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Names Of Judges In Sexual Harassment Settlements Must Be Revealed

When public officials use taxpayers' money to settle sexual harassment claims, does the public have the right to know? That question has been on the national stage recently, as previously secret sexual harassment settlements involving members of Congress have been revealed.

Now the question about whether the public has the right to know has come to the California judiciary, and the answer is a strong "yes." The Chief Justice of California, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, is calling for a rule change to make it clear that the public has the right to know when taxpayer funds have been used to settle claims of sexual harassment or discrimination made against California judges and court staff.

In the last seven years, the court system paid more than half a million dollars to settle five claims of sexual harassment, three of which were against judges and two against staff. The California Judicial Counsel, which makes rules and policy for the California court system, revealed this information in March 2018 in response to a public records request by the Los Angeles Times. However, at the time, the Judicial Counsel would not release the names of the judges and staff members who entered into the settlements, saying that would violate attorney-client privilege and its own Judicial Counsel rule.

Now the Chief Justice wants the Judicial Counsel to revise its rule. She said that the public has the right to know how the state's judicial branch spends taxpayers' money. She is calling on the Judicial Counsel to remove any ambiguity from the rule that governs public disclosure in taxpayer funded sexual harassment settlements. The rule is expected to be changed soon.

There is a growing trend for public institutions to be more open about sexual harassment claims. In February 2018, the California Legislature released information about the investigation of 18 complaints of sexual harassment that had been made against State Senators, Assemblymen, including one who resigned last year after multiple sexual harassment claims, an Assemblywoman, and senior staff members. Some of these claims had been kept secret for more than 10 years.

This kind of secrecy is becoming a thing of the past. More and more branches of government, on both the national and state level, are releasing information about sexual harassment claims that had previously been hidden. Especially when taxpayer money is used to pay large settlements, as was the case with the California Judiciary, the public is demanding the right to know what is going on and what their money is being used for. The times are changing. It is not as easy for sexual harassers to get away with what they did, without the public knowing.

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