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Federal judge resigns after investigation uncovers abusive conduct

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A federal judge in Alaska resigned this week after investigators found he created a hostile work environment for his law clerks. The investigation uncovered an inappropriate sexual relationship with a former clerk and a pattern of deceit. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been reporting on misconduct by federal judges this year, and she is here now to talk more about this case. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK, tell me more about who this judge is and what was going on.

JOHNSON: His name is Joshua Kindred. He was appointed by former President Trump to this job that actually has lifetime tenure. But he only served about four years before he took the rare step of resigning. And here's what we know about why. This comes from a 30-page report that was issued last night by judicial authorities. The investigation found he engaged in unwanted and abusive conduct. He had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a former law clerk, and then he actually lied to the chief judge and others about that relationship.

KELLY: Which I gather set up a situation where the judiciary had to find a way to investigate one of their own?

JOHNSON: Yeah. And this all appears to have started with a tip to the chief judge in the 9th Circuit Appeals Court a couple of years ago. Eventually, the judges created a panel to review him and hired an outside investigator. Eventually, this investigation got 700 text messages. They interviewed a couple dozen people, including nearly all of the judge's current and former law clerks. And the chief judge said last night, the judiciary is actually trusted to self-govern and it must hold its federal judges to the highest standards of integrity and impartiality. Investigators recommended this judge, Joshua Kindred, resign, which he did.

KELLY: What kind of reaction is there to this so far?

JOHNSON: So many ugly details in this report - that the judge had no filter. He was discussing his sex life with clerks, asking them about their relationships. One clerk told investigators she remembered thinking, there's nothing I can do about this, describing what she says was unwanted sexual contact. The judge also texted his clerks about punching multiple Supreme Court justices. And in another message, he said he'd bring Patron, heroin and whippets to a dinner party with clerks in his chambers. I reached out to Olivia Warren, who blew the whistle on a different federal judge years ago. She said for years now, the system does not protect clerks.

OLIVIA WARREN: To the extent that the judiciary says that their reporting mechanisms and the changes they've made are working, there is nothing in this report that suggests that law clerks actually report it.

JOHNSON: In fact, Olivia Warren says it's the opposite. The report says these law clerks suffered in silence because they were afraid the system would not protect them and because judges have too much lasting power over them. She says it's not clear what, if anything, the judiciary did to protect these clerks while this investigation went on for more than a year or what they're doing to help the clerks now.

KELLY: OK. Well, so now that this is out in the open, we said the judge has resigned, left his job. Are there more consequences that may follow?

JOHNSON: There could be. The judiciary is considering whether to refer him to Congress for impeachment. And if he is impeached, that could bar him from holding federal office or getting another federal job in the future. I spoke with Aliza Shatzman, who advocates for law clerks. Here's what she had to say.

ALIZA SHATZMAN: The federal judiciary is now facing a reckoning. I and some others have been poking at them for several years. This is more than six years since former 9th Circuit harasser Alex Kozinski resigned.

JOHNSON: Mary Louise, she says it's time for Congress to weigh in and protect these clerks and other employees.

KELLY: Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

KELLY: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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