SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The sexual misconduct allegations that have cut a swath through Congress brought down a prominent member of the judicial branch Monday with the resignation of Alex Kozinski, a federal appeals court judge known for his blunt and colorful legal opinions.
Kozinski, a 67-year-old member and former chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation's largest federal appeals court, said in a statement that a battle over the accusations would not be good for the judiciary. He retired, effective immediately.
The move came days after the 9th Circuit opened a misconduct inquiry following the first in a pair of Washington Post stories that said 15 women — some of whom worked for him as law clerks or in other positions — accused him of groping them, making lewd comments or showing them pornography.
Kozinski, who was known to have a bawdy side well before his resignation, said that while speaking in a "candid way" with male and female clerks, he "may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace."
"It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; this was never my intent," he said. "For this I sincerely apologize." Federal judges are appointed for life and can be removed only by impeachment by Congress. The 9th Circuit hears cases from nine Western states, including California and Arizona, and has been bitterly criticized by President Donald Trump following rulings that blocked his travel ban against mostly Muslim countries.
Some legal experts said Kozinski's resignation may help the judiciary avoid an embarrassing, drawn-out investigation that would damage its reputation and potentially imperil its independence. "I take him at his word that he probably understood that this could be very detrimental to the federal judiciary and to individuals in the judiciary and his colleagues," said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
It was not clear whether the investigation of Kozinski will continue. An email to a 9th Circuit spokesman was not immediately returned. The son of Holocaust survivors from Romania, Kozinski was appointed to the appeals court in 1985 when he was in his mid-30s by Republican President Ronald Reagan. He has called himself a libertarian.
Clerkships in his office were prestigious, and many of his clerks landed positions working for U.S Supreme Court justices. On the bench, Kozinski was an eccentric. He crammed over 200 movie titles into a 1990 opinion in a lawsuit involving a movie theater chain. In another dispute, he ended one ruling with the words: "The parties are advised to chill."
In another case, he wrote that lethal injection should be scrapped in favor of the firing squad, saying, "Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood."
"If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad," he added, "then we shouldn't be carrying out executions at all." He once maintained a publicly accessible website of pornography, some of which he defended in an interview to the Los Angeles Times in 2008 as funny.
"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he told the newspaper. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life." A judicial investigation at the time concluded that Kozinski showed poor judgment but had not intended for the material to be seen by the public.
He was also accessible. He often picked up the phone at his chambers and was willing to talk to reporters about legal issues or the court. He regularly invited members of the legal community to movie screenings — dubbed "Kozinski's Favorite Flicks" — that he hosted at the courthouse with food and drinks.
As chief judge of the 9th Circuit from 2007 to 2014, he worked to make the court more transparent. Every hearing is now videotaped and can be watched on the internet. Allegations of sexual misconduct have toppled powerful men in Hollywood, media and politics in recent weeks. Three Capitol Hill politicians have announced their resignations: Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.