Too Hot to Handle: The Legal Accountability Project’s Aliza Shatzman Takes the Challenge
In recent years, we have seen a range of high profile individuals toppled from the pinnacles of many professions due to their harassment and bullying of colleagues in the workplace. There are few public arenas where well known leaders have not been exposed for terrorizing and exploiting others dependent on them for jobs and career advancement. From entertainment to academia, from news media to elected officials, predators have been unmasked often to long overdue consequences. These predators have victimized others abusing their power to target colleagues. As more so-called “leaders” are exposed, there is one notable group that continues to evade exposure and sanctions – the judiciary. Unlike most other fields, judicial officers at the state and federal level are largely exempt from the legal restraints and consequences that others might face for engaging in conduct that is discriminatory, harassing or retaliatory. The lack of oversight and structural framework to ensure that judicial employees are protected against misconduct, has dire consequences for newly minted lawyers who endure a hostile work environment.
I believe the vast majority of judicial officers conduct themselves and run their workplaces within the bounds of propriety. This is not an indictment of the courts or those who serve on them admirably. But it takes just one to stray from those bounds towards a novice colleague for the damage to be severe and career shattering. Currently, there are not adequate systems in place to provide clerkship applicants with meaningful information about workplace culture in judicial chambers nor are there procedures to ensure transparency, due process and impartiality in evaluating claims. One courageous woman reported abusive behavior by the judge for whom she clerked, resulting in the loss of opportunity to pursue her desired career path. Rather than wallow in her disappointment, she has taken up the mantle to publicize the problem of judges who cross the line and to seek concrete measures to protect others. Her goal is to increase transparency surrounding judicial clerkship experiences and ensure fair mechanisms and due process for those who lodge complaints against judges for misconduct.
This may be a Sisyphean struggle, but Aliza Shatzman, founder of The Legal Accountability Project, is up for the challenge. It is not how she expected to apply her legal education, but she is hoping to spare others her ordeal. Rather than characterize Ms. Shatzman’s experience, I urge you to read it in her own words as she presented them in testimony to the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, “Workplace Protections for Federal Judiciary Employees: Flaws in the Current System and the Need for Statutory Change” on March 17, 2022. Ms. Shatzman devotes her energies to the Project’s mission “to ensure that law clerks have positive clerkship experiences, while extending support and resources to those who do not.” There are four principal pillars to the organization’s mandate: (1) Transparency; (2) Accountability; (3) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and (4) Empowerment.
Among other efforts, Ms. Shatzman advances these objectives by enlisting law school leaders to support information gathering from their alumni about clerkship experiences so that current and future law graduates can be better informed about the potential challenges of serving as clerks. In addition, she is working diligently to support legislative reform on the state and federal level so that law clerks are better protected against workplace issues. These efforts will not only enhance the experience for prospective and existing law clerks, but will also benefit law schools, judges, and the courts generally as one bad experience can taint our perception of the judiciary. If you would like to support these efforts, you can contribute via the Project’s website. In addition, the Project urges those who have had judicial clerkships to share their experience with potential future clerks by completing the post-clerkship survey.