ATLANTA – A committee appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia released Friday a report recommending that all Georgia courts implement or revise sexual harassment prevention policies based on best practices outlined in the report. Among its recommendations, the committee also urges that courts “mandate that judges and judicial branch employees participate in sexual harassment prevention training at least once every year.”
Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Judicial Branch of Government, presented the report this morning at a meeting of the Judicial Council of Georgia, the policy-making body of the judiciary that is made up of judges representing all classes of courts. Chief Justice Harold D. Melton created the committee in February 2019 to “encourage each class of court, and corresponding court councils, to establish and maintain policies to: 1) provide every judge and employee with training that addresses the various forms of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, and related intimidation and reprisal that are prohibited by law; and 2) establish procedures for recognizing and responding to harassment and harassment complaints.” Since then, the committee, which is comprised of eight judges representing each class of court in Georgia, has reviewed and evaluated anti-harassment policies from state and federal courts, as well as policies that apply to Georgia’s executive branch of government and others.
The report acknowledges that “the practical realities of how the various classes of courts in Georgia operate – and how the court staffs are employed – currently make it difficult, if not impossible, to promulgate a single anti-harassment policy that applies uniformly to all judges and employees in all classes of court in Georgia.” The committee notes in its report that already, under Georgia’s Code of Judicial Conduct, “judges are prohibited from engaging in harassment and have a duty to prevent court staff and attorneys (among others) from engaging in harassment.”
The ad hoc committee reports that in Georgia, “the majority of courts do not have separate sexual harassment policies that define prohibited conduct and create reporting and investigation processes that judicial branch employees can use if they experience or observe sexual harassment,” while also acknowledging that government entities (such as cities or counties) that employ judicial employees may have policies that apply to them.
The committee also found that “most courts do not conduct regular sexual harassment training for judges and judicial branch employees, although judicial employees may receive training from a municipality or county if they are employed by those government entities.” To aid in the now-recommended yearly training, the committee partnered with the Department of Administrative Services to create a 30-minute video that is available free of charge to judges and judicial employees to learn about sexual harassment prevention.
In addition to the video and the report, the committee developed through its research a comprehensive list of “best practices” for courts to consider when formulating anti-harassment policies. In addition, it anticipates providing model anti-harassment policies for both appellate and trial courts early in the new year.
The committee concludes its report by emphasizing that “Georgia’s judicial branch is committed to ensuring that courts across the state are free of unlawful harassment – including sexual harassment. Judges are ethically prohibited from engaging in harassment, and as leaders of our courts should set the tone for conduct within courthouses across our state.”
To read the full report, please go to the Georgia Judicial Council website and click on “Ad Hoc Committee Report and Recommendation.”