/ Modified jul 23, 2018 11:17 a.m.

Top Judge: Arizona Courts Step Up Efforts Against Sexual Harassment

Arizona's chief justice ordered a set of policies regarding sexual misconduct, also prompting a review of county-level policies.

Gavel courts justice hero

PHOENIX — Arizona's top judge says the state's court system is stepping up efforts against sexual harassment involving judges and court employees.

An order signed Wednesday by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales adopts policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace, mandates reporting of violations, requires investigations and says judges and court managers must provide educational opportunities about rights and processes.

Also, presiding judges in all 15 counties must review their courts' own county-level policies, Bales said during an interview Saturday.

Some of the newly adopted policy provisions were included in a 1992 policy against sexual harassment, but Bales said that "the cascading reports" in late 2017 of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry and other parts of society prompted a fresh look.

"It struck me that we both needed to revisit that policy and do some broader educational efforts throughout the judiciary," Bales said. He noted that federal and state court systems across the country are engaged in similar efforts. "I think people recognize this is an important issue that needs to be get attention by the courts just as in other places in our society."

Bales said the results of Arizona's review include a broader prohibition on harassment while "giving particular attention to sexual harassment" with an approach generally tracking recommendations by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sexual harassment hasn't been a frequent reason for disciplinary action against judges but there is a need to call attention to the issue, Bales said. "People should know what their rights are and their avenues for relief."

Also, the state court system includes not only hundreds of judges but approximately 10,000 employees, he said. "It's very appropriate to have policies in place for all of them," he said.

Parallel to the steps aimed at the judiciary and courthouse workforces, there's also been a broader effort across the legal profession, Bales said.

That effort had the court's education division and the State Bar of Arizona put on a free webinar on sexual harassment in May.

Despite longstanding bans on sexual harassment, the State Bar's description of the webinar said, "recent headlines, as well as our day-to-day experiences have demonstrated that our laws and workplace policies simply aren't enough."

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