The Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability has released a memorandum on the Carlos Murguia misconduct investigation, and far from putting the issue to rest, it exposes the shameful and uneven handling of numerous complaints against the District of Kansas judge.
Not only did the memorandum fill in, with great detail, the extent of Murguia’s four-year pattern of misconduct, which was longer and more insipid than we knew about before, but it also laid bare the awful system currently in place for dealing with complaints.
The current process gives a chief judge – both at the district and circuit level – far too much leeway to investigate, ignore or even cover up complaints. That’s exactly what happened in the Tenth Circuit.
First, in 2016 the now-former chief judge of the District of Kansas decided that “informal” measures would be best to handle Murguia’s harassment. Informal measures can be an important way of improving a workplace or correcting certain behavior, but they are not always an appropriate substitute for an official process. Informal methods are particularly concerning if the victim is not included in the process or satisfied with the remedy – an open question based on yesterday’s memorandum.
Then, in 2017, the chief judge of the Tenth Circuit, Tim Tymkovich, conducted his own investigation into Murguia after he learned of further misconduct. His methods were suspect, to say the least. He relied on circuit staff, who may or may not have any qualifications to investigate, a former FBI agent and other taxpayer resources that are hard to track (p. 4). Only then did he decide to bring forward a formal complaint and appoint a special committee. The ad hoc process wasted precious time and resources when the initial underlying misconduct itself could have triggered the formal complaint process.
Next, Tymkovich authored and released what we now know is an incomplete, misleading Judicial Council order addressing the misconduct complaint against Murguia. His order provoked more questions than it answered. Should he have recused due to his prior involvement in the complaint? Why were key details on both the timeline and extent of misconduct left out? All the while, Murguia was allowed to remain in the courthouse where most of his misconduct took place.
It was not until four members of the House Judiciary Committee asked Tymkovich, District of Kansas Chief Judge Julie Robinson and AO Director Jim Duff about the Tenth Circuit order last month that appropriate action was taken. Since then, the extent of Murguia’s misconduct has been brought to light and he has announced his imminent resignation.
Absent congressional intervention, Murguia may have remained on the bench until his 65th birthday in 2022, which would have allowed him to collect a taxpayer-funded pension for life.
The judiciary cannot rely on pressure from Congress to protect its 30,000 employees. Reform is needed to ensure that proper investigations are completed in a timely manner by professionals, not whichever staff members happen to be handy.
Victims should have the option of requiring a separate circuit to complete misconduct investigations to ensure that a judge’s friends are not able to sweep the complaint under the rug.
Lastly, the entire process must be made more comprehensive and transparent, allowing, of course, for the privacy of those bringing complaints forward. Statement from Gabe:
“This Judicial Conference memorandum may have filled in some blanks in terms of the extent of Murguia’s misconduct, but it once again laid bare the systemic issues in identifying and eradicating harassment that the judiciary has yet to address in a consistent and comprehensive way.
“For example, why did the initial investigation into the judge‘s behavior take place outside of the judicial conduct and disability process? Why were circuit staff were roped in? And why did the Judicial Council order in September leave out so many key details about the misconduct? Maybe they’re the ones who should be investigated.
“Overall, the Judicial Conference should be ashamed it took nearly four years from the time the misconduct was discovered until the correct outcome was reached. In order to protect the 30,000 employees of the federal judiciary, they must do better.”