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Published July 10 2012

Cass County judge reassigned after sexual harassment allegations

FARGO – An investigation into sexual harassment allegations by a court reporter against Judge Wickham Corwin resulted in him being reassigned to a team that doesn’t include the woman, according to court officials and an 83-page report on the probe.

Corwin told investigators that while he hoped to have an affair with the woman, who he kissed at his home after a bicycle ride together two years ago, he didn’t intend to start the affair right away and she misunderstood his intentions.

What he claimed were his repeated attempts to talk to the woman to clear up the matter – including closed-door meetings in his chambers and one conversation recorded in a courtroom – were characterized by her as an attempt to frighten and intimidate her because she didn’t go along with his advances.

“While Judge Corwin did not intend to threaten (the woman) or make her work environment uncomfortable, his actions had that effect,” the report concluded.

The State Court Administrator’s Office investigated the matter and submitted its findings in a March 14 report to the state’s Risk Management Division because of the potential for a future claim against the state. Under North Dakota’s open records laws, the report became accessible to the public 90 days after it was filed.

The Forum is not identifying the court reporter because she has not filed a lawsuit against the state or a formal complaint with the state Judicial Conduct Commission. In fact, the report says that she was initially reluctant to speak with investigators, saying “she knew from the beginning that this would lead to trouble for her and she was prepared to fight for her job.”

The allegations surfaced in January after Corwin raised issues about the reporter’s work during her biennial performance review, claiming she was refusing to do the typing he requested and that the tone of her emails was insubordinate.

A search of email records by the Judicial Branch’s IT department unearthed three emails, one of which showed the woman telling Corwin that she didn’t want a personal relation-ship and asking him to stop revisiting the issue.

“We are COWORKERS. Start acting like it! You are making me hate this job and feel ill having to come here because I don’t want to deal with you,” the woman wrote in a June 29, 2011, email. “There is no ‘problem,’ other than that I didn’t go along (with) your advances so now you are trying to make up problems to try and get rid of me, just like you told me you would do (get rid of me) if this were a private law firm.”

That last sentence referred to a comment Corwin acknowledged making to the reporter that if he were still working at a private law firm, he would have “taken care of the problem by now,” meaning he would have fired her. Corwin told investigators he regretted the remark and later apologized for making it. He said it was made out of frustration and wasn’t intended to be a threat to have her fired.

Two weeks after receiving the strongly worded email, Corwin responded with an email stating, “Our communications problems are profound.”

“I have repeatedly tried to talk to you, but only in an attempt to resolve the conflict and animus that exists between us,” he wrote. “Nothing more – no hidden agenda. If you imagined something different, you were badly mistaken.”

In a brief phone interview this morning, Corwin gave the following statement: “The court administrator’s report correctly concludes that I did not intend to threaten (the court reporter) or make her work environment uncomfortable. I regret any misunderstanding.”

He went on to say, “This is a thing that we all thought was behind us and life had gone on.”

The State Court Administrator’s Office investigated the allegations on behalf of the reporter because she is a state employee. Corwin is an elected official, currently in the fourth year of a six-year term.

Corwin, who was previously paired with Judge Wade Webb, has been reassigned and paired with Judge John Irby. Webb is now paired with Judge Frank Racek, and the woman continues to report for Webb and Racek, said Rod Olson, trial court administrator for the East Central Judicial District, which includes Cass County.