U.S. Court Officials Defend Lack of Transparency And Sexual Harassment Protections

James C. Duff

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.


One thought on “U.S. Court Officials Defend Lack of Transparency And Sexual Harassment Protections”

  1. I’m so surprised that over the past number of years, when the topic of sexual harassment, rape, and abuse has been in the forefront of public consciousness, no one (except me) has mentioned Darcy O’Brien’s incredible book, Power to Hurt. O’Brien was a terrific writer, an Edgar Allen Poe Award winner, who published a number of acclaimed books, including Murder in Little Egypt and Two of a Kind: The Story of the Hillside Stranglers, as well as books about his Hollywood upbringing. But in 1996, he published Power to Hurt, a horrifying non-fiction about a judge in rural Tennessee who was a serial rapist. It’s an amazing story about a powerful family – one brother was the judge, another the District Attorney — that ruled over the law and skirted the law for years and years. Power to Hurt is a must read for anyone interested in this topic, as well as a must read for any general aficionado of true crime.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *