UH Law Center Professor Knake offers solutions to curb misconduct in testimony to federal judiciary ethics committee

Professor Renee Knake, the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics at the University of Houston Law Center, discussed methods that would hold judges accused of misconduct accountable at a hearing this week.

Professor Renee Knake, the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics at the University of Houston Law Center, discussed methods that would hold judges accused of misconduct accountable at a hearing this week.

Oct. 31, 2018 - University of Houston Law Professor Renee N. Knake voiced her support for proposed rule changes regarding sexual harassment and other inappropriate workplace behavior to the Federal Judicial Conference Committee on Tuesday in Washington D.C.

"No one should have to endure sexual harassment as a rite of passage in the legal profession," Knake said to the committee members. "Judicial codes of conduct typically focus on fairness, impartiality and public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. These are important, but the goals should be expanded.

"A workplace free from harassment will enhance the public's confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, serve as a model for the legal and other professions, and expand the pool of talented lawyers willing to devote their early years promoting excellent work product in the judicial branch, which is so vital to our rights and liberties."  

Knake, the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics and Director of Law Center Outcomes and Assessments, provided three recommendations that would eliminate sexual harassment from the federal judiciary.

"The Committee should consider a separate provision banning even consensual romantic or sexual relationships between judges and their clerks and other employees," Knake said. "A prohibition like this exists in many academic institutions today." 

Knake's second proposal was a mandated annual and anonymous survey regarding sexual harassment and other misconduct. Knake said the survey should be administered by an independent third party, and sent to all former clerks, even if they previously declined to complete it, and that the results should be made available to the public.

"A transparent survey of this nature would indicate that the judiciary values the reporting of misconduct and create an environment more favorable to reporting," she said. "It would also provide the judiciary information about the pervasiveness of harassment and other misconduct as well as the effectiveness of the reforms proposed here."

In her final suggestion, Knake noted that proposed reforms to the conduct code that address sexual harassment also include civility and other workplace behavior. She suggested that the provisions on sexual misconduct should be handled separately from the other behavior addressed.

Click here to watch Professor Knake's testimony.

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