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Extending Title VII to Federal Judicial Employees | Aliza Shatzman

Judicial clerkships have traditionally served an important role in helping attorneys transition into practice and learn from experienced judges and practitioners. But the power imbalance between judge and clerk and the cloak of confidentiality surrounding judicial proceedings sometimes puts clerks in bad situations. Further, employment laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do not apply to the judicial branch. Aliza Shatzman, Co-Founder and President of The Legal Accountability Project, talks to Jody Sanders and Todd Smith about how she’s working to change that. Aliza advocates throughout the United States for passage of the Judiciary Accountability Act (JAA), which would extend Title VII to federal judicial employees. She also is working through the Legal Accountability Project to collect and provide clerk-based reporting of clerkship experiences in a database available to law students. Join us for a discussion with Aliza about how changes to the clerkship process and judiciary can improve the clerking experience.

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Extending Title VII to Federal Judicial Employees | Aliza Shatzman

Our guest is Aliza Shatzman, who is the Founder of The Legal Accountability Project. Aliza, thanks so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me on the show.

If you would start maybe give our guests a little bit of background about you and your path into the law.

I graduated from Williams College in 2013. I took a couple of years to intern and then work on the Hill. I went to law school and graduated from Washington University School of Law or WashU in St. Louis in 2019. During law school, I realized that I wanted to become a prosecutor. I did four different internships in Department of Justice components to get a breadth of experience. After graduation, I decided to clerk in DC Superior Court during the 2019 to 2020 term, intending to launch my career as a Homicide AUSA in the DC US Attorney’s Office.

If you don’t mind, take a little diversion and talk a little bit about the DC courts because they’re a unique animal in the judicial system.

The DC courts are Article I courts, which means they were created by Congress. Other Article I courts that folks might have heard of are bankruptcy courts, tax courts, military, and veterans courts. The DC courts were created by Congress in 1970. It’s the same year the DC Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure was created to regulate them. DC judges are unique in that they are Senate-confirmed for a fifteen-year term, then they are subject to reappointment by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure.

The issue with the DC courts is that it’s unclear whether judges are subject to and law clerks are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. I have spoken with Fed courts experts who believe that Article I judges and Article I courts are similarly exempt from Title VII the way the Article III federal judiciary is. I became engaged on the issue of judicial accountability and also on the issue of extending Title VII protections to the DC courts based on my personal experience.

Before we get too far into it, will you talk a little bit about Title VII? When you say Article III and Article I courts are exempt, what are we talking about here?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the Landmark Anti-Discrimination Law that extends workplace protections to employees. It protects employees against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace. When that law was passed in 1964, all three branches of the federal government were exempt from those protections. Government employees could not sue their harassers under Title VII and seek damages for harm done to their careers, reputations, and earning potential.

In 1995, pursuant to two different laws, Congress extended those protections to itself under the Congressional Accountability Act and to the executive branch under the Executive and Personnel Accountability Act. At that time in 1995, the judiciary was enormously opposed to becoming regulated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. To this day, judiciary employees cannot sue their harassers and seek damages.

The distinction between Article III and Article I courts is Article III judges are the life-tenured federal judges we think of and most folks clerk for. Article III of the Constitution extends, creates, and regulates those courts. We also have these Article I courts, and those judges do not have life tenure. They have 14- or 15-year terms. Some are Senate confirmed. Some are not.

Some are regulated by the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, which is the federal process by which a litigant and attorney or a law clerk can complain about a federal judge, and some are not. There are some unique challenges with these Article I courts, but it’s an under-addressed issue. People aren’t aware that these judges have a lot of the same protections as Article III federal judges, and further regulation is necessary for the Article I courts as well.

Until I saw this issue come up a few years ago, I was not aware that Title VII didn’t apply to federal courts. It’s probably a surprise to a lot of people that those protections don’t translate over.

It’s surprising to folks outside the legal community, but within the legal community there’s an understanding. The judiciary even says this about Title VII, “This would affect judicial decision-making or threaten judicial impartiality.” Those arguments have never made sense to me. They are very hollow arguments. Title VII has nothing to do with judicial independence or judicial decision-making.

Title VII is about the protections for employees to ensure that judges are treating everyone, including their law clerks and judiciary employees, with respect in the workplace. It is distinct from judicial decision-making. I’m concerned that the judiciary continues to throw out these types of arguments and attempt to confuse people and conflate issues that are distinct.

Who advocates the judiciary’s argument for lack of a better description? Is it the judges themselves commenting when these issues come up or is there an organization that the judges are part of that speaks for them?

The Judicial Conference of the United States is a national policy-making body for the federal courts. There’s also the administrative office of the US courts that does some policy-making and makes public statements as well. Over the past few years, the judiciary has also created a workplace conduct working group with a couple of judges at the helm who also make some public statements. Individual judges rarely make statements on these issues.

It’s interesting as I’ve been speaking with individual judges. What judges say to me privately is that they support increased judicial accountability. It’s a disproportionate sample because the folks who respond to my emails and inquiries are more friendly to me and to these issues. What they say in terms of public statements is that they can’t comment because this is an issue that could come before the courts.

It’s interesting because now in the Fourth Circuit, there’s a judiciary employee suing making due process arguments because federal Public Defenders are also exempt from Title VII. That is an issue where it is before the court now. That judiciary employee had to seek some inner circuit reassignment in order to get judges who she was not suing to hear her case.

You mentioned Article III judges are exempt. Is there any similar movement or focus on Article III as well or is all the movement in this area in Article I?

person carrying briefcase

Extending Title VII: There is an enormous power disparity between life-tenured or at least Senate-confirmed judges and fresh out of law school clerks who are totally dependent on their judges for references and career advancements.

The majority of the movement is focused on Article III judges. In my personal capacity, not related to the nonprofit I founded, my personal advocacy is based on Article I judges and DC courts judges but when folks think of clerkships and judges, they think of the Article III federal judiciary. The life tenure judges can only be removed by congressional impeachment. The Judiciary Accountability Act, legislation that would extend Title VII protections to the federal judiciary, is focused on the Article III federal judges. One Article I court, the Court of Federal Claims, is covered. I’m advocating that all Article I courts judges should be covered under the JAA.

Let’s talk a little bit about the JAA. It’s not a brand new statute. It’s been around a little bit, hasn’t it?

It was introduced in July 2021. The Judiciary Accountability Act, or the JAA, that’s H.R. 4827 in the House and S2553 in the Senate. It would extend Title VII protections to federal judiciary employees, including law clerks and federal public defenders. It would do some other important things as well. It would create real judicial accountability by amending Title 28 of the US Code to redefine judicial misconduct to include discrimination or retaliation. It would also specify that if a judge retires, resigns, or dies, a misconduct investigation into them won’t cease.

It would standardize employee dispute resolution or EDR plans within all the circuits. It would create a confidential reporting system for law clerks who are not ready to file a complaint but they need to confide somewhere so they could go there. The third thing is it would impose some data collection, requirements on the federal judiciary. The judiciary has been notoriously unwilling to conduct a workplace culture assessment or release hiring data for law clerks or federal public defenders. It would mandate that they collect and report data annually on those issues. It would also require them to disclose some more data on the outcomes of judicial misconduct complaints.

By adding to the definition of judicial misconduct, it would also deal with judicial discipline processes in addition to the Title VII component?

That’s correct. It would make some changes to the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, not enough but some. Redefining judicial misconduct to include discrimination and retaliation is a huge step. Folks are surprised to learn that it does not already.

It seems like the clerkship relationship in particular is one that creates a lot of difficulties for the clerk because you’re in a unique position. You’re working for a very powerful person who doesn’t have upward accountability. You don’t necessarily have a place where you can turn. I can see where a lot of the movement has come from former clerks who described their experiences.

To the extent that former clerks are willing to speak publicly, which is rare. When I talk about clerkships, I like to explain that it is a workplace that is particularly conducive to harassment and mistreatment. There is an enormous power disparity between life-tenured, or at least Senate-confirmed, judges and fresh-out-of-law-school clerks who are dependent on their judges for references and career advancements.

A judicial chamber is 1 or 2 law clerks, perhaps the judicial assistant and the judge working behind closed locked doors for long hours and under stressful circumstances. There is no oversight over these judges in terms of their day-to-day dealings with their clerks. That makes it enormously difficult to speak out even in the face of outrageous mistreatment. There are very few even internal courthouse processes by which a law clerk can complain, seek assistance, and seek reassignments. It’s a particularly dangerous and unregulated workplace.

In some of the things I’ve read about this, there’s also the barrier of chambers confidentiality that adds a whole other layer on top of the lack of accountability.

There is. The judiciary has taken some pains to clarify in recent years that confidentiality does not mean that a law clerk cannot raise misconduct complaints. They have done a good job of clarifying that. There’s still the legal community’s expectation of confidentiality, which is something different. There is a culture of silence in the legal community that deifies judges, disbelieves law clerks, and tells them, “It is not worth coming forward. You will not be believed. Your complaint will likely be dismissed. Your career and reputation will be destroyed.” We are taught since law school that judges can do no wrong and that a judge’s word goes. That’s a dangerous myth that’s being purveyed and what I’m trying to combat by sharing my story and advocating on these issues.

How has the Judicial Accountability Act been received? Is there any forecast on its likelihood of success?

Judges who I speak to privately understand that the Judiciary Accountability Act is not going away. There is an increasing groundswell for change. When we talk about judiciary leadership, I mean the Administrative Office of the US Courts, the Judicial Conference of the United States, and even the workplace conduct working group. Judiciary leadership opposes the JAA. They think it would create intrusive oversight and at the Third Branch, the judiciary can self-regulate. Historically, they have not been able to self-regulate. That argument always troubles me.

Some judges agree with the idea of increased judicial accountability. Some judges are fine with extending Title VII protections to themselves and their employees. In terms of the outlook on the legislation, it has under 25 co-sponsors in the House, and fewer than 10 in the Senate now. There was a House judiciary hearing, which I participated in in March of 2022. I’m hopeful, there will be a Senate hearing on the bill as well. This is an issue that needs sustained attention. That is why I’m out there speaking publicly, sharing my story, and talking about these issues. It is time to extend Title VII protections to the judiciary. It’s time to extend workplace protections to judicial branch employees.

What was the impetus besides folks like you speaking out about the issues that would be resolved by the JAA? Was there already a groundswell that had started? Who picked up the ball and ran with it when it came to getting this legislation underway?

The Washington Post broke the story about former Judge Kozinski’s misconduct in 2017. Soon after that, the Judicial Conferences Workplace Conduct Working Group was formed to study these issues. They have released several interim reports since then, making some hollow changes to the employee dispute resolution or EDR plan and proposing a few other things that are never going to happen.

In February of 2020, Olivia Warren, a former clerk for the late Judge Stephen Reinhardt, testified along with some other folks before the House Judiciary Committee. After that, the bill began to take shape. It’s been a few years since then. The working group is some more hollow reports and this legislation was proposed in July of 2021.

When I talk about some of these issues, I’m careful to say, as I’m speaking with a lot of law school officials and other folks. They say, “When we heard about the Kozinski story from the Washington Post in 2017, that is when we decided to make changes.” It’s important to remember that Kozinski did not begin harassing his clerks in 2017. He’d been committing misconduct for decades as have many judges who used to be on the bench or judges who are on the bench now.

We need to think about this as a long-term issue. There are so many decades worth of former clerks whose lives and careers are destroyed by judicial misconduct. It is beyond a five-alarm fire at this point. It is beyond the urgent time for a change. This bill needs to be passed now. This issue needs sustained attention now. We can’t only talk about judicial misconduct when there is a flashy House or Senate hearing, or when new legislation is proposed. It needs sustained attention.

Besides applying Title VII to the judiciary, are there specific remedies that the JAA provides?

person sitting in office working on computer

Extending Title VII: EDR is the internal workplace mechanism by which a law clerk can seek reassignment to get away from his or her misbehaving judge.

It also standardizes employment dispute resolution or EDR plans. EDR is the internal workplace mechanism by which a law clerk can seek reassignment to get away from his or her misbehaving judge. It would standardize those EDR plans because what we see is that the judiciary says, “Every courthouse has EDR. It’s working great,” but when I speak to law clerks and judges, I hear, “It is not impartial. It is not confidential.” Judges from the courthouse where the misbehaving judge and the complainant law clerk work are presiding over these processes.

I also talked to judges who say, “I’ve been on the bench for over a decade. I’ve never attended an EDR training.” Those are red flags that EDR is not working so great. It would standardize those EDR plans. It would also create a confidential reporting system for law clerks. It would do some other great things that aren’t getting enough attention as well. Creating an Office of Employee Advocacy would extend some legal assistance to law clerks who want to learn about their rights. It would do a variety of things that are very important.

Data collection and reporting provisions are also incredibly important. We do not know the scope of the problem. We need to quantify the scope of judicial misconduct. That is the first step toward crafting effective solutions. Judiciary leadership continues to claim that harassment and retaliation are not pervasive in the federal courts. Anecdotally, I know that to be untrue. Law clerks reach out to me every single day to confide in me and share their stories. They say they will never speak publicly but they’re sharing with me.

I hear these fact patterns. I’m incredibly troubled because a lot of them follow the same general fact pattern, which is, “My judge says that I am a poor performer and I’m not dedicated to the clerkship but they won’t give specifics.” In addition to the fact that mirrors some of my experiences during my clerkship, I remember the judge I clerked for saying those things to me and not giving specifics but my story is not about mistreatment during my clerkship. It’s also about retaliation and a long-term negative relationship that can occur between a misbehaving judge and a mistreated law clerk.

As I’m hearing these stories from law clerks, I’m concerned that it’s a breeding ground for a longer-term negative relationship. Even after the law clerk has ended their clerkship, the judge can continue to give negative references and badmouths the clerk in the legal community. There are serious unaddressed issues. I’m glad that in recent years, we’ve begun to talk more about the retaliation aspect of judicial misconduct.

It’s something that doesn’t get enough attention. It’s not just judges mistreating clerks during their clerkships. It’s what happens next. It’s the fact that judges had enormous long-term unchecked power over their former clerks’ lives, careers, and reputations. A judge’s negative reference can destroy a law clerk’s career and make them unemployable in the legal community.

One feature you mentioned to the statute is there would be no exemption for a judge who had left the bench. Can you expand on that a bit and explain why that’s important? What are the benefits overall of that provision?

What we typically see for federal judges who are accused of misconduct is they step down. They leave the bench and then the misconduct investigation into them ceases. They can either retire or resign. This is a distinction in the US code. If they retire they can continue to collect their lifetime pensions, committing taxpayer dollars until they die after committing misconduct. If they resign they forfeit their lifetime pension, but now the investigation into their misconduct will still cease. That is how most misbehaving judges accused of misconduct can skirt these misconduct investigations. This is an enormously important provision.

You’ve recently launched the Legal Accountability Project, your nonprofit. Can you tell us a little bit about it? What are your goals and initiatives?

The Legal Accountability Project is a new nonprofit that I launched with my cofounder and WashU law classmate, Matt Goodman. We’re seeking to ensure that as many law clerks as possible have a positive clerkship experience and then extend support and resources to the ones who don’t. We are working on a couple of big fall initiatives that we’re very excited about.

The first one is creating a centralized clerkship reporting database, whereby every law clerk and every current former clerk at every institution will be able to file a report about their clerkship—good, bad, or medium. We want to hear everything. Every current student at the law schools that are participating can read the reports as a way to look out for judges with a history of misconduct.

At this point, I should back up and explain how folks currently look out for misbehaving judges. There is no process now. When law clerks are applying for clerkships, they are encouraged by their law schools to reach out to current and former clerks to get the lay of the land about the clerkship. Historically, this process does not work at all. Law clerks are very hesitant if they’ve had a negative experience to share that information with prospective clerks for a variety of reasons. Few law schools follow up with their law clerk alumni to do a post-clerkship survey or document instances of mistreatment by law clerks.

I’ve been speaking with a lot of law schools. Even for the schools that do compile that information, most of them do not warn students. They say clerk-declared reporting is how we want this to happen, which enables prestige-obsessed law schools to continue funneling students into clerkships with notoriously misbehaving judges. What I am trying to do is centralize and democratize the information so every law student can know the good judges to apply to and the bad judges to avoid.

I want to combat these problematic silo effects whereby a couple of law schools appear to be hoarding information about misbehaving judges that helps nobody. That is our clerkships database. We are also planning to conduct a judiciary workplace culture assessment of both the federal and state judiciaries. This is going to finally quantify the scope of judicial misconduct. It’s going to elucidate data on the types of clerks facing this treatment, as well as the actual availability and accessibility of resources like EDR, JC&D Act, and other sorts of things in their courthouses. We’re going to be sending that assessment out to the past 10 to 20 years of law clerk alumni at various participating institutions in the late fall of 2022.

The third aspect is fall programming. I am going to a lot of law school campuses in the fall. We have a very intense fall travel schedule to share my story and talk about the scope of the problem, some proposed solutions, and the legal accountability project initiatives. I speak with law student orgs every day and they are excited to bring myself and my cofounder to their campuses. They understand these issues are unaddressed and are excited to talk about them.

We’re going to be announcing our law school partners. We’re excited about that. For some of our more recalcitrant administrations, law students and law professors are going to go with us to the administration and demand that they participate and say, “We need these resources, too. We should be protected as well.” We’re excited about the things we’re doing.

You used the words hoarding information. That caught my attention, so I’m going to ask you about that. What’s the dynamic there?

It’s a troubling dynamic. What I see is that few schools even conduct a post-clerkship survey of law clerks’ experiences. The ones that do are fewer than ten schools. A couple of them put them in databases where law students from that institution and that institution only can read the reports. The reports are not capturing the scope of judicial misconduct. Law school deans and administrators concede that because former clerks for a variety of confidentiality and anonymity reasons are hesitant/actively dissuaded by their law schools from filing negative reports into these databases.

The schools that maintain any information at all. When I say hoarding, I mean, this information should be shared with every prospective clerk. If a law school is aware of a judge with a history of misconduct, they should be doing a couple of things. They should be removing that judge from the list of judges to apply to in law school and any internal law school system. They should be warning every student who says, “I’m going to apply to this judge,” not to do so. They should be sharing that information in some centralized fashion like the legal accountability projects database.

Law schools say to me, “We don’t warn students. We think it’s the law clerk’s decision to share their story. If they choose not to, too bad.” That is enormously troubling. I wish that my law school had some database when I was applying for clerkships so I could watch out for my misbehaving former supervisor. I’m troubled by what some law schools are doing.

person looking at cell phone while on laptop

Extending Title VII: Our database is going to be accessible to law clerks, students, deans, and administrators.

I appreciate that they’re very willing to engage with me. They are willing to provide candid assessments of what they think the issues are and whether changes need to be made. The reality is, even for the schools that are doing the post-clerkship survey and doing the internal database, those are not sufficient. Honestly, no school is doing a good job of protecting their students from judicial misconduct.

How is your database going to work? Is it going to allow for anonymous reporting? I can imagine a lot of people probably don’t want to attach their names to a public database.

It’s going to allow for anonymous reporting and we expect that most law clerks will report anonymously.

Is there any process to vet that information or do you use a crowdsourced approach? When you have anonymous reporting from your end, is there any way to vet the veracity of that? Do you rely on the clerks to self-report honestly?

We do rely on the clerks to self-report honestly, but this is important because we do not live in a culture of false allegations by law clerks. We have a culture of gross under-reporting and fear. While I field this question from time to time, I am not worried about law clerks reporting untruthfully. It’s important to combat claims by anyone who thinks there’s a culture of law clerk false reporting.

You’ve explained the reasons why someone wouldn’t come forward and report falsely. There’s a complete disincentive to do that it seems.

Yes.

You mentioned some institutional partners for your workplace survey. What have the responses to your work been like from the judiciary at various levels and institutions?

I have had productive conversations with a couple of folks from judiciary leadership and lots of individual judges. The individual judges are privately supportive of the work that I’m doing. I talked to state court judges that say, “I am regulated by Title VII and doesn’t affect me at all.” I talked to federal judges who ascended from the state court benches and they say there’s nothing about me that became super special when I received life tenure such that I should be exempt from Title VII.

Some federal judges have said to me, “I didn’t even realize that I was exempt from Title VII.” Individual judges are somewhat supportive of the work that I’m doing. The ones who respond to my inquiries and speak with me are more supportive than the ones who ignore my messages. I’m not opposed to working with judiciary leadership to the extent that we can work productively. I’m happy to, but I’m certainly not waiting on them. The Workplace Conduct Working Group has floated the idea of a workplace culture assessment.

They took that language from the Judiciary Accountability Act, which mentioned it first. We are not waiting on them. We are not holding our breath. If they want to conduct one as well, that’s great. We should have multiple orgs collecting this type of data. What we see in terms of a workplace assessment is the judiciary has done a couple of internal ones that were for internal purposes only. They were not supposed to leak. Occasionally, the Washington Post will leak such a survey and what we see as an enormous data mismatch between what leadership claims is happening and what’s actually happening.

In our assessment, we are planning to report all of the results publicly. They will be accessible to law clerks and the public. It’s enormously important to shine a public spotlight on these issues. In terms of law schools, they have been very supportive. They’ve been very willing to engage with me. We have not announced our partners yet, but we are excited by the receptiveness to our initiatives. One of the things law schools like about the centralized database is that it takes the onus off them. They do not need to look through the reports. They do not need to judge the veracity of the reports. They don’t need to decide because there are judges who are conflicting reports about them.

One law clerk had a terrible experience. One had a great experience. They don’t need to decide, “Do I provide students with both the reports or neither report?” They like that we’re maintaining this. Our database is going to be accessible to law clerks, students, deans, and administrators to the extent they want to read the reports. It’s not publicly accessible. Judges won’t be reading it. Reporters won’t be reading it. We will be verifying that these are students or alumni who are creating accounts and filing reports.

To your point, there’s this prestige thing that makes a disincentive for law schools to monitor this stuff. It’s good that you’re doing it centralized.

I’m always worried that law schools are prioritizing the prestige of the clerkship over a positive experience. That’s something. I’m not out there dissuading students from clerking. Clerking can be a valuable experience. It can be a crash course in trial lawyering. It can create a lifelong mentor-mentee relationship, but it’s a problem when law students are just unwittingly working in hostile work environments.

If you accept a clerkship thinking it’s going to launch your career, and you end up being driven from the legal profession, which is a waste of a law clerk’s training and talents. It is a bad look and a loss for law schools to spend three years training these students, investing in them, and perhaps they’ve given them scholarships. It’s a loss for everybody when we allow these misbehaving judges to continue committing misconduct. It is a cycle of abuse that needs to be addressed.

I would imagine it’s to the benefit of a lot of the judges, too, who can maybe see some of these things from their colleagues and have to work in that same environment recognizing that there’s not a whole lot they can do about their colleagues. It’s to a lot of their benefit to have this accountability.

Judges who are not committing misconduct should support the JAA because it would raise the bar on workplace civility. The other aspect of this is judges need to be engaging in those difficult conversations with their colleagues. If they see someone engaging in misbehavior, it’s about pulling your colleague aside. We know that historically, judges are not willing to do that. I’ve had judges tell me things like, “Judges will protect each other until the bitter end. Our reputations are everything.”

Those are some of the more troubling conversations I have, but it’s about having those difficult conversations. There are state bar rules like in DC. Rules 2.14 and 2.15 talk about DC judges reporting on another judge’s misconduct or poor health. What we see is that those rules are not followed. Perhaps, some changes to the US Judges Code of Conduct might be necessary as well to address this.

man and woman standing beside each other talking

Extending Title VII: We really need to stop the cycle of misbehavior by encouraging law clerks to speak out by empowering them to file complaints.

What can people that are interested in helping with this issue do to further it?

There are a couple of things. They can go to our website, which is LegalAccountabilityProject.org, to sign up for more information. They can also donate to us. That’s very helpful. In terms of the JAA, if you are moved by my story and others like it, you should call your member of Congress and your senators and ask them to support the JAA.

The other issue and one of the Legal Accountability Project’s longer-term goals is that law clerks seeking judicial accountability going through the EDR process and filing a formal complaint need legal representation. Attorneys are historically unwilling to take on those cases for reputational reasons. If you are an employment attorney, you should contact me. I can connect you with law clerks seeking legal representation. Ultimately, we hope to create an employment attorney database to connect law clerks with attorneys who can help.

That’s an impressive amount of organization and effort that’s gone into all this. I certainly respect and admire what you’re doing on this. It is beneficial that you’ve had positive feedback from members of the judiciary who objectively would be affected by this, in the sense that they’re exempt from Title VII now, but would not be if the JAA is pushed through. Shining that light on the situation and having other folks who are in that class speak positively about it to you must be encouraging.

Judiciary employees, including law clerks, are not asking for any special protections. They are asking to be protected under Title VII like other government employees and employees of private businesses. It’s a particularly dangerous workplace, but we’re not asking for special protections. We’re just asking for the basics here.

You’re doing a lot of great things and moving a lot of initiatives that aren’t quite out there yet. What would your advice be for people that are either considering clerking, about to start a clerkship, or maybe you’re even in a clerkship and are dealing with some of these difficulties?

If you are clerking and experiencing mistreatment, it is so important to stand up for yourself, document everything, take notes, confide in other people, and keep track of who you’ve confided in. You should file an EDR complaint and a JC&D complaint, seek legal assistance, and reach out to me. I can connect you with those folks. It is so important for law clerks to stand up for themselves.

This might be hard for some people to hear. I’m very sensitive to fears about reputational damage and retaliation based on my personal experience. If you are harassed by your judge and you do not file complaints, if you do not document that, the judges that are harassing you will harass other former clerks. We need to stop the cycle of misbehavior by encouraging law clerks to speak out by empowering them to file complaints.

It’s enormously difficult and it feels like various forces are stacked against law clerks now, but I hope that through my work and the work of other organizations we can make some positive changes to protect the next generation of law clerks. It’s about ensuring for our young attorneys that their workplaces are safe and they’re free from discrimination and harassment. We should be encouraging everybody to bring their full selves to work because no one, regardless of their identity or personality, ever deserves to be harassed in the workplace. It’s about ensuring that everyone has a safe place to go to work every day.

Aliza, this is a difficult and uncomfortable topic. I want to say that you’ve shown a lot of courage in speaking out about it. As you’ve made clear, you’re personally affected by it. I admire that courage in speaking out, going forward, and trying to do something to prevent others from having to deal with the situation that you were unfortunately put in. Thank you for approaching us and coming to the show to talk about what you’re doing. It’s super interesting to keep an eye on the JAA and see what happens with it. We wish you the best of luck with the Legal Accountability Project going forward.

Thank you.


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About Aliza Shatzman

Aliza Shatzman is an attorney and advocate based in Washington, DC who writes and speaks on the subject of judicial accountability. Aliza was born and raised in suburban Philadelphia. She earned her BA from Williams College in Williamstown, MA in 2013 and her JD from Washington University School of Law (WashU Law) in St. Louis, MO in 2019.

At WashU Law, Aliza was an Associate Editor for the Journal of Law & Policy. Throughout law school, Aliza interned at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Office of Vaccine Litigation; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Counterterrorism Section of National Security Division. Following law school, Aliza moved to Washington, DC to clerk in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DC Superior Court), intending to launch her career as a homicide prosecutor in the D.C. federal prosecutor’s office.

In March 2022, Aliza submitted a Statement for the Record for a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about protecting judiciary employees from harassment, detailing her personal experience of harassment and retaliation by a former DC Superior Court judge. Since then, Aliza has been writing and speaking widely about protecting law clerks from harassment, publishing in a variety of forums and appearing on various podcasts.

Aliza’s writing on the subject of judicial accountability has previously appeared in The NYU Journal of Legislation & Public Policy – Quorum, Above the Law, Law360, Ms. Magazine, Slate, and Balls & Strikes. Her law journal article with Volume 29 of the UCLA Journal of Gender & Law, entitled “Untouchable Judges? What I’ve learned about harassment in the Judiciary, and what we can do to stop it,” argues that the DC Courts should be covered under the Judiciary Accountability Act (HR 4827/S 2553). Aliza has also appeared on numerous podcasts, including Pro Say (Law360), The Jabot (Above the Law), The Takeaway (WNYC), Ipse Dixit, NYU LawsFlaws, and In Depth (KYW).

Aliza’s forthcoming scholarship, arguing that law schools should be required to collect and report data on law clerk alumni’s negative clerkship experiences as a condition of their ABA accreditation, will be published this summer. Aliza’s research interests include covering the DC Courts under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, the legal community’s role in preventing retaliation by judges against clerks, and DC-specific policy changes to address deficiencies in the DC Court system and DC’s judicial regulatory body. Aliza can be found on Twitter at @AlizaShatzman.

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