California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who on Tuesday called for an immediate change to court rules that would allow records of sexual harassment and discrimination settlements in the state judiciary to become public. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Greg Moran
Tuesday, April 11, 2018 – 3:15 p.m.

The leader of the state judiciary said Tuesday she wants immediate changes to court rules that now shield information about sexual harassment payouts to judges that would make such information public for the first time.

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said both judicial accountability and the public’s right to know how the courts spend money require the rule changes.

The announcement comes 2 ½ weeks after the Judicial Council, the administrative agency for the state’s sprawling court system, said the judiciary has paid out more than $600,000 to investigate and settle sexual harassment complaints against three judges and two court officials since 2011. It came in response to a request for such information from The San Diego Union-Tribune and two other media outlets.

But the agency did not identify any of the judges or officials, provided no details on the complaints, nor records related to the settlements. Lawyers cited attorney-client privilege concerns and a state rule of court that exempts such information about judges from becoming public.

The court’s stance was in marked contrast to the state Legislature, which has released — after pressure from media organizations and others — information about sexual harassment claims and settlements going back to the 1990s, that included names of the accused and records about the complaints.

In a news release the chief justice indicated the court may go further than the Legislature has gone. It said Cantil-Sakauye wanted the new rule to cover records of settlements related to both sexual harassment and sexual discrimination claims.

Sexual discrimination and harassment are separate legal areas that can cover different kinds of conduct, and there may be far more claims of discrimination than outright harassment.

“I want to make sure there’s no ambiguity as to whether courts should be required to disclose those records now,” Cantil-Sakauye said in the news release. “The current rule does not make it clear enough that these records should be disclosed. Judicial independence relies in part on judicial accountability. The judiciary relies on the trust and confidence of the public it serves, and the public has a right to know how the judicial branch spends taxpayer funds.”

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