Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sexual Harassment In Courts


We'd like to turn now to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace - what's being called the Me Too movement. At first, we were mainly hearing about entertainment figures who seemed to be taking advantage of the peculiar dynamics of that industry like private meetings in hotel rooms or make-or-break decisions over careers. But, as we've since learned, similar concerns are being raised in other workplaces - even places where you might think the individuals would be well aware of legal or professional consequences. One of those workplaces - the United States judicial system.

Earlier this year, the chief judge of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Alex Kozinski, retired after The Washington Post detailed allegations that he subjected law clerks and other women to inappropriate comments and behavior. Last week, the Senate took up the issue in a hearing to determine the extent of the problem. One witness to testify was Jaime Santos, an associate at the law firm Goodwin Procter and a former law clerk herself. She was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C., to tell us more.

Ms. Santos, thanks so much for joining us.

JAIME SANTOS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: How did you come to find yourself testifying before the Congress about this issue?

SANTOS: It's kind of wild. This all started just because a group of current law clerks asked me to help them write a letter to the Chief Justice asking for the judiciary to take some action to address harassment. This was right after Judge Kozinski was reported in The Washington Post. And, after we started, we wrote a letter. We got about 700 other law clerks to sign the letter and make some recommendations, and then we began working with these working groups that were trying to address the problem in the judiciary. And, you know, five months later, I was testifying before the Senate.

MARTIN: So, you know, of course, I'm going to ask you, did you experience this kind of behavior? And are you aware of - in your peer group, for example - these kinds of allegations?

SANTOS: I am very lucky. I did not experience any inappropriate behavior. I worked for two wonderful judges who treated me respectfully and valued my contributions in chambers every day. But I do know several - I have several close friends who experienced this type of behavior.

MARTIN: And give us a sense of what we're talking about here.

SANTOS: There's a range. There are some people who their judges or their co-clerks made comments about their bodies while in chambers. There were others who were groped or kissed. There were women who were asked sexual questions during job interviews. And what they all had in common is that they were afraid to come forward and report it, or they tried to report it, and they were discouraged from doing so.

MARTIN: Well, in Judge Kozinski's case, for example, it has been reported that it was a quote-unquote open secret.


MARTIN: And I have read that some law professors or former clerks have actually discouraged women from taking clerkships with certain judges. So is that true?

SANTOS: I don't know that from firsthand experience. But I've heard as well that some law professors and law schools have said, you know, this judge is particularly difficult to work for - which can be coded language for something more culpable.

MARTIN: So, for people who are not familiar with your field, can you talk about what effect that this could have on a young woman's career? Because you can see that some people might say, well, that's great. You know, that was an attempt to shield these women from a difficult situation and to sort of protect them. But there's another side to that. Can you talk about that?

SANTOS: Absolutely. So law clerkships are incredibly important for women entering the legal profession. It's not just a notch on your resume. It also gives you a lifelong mentor. It opens doors for your entire career. For some of the most important jobs, like U.S. Attorney, clerking for the Supreme Court, arguing before the Supreme Court - so if women don't have those same opportunities, it could affect them for the rest of their career.

MARTIN: The other thing that I noted in your testimony that you pointed out - that judges aren't just supervisors to law students and law clerks. They're - you used the word demi-gods. Seems a little strong, but tell me about that.

SANTOS: The point I'm trying to make is that when you come out of law school, and you start working for a judge, this is a judge who might have written opinions that inspired you to become a lawyer. And this is somebody who is deciding the rights for the most vulnerable people in the country and for the most powerful. And so it's very intimidating to go into a chambers and work for someone who's used to kind of being the king of his own chambers.

MARTIN: So this isn't a matter of, well, if you don't like this person, go somewhere else. You're saying that there's a dimension of power, influence and visibility in the profession that needs to be understood in thinking about why people might tolerate that kind of conduct.

SANTOS: And a sense of reverence that's difficult to kind of get over - and I also say that law schools have historically told students, you cannot decline a clerkship if it's offered to you. And, often, students might not know ahead of time what the clerkship is actually going to be like. And so when you start off your career by being told, you can't decline this opportunity, that kind of sets the stage for how things might proceed later.

MARTIN: That's Jaime Santos. She's an associate at the law firm Goodwin Procter. She testified at a hearing last week to talk about sexual harassment in the federal judiciary.

Jaime, thanks so much for talking to us.

SANTOS: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.