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Cook County Chief Judge Evans Implements Sexual Harassment Training at New Judges School

3/26/2019

March 26, 2019

In the fall of 2017, I wrote an article for the ISBA’s Bench & Bar newsletter about being sexually harassed by a judge when I was a young attorney. I closed the article by stating: “With the Illinois Legislature beginning to undergo sexual harassment training and apparently adopting legislation that would require all elected officials to be so educated, will this apply to the third branch of government? Sign me up as an educator for my colleagues!”

While there is no mandated judicial training on sexual harassment, it is becoming a priority in Cook County.  

Last fall, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans asked Jayne Reardon, Executive Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, and I to provide a sexual harassment training course during the December 2018 Cook County New Judges School.

Judge Evans recognizes that time is of the essence in addressing this important issue. This is especially true considering allegations of bullying and sexual harassment by Cook County judges.

It’s important to identify the continuum of inappropriate behavior. It may start with incivility, progress to bullying and culminate in harassment based on gender, sexuality or other factors.
Judges (and their courtroom staff) need to be equipped to approach difficult situations in a way that ensures those who interact with the judicial system feel heard in an unbiased, respectful and professional manner. Judges also need to make sure that those who work in the judicial branch feel that they have a respectful and inclusive workplace.

Jayne and I set out to design an interactive and engaging course that provides judges with practical strategies for dealing with sticky situations on the uncivil, bullying, sexual harassment continuum.

Through our preparation, we learned of two sexual harassment policies that govern judges in Cook County. One is from the Cook County Chief Judge’s human resources department and the other is from the Illinois Supreme Court.

Based on our research, we chose specific learning objectives for the new judges. These included identifying behaviors that constitute incivility, bullying or sexual harassment; implementing strategies to challenge and address those behaviors; and cultivating an inclusive work environment. 

The course also explored what’s happening at the federal level. In January 2018, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts established an eight-member working group to assess issues of sexual harassment in the judiciary. A report was delivered to the Chief a mere six months later.

The report outlined factors that can decrease the risk of employee harassment and increase the chances of misconduct. These include “power disparities,” methods used for judicial discipline and the judicial decision-making process, which requires a high degree of confidentiality.

On March 12, 2019, the Judicial Conference of the United States approved workplace-conduct reforms in the judiciary aimed at protecting privacy, avoiding retaliation and clarifying the obligation to report misconduct.

We then analyzed the policies that govern Cook County judges, as well as the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act, among other pieces of policy guidance. These policies outline whom to notify in the event of harassment, initial steps to be taken and how to report and investigate an incident.

Jayne and I also trained judges on the importance and leverage of acting as an ally. An ally is someone who recognizes their position of power and uses it to promote, advocate, defend or help someone in their profession who doesn’t hold the same power. For example, an ally tells a female colleague about the “locker room talk” of his male colleagues, tells them to knock it off and reports their behavior to the appropriate authority.

Those of you who know me may know that I enjoy singing. Whenever possible (and appropriate), I sing a bit when I make a presentation. During the New Judges School in December, I couldn’t resist singing a few bars from “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” At that time, the holiday song was becoming controversial for its lyrics, which today may insinuate acts of domestic violence. Songs are a good way to maintain folks’ attention. This one was no exception. It got our students thinking.

If you’re a judge, we look forward to “getting you thinking” about the implications of sexual harassment at EdCon 2020 or at a fall 2019 session of the Cook County New Judges Training. Jayne and I will present again on the continuum of incivility to sexual harassment. We hope you’ll join us.

For those who aren’t judges, please know that we’re trying our best to create a more civil and inclusive environment for the practice of law.