Top appeals court judge steps down after accusations of sexual harassment

Days after at least 15 women alleged they were subjected to his inappropriate sexual conduct or comments, a prominent U.S. appeals court judge announced his retirement Monday.

Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a statement that a battle over the accusations would not be good for the judiciary. He said he’ll step down, effective immediately.

The Washington Post reported last week that the allegations — including inappropriate touching and lewd comments — made against Kozinski go back decades.

Kozinski said while speaking in a “candid way” with law clerks, “I may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace,” the statement said. “It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; this was never my intent.  For this I sincerely apologize.”

Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told the Post that the judge talked about having just had sex and pinched her side and leg at a restaurant the night before they appeared together on a panel at her school in July.

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Christine Miller, a retired U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge, said Kozinski grabbed her breasts during a car ride in 1986 after a legal community function in the Baltimore area. She said it came after she declined his offer to go to a motel and have sex.

In this July 24, 2014, file photo, then-Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Alex Kozinski poses for a portrait in the lobby of a Washington office building.

In this July 24, 2014, file photo, then-Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Alex Kozinski poses for a portrait in the lobby of a Washington office building. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

A lawyer who was not identified said Kozinski approached her when she was alone at a legal event in Los Angeles in 2008 and kissed her on the lips and gave her a bear hug with no warning.

The newspaper said the woman’s husband confirmed the incident and said the couple didn’t think they could do anything because of the judge’s position.

The Post reported last week that six former clerks or more junior staff members accused Kozinski of inappropriate behavior, including showing them pornography.

Kozinski, 67, was chief judge of the 9th Circuit, the largest federal appeals court circuit in the country, from 2007 to 2014. He is known for his irreverent opinions, and his clerks often win prestigious clerkships at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 9th Circuit has opened a misconduct inquiry that was transferred Friday to the Judicial Council of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Kozinski’s retirement leaves five seats open on the 9th Circuit, with two more judges already having announced their intention to retire next year. That gives President Donald Trump potentially seven seats to fill on the largest and most liberal appeals court in the country.

Even if all those judgeships are filled, however, Democratic appointees still will maintain a healthy majority on the court with 17 of the 29 seats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.