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Federal Circuit Court Judge Resigns Over Sexual Harassment

Federal Circuit Court judge resigns over sexual harassment

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.

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The first woman worked in a junior role closely with the judge at the Parramatta registry in Sydney.

Following her sexual harassment complaint, Chief Judge Alsergren ordered an inquiry headed by three former judges.

They found that in 2020 the judge emailed her repeatedly in addition to making 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 to make a complaint is a former law student who came forward in September.

She said Judge Harman sexually harassed her too.

Allegations substantiated

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.


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Reckoning for legal profession

Employment lawyer Stephen Dryley-Collins from Sexual Harassment Claims says the legal profession is currently 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 takes place into complaints made by five different women.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing more allegations 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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