A Federal Circuit Court judge has resigned after an inquiry found he harassed a junior employee and a law student.
Judge Joe Harman was appointed in 2010, and has been on leave since the inquiry began last August.
Chief Judge William Alsergren has subsequently apologised to the two women and praised their courage for coming forward.
Comments, messages and hugging
The first woman was in a junior role working closely with the judge at the Parramatta registry in Sydney.
Following her complaint, Chief Judge Alsergren ordered an inquiry headed by three former judges.
They found that in 2020 the judge emailed her repeatedly and made harassing comments.
His behaviour then escalated to two instances of unwelcome physical touching.
The young woman has been on mental health leave for much of the past year.
The second young woman is a former law student who came forward in September.
She said Judge Harman also sexually harassed her too.
Following its investigation, the Conduct Committee delivered its confidential report in April this year.
“The Committee’s investigation found that, in each case, the complainant’s allegations were substantiated and that the Judge had engaged in conduct towards each complainant that was sexualised in nature and otherwise inappropriate.
“The Committee found that neither the Judge’s medical condition nor his workload could justify or excuse his inappropriate conduct towards either of the complainants.”
Chief Judge Alstergren said the court is “ashamed” that one of its judges engaged in such conduct.
“The behaviour was totally unacceptable and inexcusable,” Judge Alstergren said in a statement.
He has subsequently apologised to both complainants and thanked them for “their courage and fortitude” in coming forward.
Reckoning for legal profession
Employment lawyer Stephen Dryley-Collins from Sexual Harassment Claims says the legal profession is facing a reckoning on sexual harassment.
Last year, an inquiry found High Court Justice Dyson Heydon had sexually harassed six staffers.
Meanwhile, South Australian Magistrate Simon Milazzo has stepped aside while an investigation into sexual harassment allegations involving five different women takes place.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more examples of inappropriate behaviour in the profession, and some of these cases involve those at the very top,” he said.
“Many people in positions of power think they are entitled to engage in unlawful conduct, and believe they can get away with it.
“Everyone has the right to a safe workplace, no matter what industry they’re in.”
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