Judges Failed To Disclose Junkets

By D. Ian Hopper © 2000. Associated Press Writer
Friday, June 30, 2000; 12:10 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– Twenty-two federal judges who took junkets paid for by major corporations failed to list the trips on financial disclosure forms, as required by law, an environmental law firm said Thursday.

Several judges reportedly acknowledged taking the trips but denied any deception, saying they simply forgot to list them on their annual reports. One environmental group, however, has asked Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to investigate.

The Washington-based Community Rights Counsel compared the disclosure forms of the 22 judges with the attendance lists at more than a dozen corporate-sponsored seminars in Montana and Florida. The group characterized the educational seminars as anti-environmental and intended to influence the judges.

The trips, some of which lasted two weeks and cost thousands of dollars, offered judges time for golf and horseback riding at the island resort and historic Western retreats where they were held.

"Judges are taking gifts worth thousands of dollars from corporate special interests and it is almost impossible for litigants and the general public to uncover any details about these gifts," said Doug Kendall, executive director of the CRC.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research group, wrote Rehnquist this week urging him to ban such junkets for judge. Rehnquist heads the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policymaking body for federal judges.

"As you know, the American taxpayer already pays for balanced, rigorous continuing education for judges through the Federal Judicial Center, obviating any alleged educational purpose of these junkets," said the letter, which was also sent to members of the House and Senate judiciary oversight committees.

The Washington Post first reported the trips on its Web site Thursday night.

The newspaper quoted several judges who didn't report the trips as saying they weren't trying to hide them but simply forgot to list the excursions when filling out their annual reports.

"It just slipped through," said Judge Michael Boudin of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. He failed to report that he took a two-week trip to Hilton Head Island, S.C., sponsored by the Law & Economics Center.

District Judge John S. Rhoades of San Diego attended two Law & Economics Center seminars but disclosed neither. "I goofed," he acknowledged. But the judge said he had no qualms about accepting such gifts.

"They're in nice places," Rhoades said of the seminars, according to the Post. "I learned a lot. Like, if you build a car and make it absolutely safe, can anybody afford to buy it? Stuff like that."

The two junkets checked by the Community Rights Counsel were run by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment in Bozeman, Mont., and the Law and Economics Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

At the Montana outing, the environmental law firm said, judges had golf and tennis excursions, coupled with an open bar in the evenings.

John Baden, the group's founder and chairman, served two terms on the National Petroleum Council and is a member of the conservative Mont Pelerin Society. His group has accepted funding from the Carthage Foundation, headed by conservative publisher Richard Mellon Scaife; foundations controlled by Charles and David Koch, conservative brothers who run an oil and gas company known as Koch Industries; and foundations associated with Amoco, Burlington Resources and Shell Oil.

The Law and Economics Center programs are taught by professors from the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard and Rutgers, among others. Some of its seminars are entitled "The Assault on Scientific Truth," "Real Science vs. Junk Science" and "Health and Environmental Misconceptions."

The center's financial backers have included the Ford Motor Co. Fund, the Procter & Gamble Fund and the conservative Sarah Scaife Foundation. The center says one-third of the current federal bench has attended its seminars, held at resorts in places such as Amelia Island and Marco Island in Florida.

Last year, the Environmental Working Group asked Rehnquist to prod the U.S. Judicial Conference to place judge's financial disclosure forms on the Internet. After first refusing a request from a news Web site, which later sued, the committee voted in March to release the documents.

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press