FARGO (AP) - A North Dakota district judge accused of sexually harassing a court reporter told a disciplinary panel Monday that the alleged victim was accurate in her description of several conversations between the two of them but wrong on her interpretation of the relationship.
The North Dakota Judicial Conduct Commission is investigating a complaint against East Central District Judge Wickham Corwin, of Fargo, who's accused of making repeated sexual advances toward court reporter Lisa Plante and treating her poorly at work and elsewhere when he was rebuffed. Corwin has denied the allegations.
Corwin and Plante told the panel Monday that tensions between them began to escalate after a night that began with drinks during an employee gathering at a Fargo bar and ended with a bike ride and nightcap at Corwin's home. The topic turned to office romances, and Plante said she talked about an article she had read on the subject.
"I said, 'That's a bad idea,'" Plante testified.
Corwin, who was questioned after Plante, said the theme of the article was that getting involved with your boss is a mistake.
"I responded that, yes, that's certainly good advice, but I'm not your boss," Corwin said.
Plante said she believed that Corwin, who is married, was proposing an affair and said she "wasn't interested in him that way." At the end of the evening, Plante said, Corwin "hugged me and tried to kiss me." Corwin said the brief encounter "should not have happened" but said it was mutual.
Plante said Corwin continued to pursue an intimate relationship.
"He just wasn't going to take no for an answer," she said.
Corwin testified that he told Plante "at the earliest opportunity" that he never meant to suggest an affair but understood how she took it that way.
"I certainly on the 15th of July created that impression," he said.
The case presented by Brent Edison, a lawyer for the disciplinary board of the state Supreme Court, centered on three statements made by Corwin, which he did not deny. At one point Corwin told Plante that if he was part of a private law practice, he would have taken care of the problem. He later apologized.
"It was just one of those things I just said before I thought about it," Corwin testified Monday.
Corwin acknowledged making two other statements to Plante that included expletives. He told her to "stop being ... difficult" when she refused to go with him to look at accessories for a courthouse bathroom, which he said Monday was inappropriate but "absolutely meant in jest." He also confirmed an encounter in a Fargo grocery store at which time he wished the two of them would "stop treating each other" poorly.
Corwin denied Plante's assertion that he retaliated by making her perform repetitive tasks of typing, usually late in the work day.
"I am guilty of being very meticulous about what I write. That's always been a fault of mine," Corwin said. "I think anyone who's ever worked with me will tell you that I re-edit a lot. I write a lot."
Plante and Corwin have been reassigned within the district and no longer work together.
Ronald McLean, Corwin's lawyer, said in his opening statement that his client might have been too pushy in wanting a "civil, cordial relationship," but it does not qualify as sexual harassment. McLean said "no one else has come forward" to substantiate Plante's allegations and Corwin was never critical of her work.
The hearing is expected to wrap up Tuesday, but a ruling is not expected until later. Possible sanctions included censure by the Supreme Court, a recommendation to limit the judge's duties, suspension, removal or retirement.