Monday, July 16 , 2018, 11:27 pm | Fair 66º


Susan Estrich: The Persecution of a Conservative Icon

Alex Kozinski is a judge, and the former chief judge, of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the biggest circuit and the most liberal in the country. Judge Kozinski, known widely in the legal profession as just "Alex," is a libertarian conservative, a prolific writer and a brilliant man.

I moderated a panel a few years ago with Alex and Steve Reinhardt, the most liberal judge in the 9th Circuit, and it was a wonderful dialogue, full of good humor, strong opinions and mutual respect.

That is Alex. Though I can't count him as a friend (I wish I could), he is someone I do know and respect.

He is also someone who happens to have, in his sense of humor, an apparent fondness for childish pornography. I don't mean child pornography, God knows.

I mean the kind of stuff where you have a deck of body parts and you create a woman, or photos in which some people are naked and some are dressed, but none are having sex. 

It caught up with him in 2008, when the Los Angeles Times somehow got access to his private home server where he kept images of a similar variety that were sent to him. His sin there was not that he ever even visited the sites, or that the images were really shocking, but that he needed a better firewall to maintain his privacy.

There was a full investigation, and Judge Kozinski apologized for the embarrassment he had caused by maintaining an email list to send private joke emails.

At the time, I was told, clerks were called and asked if they had ever had uncomfortable experiences with the judge, but that got nowhere.

A clerkship with Judge Kozinski is a prize much sought after, a ticket to do almost anything you want next, often including a Supreme Court clerkship or entree to any law firm or public interest institute.

But the real prize is the chance to literally work alongside a great and powerful judge, to see the cases from his perspective, to understand exactly why he rules the way he does. If you get to clerk with the right judge, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I clerked for two amazing men, and they were probably the best years in my career. I have had a number of students lucky enough to clerk for Alex Kozinski, and they were treated like family when they did.

The Washington Post took on Judge Kozinski last week, and the entire media industry has now piled on. The "gotcha" is based on two on-the-record complaints and four anonymous claims.

The first named clerk, and the focus of the story, says he showed her pornographic pictures like the ones I described above and asked if she thought they were Photoshopped. The other named accuser, who worked for a different judge, said she commented to a group including the judge that she enjoyed working out in the court gym because it was often empty, and he said if that were the case, she should work out naked.

Four other women complained anonymously (for reasons one can understand, given that he is still a sitting judge) of being shown pornographic or similar images.

No rape. No sexual assault. No trading jobs for favors. No forcing women to "put out" to keep their job.

A child of Holocaust survivors, Kozinski is known for appearing on "The Dating Game" as a young man and giving a wet kiss on the cheek (Al Franken-like, I suppose) to the woman who picked him.

Don't get me wrong. I do not think judges or anyone else should be showing pornographic images to those who work for them. I don't think they should make comments — even as a joke — about young women being naked in a professional setting.

I want my daughter, and all our daughters, to work in environments where they can flourish, free of what we — men and women — long accepted as par for the course and never complained about.

My daughter has literally co-founded a group to elect women to office, Project 100, and I could not be prouder. The new generation is complaining loud and clear, and that is the message.

Men need to know and need to stop. But we should take care in bringing men down for conduct that, even if true, does not rise to the level of harassment, much less assault, and happened years ago, and never resulted in a complaint. 

Judge Kozinski denied ever showing pornographic material to his clerks. It is sort of impossible to defend against anonymous accusations regarding things you allegedly showed people years ago.

The most recent incidents in question are at least five years old. Is this really enough reason to persecute one of our most brilliant judges?

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >