Federal Politics

Published — March 28, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Judges often ignore trip disclosure rules

Reporting policy has no enforcement mechanism

Introduction

Publicly filed reports of privately funded trips and seminars made by federal judges are often difficult to find, incomplete or missing altogether, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.

In 2007, the organization that oversees the conduct of federal judges implemented an ethics policy requiring public disclosure of details about privately funded judicial education conferences.

Noting that judges may be “influenced inappropriately” by those who conduct the events, a panel of the Judicial Conference of the United States said the new disclosure requirements “should strengthen public and congressional confidence in federal judicial ethics.”

The Center collected disclosure information from 2008 through 2012. Many federal court websites are poorly designed and hard to navigate, making it difficult to find links to judges’ seminar-disclosure reports.

In some cases, links to reports were either broken or nonexistent. A handful of courts, including the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, linked to a different set of disclosures. In Delaware’s case, it was the U.S. District Court in Northern Texas.

The Center’s analysis also showed apparent lapses in reporting by hosts and judges.

For example, in August 2011, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) hosted a five-day judicial conference at a ranch in Big Sky, Mont., entitled “Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty & the Rule of Law.”

FREE’s report indicated there was just one lecture: “Taking the Long View of Progress,” delivered by Judge Daniel Boggs of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. But a conference agenda posted on FREE’s website shows there were in fact 11 lectures at the event.

Absent from FREE’s disclosure report were lectures delivered by two federal judges: Richard G. Stearns of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts and Douglas H. Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit.

John Baden, FREE’s chairman, told the Center he didn’t have the “foggiest idea” why his organization’s disclosure report appears incomplete in court records. “We make everything totally public,” he says, noting that complete conference agendas are always listed on FREE’s website.

Neither Stearns nor Ginsburg reported attending the conference on the required seminar disclosure forms. (Stearns, in fact, has never filed a seminar disclosure report.) However, both judges reported the conference on their more detailed, congressionally mandated annual financial disclosure reports.

Marsha Zierk, Stearns’ law clerk, told the Center that the judge was unaware of any seminar disclosure policy. Ginsburg did not respond to requests for comment.

Stearns and Ginsburg aren’t the only judges to report attending conferences on annual financial disclosure reports — which are enforced by fines and even jail time — yet fail to do so on seminar disclosure forms.

U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan of Louisiana’s Eastern District reported attending the 2010 International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law seminar hosted by the Aspen Institute but did not file the separate, required conference attendance paperwork that the Center used as the basis of its analysis.

“It’s just a mishap,” says Berrigan, noting that her secretary must have forgotten to file the seminar disclosure.

In some cases, seminars were reported, but no judges reported attending them.

Twenty-two seminars between July 2008 and the end of 2012 went unattended by federal judges, according to filings.

It is possible that only state judges attended; or that federal judges did appear, but paid their own way. But the discrepancy could also mean they failed to file.

Occasionally, judges report the presence of other judges at seminars who have not filed disclosure reports.

For example, last October Judge Ron Clark of the Eastern District of Texas District Court and Chief Judge Robert Clive Jones of the U.S. District Court in Nevada reported attending a judicial conference on patent litigation hosted by The Sedona Conference, a nonprofit research and educational organization, in Del Mar, Calif.

On each of their disclosure reports, the judges noted the names of eight other federal judges who also attended the conference.

None of the eight judges, five of whom were listed as speakers at the seminar, reported attending the privately funded conference. Speakers are required to report their attendance if they are reimbursed by the conference host.

In May 2011, U.S. District Judge Thomas Shields of Iowa’s Southern District reported attending a Northwestern University judicial program with two other federal judges. But neither of them filed disclosure reports.

The policy on judicial seminars was created in response to congressional efforts to ban judges from attending the often lavish educational retreats paid for by corporations and other private sources that might someday end up facing one of the participating judges in court.

The policy lacks teeth — there is no enforcement mechanism. In addition, the reporting requirements are weak. For example, the amount sponsors provide to fund seminars and retreats does not have to be reported.

Both judges and sponsors are required to file reports. Sponsors file must detail the event’s programs, speakers and sources of funding. State and local bar associations and some judicial groups are exempt from the policy.

Judges, if reimbursed by a private source for more than $335 worth of expenses, must post online a report disclosing certain details about the conference and its sponsors within 30 days of the event.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that … there are instances where a judge goes somewhere and they don’t report it,” says Russell Wheeler, former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center, an education and research agency for the federal courts. “How big a problem it is, I just don’t know.”

Wheeler says it’s not surprising that the disclosure policy lacks an enforcement mechanism. The Judicial Conference has very little authority.

“What are you going to do,” Wheeler asks, “dock their pay?”

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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.