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9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski steps down after accusations of sexual misconduct

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Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski poses for a portrait in his chamber on April 21, 2015 in Pasadena, Calif. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
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LOS ANGELES — Alex Kozinski, a prominent voice on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, said Monday he was retiring immediately in the face of more than a dozen reports of sexual misconduct.

Kozinski, who served more than three decades on the appeals court, faced allegations that he showed clerks pornography, improperly touched women and kept a chart of his college sexual conquests.

The brash, outspoken judge was strong presence on the court. He espoused quirky positions and a sense of humor that delighted some but that in the end he said contributed to his downfall.

The Washington Post first reported the vast majority of allegations against the judge and news of his retirement. Kozinski confirmed he was leaving the bench in a text message to the Times.

He said in a prepared statement that he was retiring because he could no longer be an effective judge. Two of his four law clerks resigned last week as reports of his misbehavior escalated on the Internet.

The 9th Circuit last week called for an investigation into the reports, but it had not yet begun.

Federal judges have lifetime terms and can be removed only by Congress, but the court system can sanction them and try to pressure them to resign.

“I cannot be an effective judge and simultaneously fight this battle,” Kozinski said in a statement distributed by the 9th Circuit. “Nor would such a battle be good for my beloved federal judiciary.”

Though known as a conservative, the Reagan appointee considered himself more a libertarian. He railed against prosecutorial misconduct and wrote a searing indictment of the criminal justice system for a law journal.

He held popular movie nights at courthouses, serving pizza, salad and drinks and showing films that often related to the law. The public was invited as well as court staff.

The Post first reported that a former clerk complained that Kozinski showed her pornography and asked whether it turned her on. She said it did not, and he said it did nothing for him either.

On Friday, the allegations moved from improper conversations to groping. A former law student said he touched her breast and a law professor said he pinched her and touched her leg.

Kozinski was born in Romania, and at age 12 he moved to the United States with his parents, who were Holocaust survivors. His family settled in Los Angeles, where his father ran a small grocery store.

He described himself in Monday’s statement as a “refugee from Communism.”

“I firmly believe that a strong judiciary, free from political pressures, is vital to the preservation of this great nation,” he wrote.

He also apologized for having offended people, blaming his sense of humor and a tendency to speak candidly.

“I’ve always had a broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike,” he wrote.

“In doing so, I may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace. It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; this was never my intent. For this I sincerely apologize.”

His statement did not address allegations of improper touching.

Kozinski was known for playfully planting kisses on the cheeks of both male and female lawyers, an act he saw as funny but that embarrassed or offended some of the recipients.

The Times reported in 2008 that he kept a private server that contained pornographic images and that could be viewed by the public.

Kozinski asked for an investigation into the reports. He was admonished for being careless and damaging the reputation of the judiciary.

Kozinski said he had no idea the server could be viewed by the public and took it offline as soon as The Times revealed it.

Some of his law clerks later told The Post that he had asked them to view the pornographic images in the server.

Several judges on the 9th Circuit, reached last week, refused to comment publicly.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the most liberal member of the 9th Circuit, was among those jurists who declined to comment.

Reinhardt and Kozinski were dubbed “the odd couple” many years ago because they were friends, despite coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum and penning dueling rulings and commentary.

When the Post first reported the allegations two weeks ago, Kozinski insisted to The Times that he would weather the storm and would not resign.

“If this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried,” he said in a telephone interview.

But he sounded more rattled than his words betrayed, and a friend said the growing accusations had deeply upset him and his family.

Kozinski has now joined many other prominent people in a variety of industries — film, journalism and politics — forced to step down because of sexual harassment charges.

President Donald Trump, who has been sued over allegations of sexual misconduct and accused of sexual assault, will appoint Kozinski’s successor.

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