Thursday that she was motivated to tell her story about Judge Reinhardt in the hope that future abusive conduct could be properly addressed. She did not intend to “erase his significant contributions to the law,” she insisted, but felt it was necessary to speak out.

“The harm and pain that sexual harassment causes, and the aggravation of that harm when victims have no recourse and feel they cannot say or do anything about it, has long-term costs to the profession,” she said.

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