It’s rare for a federal judge to be hit with a public reprimand, but Judge Carlos Murguia in Kansas received just that for sexually harassing employees, carrying out a years-long affair with someone convicted of a felony that made him “susceptible to extortion” and frequently arriving late to court because of lunchtime basketball games.
The Bill Clinton appointee who has served on the bench since 1999, gave unwanted attention to judiciary employees through “sexually suggestive comments,” text messages and frequent late-night, non-work-related contact, according to an order issued Monday by a panel of seven judges.
“All of the harassed employees stated that they were reluctant to tell Judge Murguia to cease his behavior because of the power he held as a federal judge,” reads the order written by Timothy M. Tymkovich, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
A Kansas City native and University of Kansas graduate, Murguia was the first Hispanic person to be named to the U.S. District Court of Kansas. The son of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in the Argentine community and had a law practice there after getting his law degree. When his sister was appointed to the U.S. District Court of Arizona in 2001, the two became the country’s first brother-sister pair to serve as federal judges, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.
In a statement provided to the Kansas City Star, Murguia offered an apology to his victims, staff and family.
“I also apologize to my colleagues on the Court, all of whom I very much respect, as well as my former wife, Ann, and our children, my family, my friends, and the public,” the statement says. “I regret that I had an inappropriate relationship with an acquaintance who was on state court probation.”
Murguia’s reprimand comes two years into the #MeToo movement that forced a reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace. His trouble began when a complaint was made in August 2018. Tymkovich appointed a special committee that launched an “extensive investigation,” hiring an investigator, conducting interviews with 23 people and holding a hearing in which Murguia testified under oath.
The committee found that the “preferential treatment and unwanted attention” the judge gave to female employees violated the federal judiciary’s code of conduct, which forbids all forms of harassment.
Also problematic, the committee said, was Murguia’s relationship with a “drug-using individual” who was at the time on probation and is now behind bars. The order notes that while that a judge’s sexual affair does not always rise to that level, Murguia “placed himself in such a compromised position that he made himself susceptible to extortion.”
Last, the committee also faulted him for years of habitual tardiness for court proceedings and meetings, which forced attorneys, parties and juries to wait on him. Often the cause was Murguia’s regular lunchtime basketball games, which took place even when he had hearings or trials. The judge had been counseled about his tardiness early in his career as a federal judge, the order said, but continued to show up late.
“Judges have a duty to maintain the integrity and propriety of the Judiciary and to ensure that the public has a positive view of, and experience with, the Judiciary,” the order says. “Judge Murguia’s actions fell well short of these obligations.”
Murguia could have been reprimanded privately. But the panel of judges decided his conduct was “too serious” and the importance of maintaining the integrity of the judiciary “too important” to keep the matter under wraps. So they instead chose the public rebuke — the most severe form of discipline available to them — since Murguia’s actions did not rise to the level of being impeachable.
The order notes that Murguia admitted to engaging in the three forms of misconduct. He also apologized and promised his behavior would not continue. But it also says he was “less than candid” with the special committee, failed to fully disclose the extent of his wrongdoing and often admitted to allegations “only when confronted with supporting documentary evidence.”