Top Silicon Valley tech judge hits alt-F4 under cloud of sex-pest claims

Kozinski walks out, blames his 'broad sense of humor' for downfall

Top US tech judge Alex Kozinski has resigned, effectively immediately, amid claims of sexual misconduct.

Kozinski announced his decision Monday, coming after the news on Friday that the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court, based in San Francisco, California, had ordered a formal inquiry into allegations from more than a dozen women that he had behaved inappropriately.

In a statement on his decision to retire, the 67-year-old half-apologizes, saying: "It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; that was never my intent." However, he puts the complaints, made by a wide range of former clerks, down to his "broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike."

Kozinski was accused by six women earlier this month of a range of inappropriate behavior including showing them pornography and asking if it aroused them, to repeatedly suggesting that a female clerk exercise naked, to ogling and making suggestive comments about their bodies and sex lives.

Following those allegations, Kozinski indicated he intended to stay on in his post, noting that "if this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried."

But then came a series of other claims by other women – nine at last count – that included even worse behavior stretching back decades. Retired federal claims judge Christine Miller said that Kozinski had grabbed her breasts during a car ride in 1986 – something she said happened after she refused to have sex with him in a motel.

Then, Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, recounted how Kozinski earlier this year pinched her side and her leg and talked about having just had sex, the night before a panel on which they both appeared. Other women stayed anonymous and recounted having been kissed, touched and hugged inappropriately.

Resignations

Two of Kozinski's law clerks resigned amid the escalating claims, something that likely prompted his statement that he could no longer act effectively as a judge.

"I cannot be an effective judge and simultaneously fight this battle," Kozinski said. "Nor would such a battle be good for my beloved federal judiciary."

As a federal judge, Kozinski is appointed for life – President Ronald Reagan did the honors in 1985 – and can only be removed from office by Congress. However, the inquiry opened into his behavior – which was assigned to the Second Circuit – is in a position to sanction him if it felt it was required.

Kozinski's statement did not address the accusations of inappropriate touching but he did state that he "may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace."

Judgement

Kozinski is a highly regarded judge, especially with respect to his numerous decisions in Silicon Valley legal cases in which he artfully anticipated the repercussions of cutting-edge technology and ruled accordingly. For example, he argued that domain names – in particular, sex.com – were pieces of property that people could own, at a time when lower courts considered them no more than telephone numbers: just a bunch of characters that are assigned and could be taken away.

He was neither fearful of nor a blind advocate for progress in science and tech. He was also renowned for his witty and insightful writings – be they dissents, decisions, or articles for law publications.

Kozinski was born in Romania, and moved with his family – who were Holocaust survivors – to the United States when he was 12. His father ran a grocery store in Los Angeles.

The accusations against Kozinski, however, revived several stories about the judge, in particular when he recused himself from an important case because he was found to be hosting sexually explicit material from the proceedings on a publicly available server. A year after that, he was found to have changed settings on a court's IT systems in order to download pornography.

Following Kozinski's immediate retirement, President Trump will be in a position to appoint his replacement at the critical Ninth Circuit, which decides cases that cover both the technology industry of Silicon Valley, and the entertainment industry of Hollywood. ®

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