U.S. House panel pushes judicial workplace reforms with funding measure

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  • House Appropriations Committee, in report, seeks judiciary workplace reforms
  • Panel says judiciary should report to Congress on misconduct

(Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives panel is pushing the federal judiciary to report any misconduct by judges to Congress and spend $1 million to survey employees about their workplaces as part of a $8.6 billion funding package it was considering on Friday.

The House Appropriations Committee in a report accompanying the 2023 fiscal year funding bill said it believes judicial employees "deserve and should expect basic workplace rights that protect them from harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct."

In its report, the House committee said it was directing the Judicial Conference of the United States, the judiciary's policymaking body, to report to Congress within 30 days whenever a judge is found to have engaged in misconduct.

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The committee's report also recommends $1 million be spent for a study exploring how to institutionalize workplace surveys of judicial employees, like one that recently leaked involving district and appellate court judges in Washington, D.C.

The report's language is not binding in the same way it would be if it were in an appropriations bill itself. But agencies, which must justify budget requests annually to Congressional appropriations committees, often take the recommendations into account.

"It is encouraging that lawmakers are continuing to push the judiciary to do a better job responding to misconduct among its ranks," said Gabe Roth of the judicial reform group Fix the Court. "I just hope the judiciary follows through."

The Democratic-led panel's report came amid calls by lawmakers and court reform advocates for the judiciary to do more to protect its 30,000 employees from workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and other misconduct.

While the judiciary has sought to reform how misconduct complaints are handled in the years since the #MeToo movement emerged in 2017, Chief U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and other officials have resisted efforts by Congress to legislate in the area, citing judicial independence.

The judiciary is opposing a bill called the Judiciary Accountability Act that would extend to judicial employees statutory rights against discrimination and workplace sexual harassment that other federal employees enjoy.

In the report, the committee also urged the Judicial Conference to create a centralized website for any misconduct orders issued under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act.

The report said it also expected the judiciary to provide "in-depth access to all necessary data" to the Government Accountability Office, Congress' non-partisan watchdog agency, for an ongoing review of judicial workplace misconduct.

David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the judiciary's administrative arm, said it was "actively engaged with GAO."

Read more:

Judiciary gets more money for security but less than requested in new budget

Ex-judiciary employees describe harassment, discrimination to U.S. House panel

Federal judiciary group recommends reforms to address workplace misconduct

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.