by Patricia G. Barnes
When questioned by members of a House Committee, representatives of the U.S. Judiciary Tuesday defended its refusal to “live-stream” federal court proceedings and rebuffed questions about the continuing problems of sexual harassment by federal judges with lifetime tenure.
James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO), appeared before the House Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, to request approval of a budget of $99.8 million for his office in Fiscal 2020-2021.
At a hearing that was live-streamed, Subcommittee Chair Mike Quigley. D-IL, asked Duff why audio and visual live-stream recordings are prohibited in U.S. District Court proceedings, when they are widely permitted in state court proceedings across the country.
Duff said the AO conducted a pilot program that found in more than 90 percent of cases “at least one of the parties” said they didn’t want the case publicized.
The parties don’t want U.S. District Court proceedings televised – AO Director James C. Duff
“I suppose if you took a poll of people in state courts nobody would want their proceedings televised,” said Quigley. “This isn’t warm and fuzzy good news but it is an important part of what we do as a government.”
Quigley added that “as a chief justice wrote, sunshine is the best of disinfectants.”
Duff also was questioned about the judiciary’s handling of a case of serious sexual harassment by U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia of Kansas. He was issued a “public” reprimand and returned to the bench. In the ensuing uproar, Judge Murguia announced earlier this week that he will resign effective April 1.
U.S. Rep. Norma Torres, D-CA, said she is “extremely” concerned that Judge Murguia committed “not one but multiple acts of serious judicial misconduct, including sexually harassing an undisclosed number of victims, an undisclosed number of times.”
She said it is “troubling … no one came forward,” noting the victims were afraid. She asked why other judges on the Kansas court failed to report Murguia’s behavior. “If they didn’t come forward I have to question whether they were also parties to that harassment,” she said.
What barriers remain that discourage victims from reporting sexual harassment? – U.S. Rep. Norma Torres
Torres said the episode raises “moral and ethical” issues. “We have a responsibility to our employees to protect them … What barriers still exist that are discouraging victims?” she asked.
Duff said the judiciary shares Torres’ concerns and recounted efforts adopted by the Judicial branch last summer to address sexual harassment. He said the AO is crafting a response to another House Committee’s questions about its handling of Judge Murgia’s case.
Senior U.S. Judge John W. Lungstrum of Kansas, who accompanied Duff at the hearing, said he works on the Kansas court and that other judges had no knowledge of Judge Murgia’s misconduct. “It was an absolute shock to the judges that this had occurred,” he said.
Judge Lungstrum added that Judge Murguia will not receive a pension or other benefits when he leaves the Court on April 1.