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Preventing conflicts of interest

The Washington Times
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Timothy J. Dowling

In his article on private judicial seminars hosted by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), John Baden takes at my suggestion that the seminars seek to advance a particular philosophical perspective ("Character assassination," Op-Ed, Tuesday). But Mr. Baden is on record as saying the lectures promote free-market environmentalism. And his own board has bragged that the seminars parallel litigation campaigns to challenge environmental regulations.

Many people, including myself, favor free-market solutions to environmental problems where appropriate. But the broad-based attack on environmental laws promoted by FREE and its allies conflicts with basic values shared by most Americans.

More to the point, the primary ethical problem with FREE's seminars is not what is taught, but rather the gifts to the judges Mr. Baden uses to fill the seats. Federal judges are public servants, and they should not accept gifts of travel to resort locations offered because of their official positions.

As I explained in my Legal Times article mentioned by Mr. Baden, federal prosecutors who litigate cases before these judges are prohibited from accepting comparable gifts. What sense does it make to allow federal judges to accept them?

What's more, FREE's seminars have included lecturers that have substantial and direct interests in cases pending before the judges in attendance. When other judges and legal ethics scholars criticize these practices, Mr. Baden resorts to name calling and then changes the subject.

If a judge wants to attend a seminar hosted by FREE or any other group, regardless of its philosophical perspective, the judge should pay the associated expenses and ensure that the lecturers are not litigating cases before the judge's court. Mr. Baden evidently fears that few judges would attend his events if they followed these simple ethical principles.


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