A Community Rights Counsel letter today to the Judiciary’s Committee on Codes of Conduct demands the release of an ethics opinion concerning junketing organizations that has been kept secret by the Judiciary, even as two prominent federal judges continued to serve on the Board of Directors of junket provider Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee may debate a ban on these corporate-sponsored junkets for federal judges.
CRC’s letter asks the Committee to release to the public a heretofore secret 2005 opinion finding that it is not appropriate for judges to serve on FREE’s Board. CRC Executive Director Doug Kendall said, “The Judiciary has managed to keep this ruling about the propriety of sitting on FREE’s board secret for over two years, even as a prominent federal judge stayed on the board and one more joined. This silence is troubling and unjustifiable.”
Junkets have been an ethical blot on the reputation of the Judiciary for years. Over the past decade, CRC has methodically documented thousands of junkets taken by hundreds of federal judges and the conflicts of interest that can accompany these expense-paid trips. These trips have been condemned by judicial ethics experts, members of Congress, distinguished current and former judges and the editorial boards of more than 50 major papers.
The fact that two prominent federal appellate judges, Judge Danny Boggs of the Sixth Circuit and Judge Edith Brown Clement of the Fifth Circuit, continue to serve on FREE’s board despite a ruling more than two years ago by the Judiciary’s own ethics committee that it is inappropriate for them to do so, shows that the judiciary is unable to effectively end the junkets controversy. A ban on judicial junkets was recently proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold, and may be considered tomorrow by the Senate Judiciary Committee as an amendment to a judicial pay raise bill. Such a ban is the only way to finally solve this problem and restore confidence in the integrity of the federal judiciary.
UPDATE: You can see Judge Quist's response to CRC's letter here.
Read the Associated Press story on the hidden opinion.
The Legal Times has also written a feature on the junkets ban.
UPDATE: The New York Times and The Washington Post have both endorsed the junkets ban.