The nomination of Alex Kozinski to be a federal appeals court judge has been yanked from the Senate floor and sent to an unusual second confirmation hearing to deal with allegations that Kozinski is unsuited for the job.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, scheduled for today, will focus on affidavits by several of Kozinski's former employes, who describe him as an abusive boss who frequently mistreated his staff. The hearing will also examine allegations that Kozinski misled the panel in earlier testimony about his record as director of the Merit Systems Protection Board's Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
Kozinski, 35, chief judge of the U.S. Claims Court, is described as a bright and ambitious conservative who hopes to ascend to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California. An immigrant from Romania who came here as a child, he clerked for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and worked as a campaign aide and White House lawyer for President Reagan.
Kozinski's confirmation seemed assured until Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) notified the Republican leadership that the nomination would be debated extensively if brought up yesterday. Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) quickly agreed to hold a second hearing on Kozinski, even though the panel has approved him.
In a letter to his colleagues, Levin said Kozinski "lacks the judicial temperament required for the position . . . . Judge Kozinski has acted intemperately, unfairly, erratically and with a lack of compassion."
Kozinski said yesterday that he stands by his testimony and made no misstatements about his record. "I don't think anything in the affidavits really contradicts what I've said," he said. "There's absolutely nothing to hide . . . . I'd just as soon clear the air."
Kozinski said that "the bulk of people who have worked for me think highly of me. I'm sorry some don't."
Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a private watchdog group, said Kozinski was hostile to government whistle-blowers while running OSC in 1981 and 1982. Although Kozinski was charged with protecting the rights of federal employes, Devine called him "the most effective opponent of the First Amendment in the federal system in the last five years."
Kozinski replied that he considers himself "a First Amendment liberal" and had a strong record of protecting employe rights. But some of his former employes sharply criticized that record in their affidavits.
Former OSC lawyer Horace G. Clark said Kozinski ignored the staff's repeated warnings by filing "the weakest case at the office," a Hatch Act complaint against an employe for allegedly endorsing President Jimmy Carter. Clark said Kozinski misled the Judiciary Committee by saying he had followed the staff's recommendation in bringing the case, which was thrown out of court.
John F. Hollingworth, OSC's former administrative director, said: "I cannot recall a more callous disregard for people than Mr. Kozinski exhibited." He cited such incidents as "demanding that a messenger be fired when one piece of correspondence could not be located" and "issuing a notice of farewell to an employe who had cancer and had not yet finalized plans to leave the office."
Hollingworth said Kozinski humiliated him by ordering him to repair office furniture.
Former OSC attorney Mary Eastwood said Kozinski used multi-colored pens to make "numerous cruel and intemperate comments" about staff reports and that six of the eight most senior lawyers there quit during his tenure.
Kozinski's former press spokesman at OSC, Laura Chin, accused him of "sadistic behavior." Kozinski once chided Chin for failing to change the date for an office picnic, saying in a memo: "You should note that I do not take lightly such foot-dragging in carrying out my instructions."
In a draft memo, Kozinski accused Chin of spreading false rumors and ordered her not to talk to OSC field employes "unless you have specifically cleared the communication with the relevant field office chief." Chin quit the next day.
The committee also plans to examine why Kozinski distributed a radio editorial by right-wing Boston commentator Avi Nelson that defended his nomination. The editorial said GAP "is sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies . . . a revolutionary group hostile to the U.S. and with ties to terrorist groups such as the PLO." Kozinski said yesterday he "wasn't endorsing everything that was in the editorial."
But GAP's Devine said the incident shows that Kozinski lacks the "minimum level of decency" required to be a judge. He said the Institute for Policy Studies has held seminars opposing terrorism and that GAP split off from the group last year.
Kozinski declined to respond to the specifics of the employes' complaints, saying he would answer questions at today's hearing.