San Francisco Court Puts Kozinski Complaint on Hold (Update1)
By Cynthia Cotts
Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) — An ethics committee of the federal appeals court in San Francisco issued an order to stop an investigation of a lawyer’s complaint alleging misconduct by Alex Kozinski, the court’s chief judge.
Cyrus Sanai, a Los Angeles attorney, accused Kozinski of putting pornography on a public Web site and revived allegations that the judge broke into a computer security system in 2001 and disabled porn-detecting software.
The ethics committee, officially the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council, on Nov. 3 directed that Sanai’s complaint be put on hold because “no exceptional circumstances” exist to warrant a transfer to a Philadelphia committee looking into an earlier complaint about Kozinski’s sexually explicit Web postings.
“It’s appalling,” Sanai said yesterday in an interview. “It is a transparent effort to shield Judge Kozinski and the other subjects of the complaint from meaningful investigation.”
Cathy Catterson, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco court, didn’t respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
Robert Heim, a lawyer at Philadelphia-based Dechert who is heading the investigation of Kozinski’s Web postings, didn’t respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
About a dozen of the images Sanai found on Kozinski’s Web site featured naked women, some in sexual activities. In footage supplied to Bloomberg by Sanai, one woman performs fellatio bent over backward, and scores of Asian women ride male partners in synchronized group sex.
The images were intended to be humorous, according to a friend of the judge.
Sanai filed two previous complaints against Kozinski.
The allegations that Kozinski breached court security were raised by Ralph Mecham, former head of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, in a 2007 letter to a federal committee on judicial ethics.
In June, after the Los Angeles Times reported that Kozinski kept sexually explicit material on a Web site called Alex.Kozinski.com, the judge asked his court to investigate. The San Francisco ethics committee transferred the matter to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who assigned the investigation to Anthony Scirica, the chief judge of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia court hired the Philadelphia-based law firms Dechert and Morgan Lewis & Bockius to conduct the inquiry.
At the time, all parties said any related complaints should be investigated in Philadelphia.
Transfer of Complaints
The San Francisco ethics committee informed Roberts in June that “any pending complaints, or new complaints that may be filed, relating to this matter are included in this request for transfer,” according to court papers.
Roberts directed Scirica’s court to rule on “any pending or new complaints relating to the same subject matter” as the June complaint.
The Nov. 3 order raises more questions than it answers, according to Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who specializes in federal judicial ethics.
“Reading the order, there is a strong inference that the Judicial Council made this decision on its own and did not consult the Third Circuit,” Hellman said.
Mecham, the retired court administrator, expressed surprise that the San Francisco committee didn’t forward Sanai’s complaint to Philadelphia.
“I think that’s a direct violation of the chief justice’s directions,” Mecham said yesterday in an interview.
Emphasis added by me. So much for the thorough investigation that I never expected to see happen anyway.