Professor Arthur Hellman Quoted on Reprimand of Federal Judge for Sexual Harassment
Federal District Judge Walter E. Smith of Texas was reprimanded by the Fifth Circuit Judicial Council for making “inappropriate, unwanted physical and non-physical sexual advances” toward a court employee in 1998. But the Council did not recommend consideration of impeachment. The Texas Lawyer, part of ALM Media, asked Pitt Law Professor Arthur D. Hellman, an expert on federal judicial discipline, for commentary.
Hellman noted the similarity between Judge Smith’s behavior and that of another federal district judge, Samuel B. Kent, who was impeached by the House in 2009. “I think a lot of people will be asking, given the similarity, why they didn’t recommend impeachment [of Smith],” said Hellman.
Hellman offered possible explanations. “First if you go back to the Kent record—that was really awful. That [involved] repeated assaults over several years. … The judicial council may have concluded that [Smith's case] was less aggravated…. [But some people will] say this person should not be on the bench, and unless he resigns the only way to get him off is to impeach him. The Fifth Circuit should have anticipated that and explained why the sanctions are sufficient.”