Alex Kozinski, the powerful judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit who was facing a judicial investigation over allegations that he subjected women to inappropriate sexual behavior, announced Monday that he would retire effective immediately.
In a statement provided by his lawyer, Kozinski apologized, saying that he “had a broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike” and that, “in doing so, I may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace.”
He added, “It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; this was never my intent. For this I sincerely apologize.”
Kozinski, 67, said that although family and friends had urged him to stay on, “at least long enough to defend myself,” he “cannot be an effective judge and simultaneously fight this battle. Nor would such a battle be good for my beloved federal judiciary. And so I am making the decision to retire, effective immediately.”
As a federal appeals court judge, Kozinski was appointed for life and did not report to any higher authority, although he could be impeached by Congress. The inquiry he was facing could have led to his being reprimanded, asked to retire or blocked from taking new cases for a period of time, but his judicial colleagues could not by themselves have forced him from the bench.
Kozinski's retirement will almost certainly end that investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter and the rules governing judicial misconduct complaints. That could potentially prevent more unflattering revelations from becoming public.
He stepped down in such a way, too, that allows him to collect retirement payments, a person familiar with the matter said. A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts declined to comment on whether it was possible the inquiry could continue in some fashion.
The retirement occurs just days after The Washington Post reported that nine more women had accused Kozinski of making sexual comments to them or of other conduct, including four who said he touched them inappropriately. That story followed an earlier report in The Post, which detailed the allegations of six women, including former clerks who said Kozinski showed them pornography in his chambers.
After the first report, the chief judge of the 9th Circuit initiated a review of Kozinski's conduct, and the case was assigned Friday to the 2nd Circuit Judicial Council.
It was not immediately clear what would happen to the legal matters to which Kozinski is assigned. "One or more" of Kozinski's clerks had resigned after the allegations against Kozinski became public, a court official has said. President Trump, who has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct, will nominate a successor.
Kozinski was appointed to the 9th Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and over time became one of the most well-known federal appeals court judges in the country. He served as chief of the 9th Circuit from 2007 to 2014. He often wrote colorful opinions and, unlike many of his colleagues on the bench, did not shy from media appearances.
During a trademark dispute between the toy company Mattel and the record company that produced the 1997 song "Barbie Girl," Kozinski famously quipped in a written opinion: "The parties are advised to chill."
In 1991, he joined an opinion that decided sexual harassment cases should be judged from the perspective of the victims, using what was then called the "reasonable woman" standard. The opinion by Judge Robert R. Beezer noted, "Conduct that many men consider unobjectionable may offend many women." Beezer died in 2012.
Many of Kozinski’s clerks went on to prestigious clerkships with the Supreme Court, and they are now scattered at premier posts in the legal industry. But some said there was a darker side to working for the judge. He demanded his clerks work into the wee hours of the morning, and three former clerks who talked to The Post said he showed them explicit images, not in the context of any legal case, in his chambers.
One former clerk, Heidi Bond, who worked for Kozinski from 2006 to 2007, said the judge called her into his chambers at least three times to show her pornography, asking her if it was digitally altered or if it aroused her. Bond said Kozinski also showed her a chart that purported to depict women with whom he and his college classmates had sexual relations.
"When this happened, I felt like a prey animal — as if I had to make myself small," Bond wrote in a first-person account of her interactions with the judge. "If I did, if I never admitted to having any emotions at all, I would get through it."
Another woman, Emily Murphy, who clerked for a different judge in the 9th Circuit, said Kozinski talked about her working out naked when she and other clerks were discussing training regimens. When the group tried to change the subject, Murphy and others present said, Kozinski kept steering the conversation back toward the idea of Murphy exercising without clothes.
“It wasn’t just clear that he was imagining me naked,” Murphy said, “he was trying to invite other people — my professional colleagues — to do so, as well. That was what was humiliating about it.”
After The Post published those and other women's accounts, Kozinski told the Los Angeles Times, "If this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried." A week later, The Post reported on the allegations by nine more women, including four who said the judge touched or kissed them inappropriately. Those women were not just former clerks, but law students, a professor and a former judge whom Kozinski knew or encountered at events. Two published their own firsthand accounts.
The earliest of the allegations was from the mid-1980s. Retired U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge Christine O.C. Miller said that around early 1986, Kozinski grabbed each of her breasts as the two rode back from a function in Baltimore, after she declined his request that they stop at a motel and have sex.
But The Post’s story also detailed more recent accounts. University of California at Irvine law professor Leah Litman, for example, alleged that at a dinner this year, Kozinski talked of having just had sex and pinched her side and her leg, just above the knee, with his thumb and middle finger. She said he also tried to feed her with a utensil.
In his most recent statement, Kozinski said he had mulled whether it was time to “move on” a couple years ago, as he reached the age when several colleagues decided to retire or take senior status — a form of semi-retirement where he would hear fewer cases. A person familiar with the matter said he is not taking senior status, but instead retiring outright.