WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has resigned from the board of a corporate-funded group that provides free seminars and trips to judges after a judicial ethics panel recommended he quit. Two other judges remain on the board, either unaware of the ethics advice or unconcerned by it.
U.S. District Judge Andre Davis of Baltimore said he resigned from the board of the Montana-based Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment soon after he received a private opinion from the federal judiciary's Codes of Conduct Committee.
The panel concluded, Davis said, that "there was, shall we say, tension between one or more of the canons that applied to federal judges and the appearance of a judge, federal judge, as a member of the board of directors" of the foundation.
Davis was one of three judges who left the foundation's board in the spring of 2005. The other two were Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Judge Jane Roth of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chief Judge Danny Boggs of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remained and Judge Edith Clement of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals joined the board last year.
The resignations were made public in 2005, but Davis' reason for stepping down was unknown until Wednesday.
The explanation came to light through the Community Rights Counsel, a liberal-leaning public interest law firm that has filed ethics complaints against the judges and criticized what it calls judicial junkets.
Davis' comments were made in an unrelated civil lawsuit in which lawyers asked Davis to step aside. Doug Kendall, the counsel's executive director, said he received a transcript of the June 2007 court proceeding from a lawyer involved in the case.
The opinion itself remains private and the other judges who are or were on the board of FREE, as the foundation is known, did not respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press.
U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist of Grand Rapids, Mich., the chairman of the ethics panel, said Wednesday that only recipients may make panel opinions public. He said he would deny Kendall's request to release the opinion. Quist said he did not know whether the other judges knew of the opinion given to Davis.
FREE, based in Bozeman, Mont., favors business-based solutions to environmental problems. It receives most of its money from foundations and corporations, but it says it uses no corporate money for the seminars it runs for federal judges, law professors and others, usually at Western resorts.
Foundation executive vice president Pete Geddes said he did not recall whether Davis told him why he was resigning.
The Community Rights Counsel filed ethics violations charges against Boggs, Davis, Ginsburg and Roth. Complaints against Davis, Ginsburg and Roth were dismissed when they resigned from FREE's board.
Judge James Loken of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint against Boggs in May 2005, finding nothing to substantiate CRC's charges that the judge's service on FREE's board created an appearance of impropriety.
Loken made no reference to the judicial panel's decision. A person answering the phone in Loken's office said the judge would not comment further.
Kendall said the impression given from Loken's ruling was judges could properly serve on FREE's board and those who resigned acted only out of an abundance of caution.
The issue could surface Thursday when the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to consider a bill to raise judges' pay. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., plans to try to attach a ban on most paid seminars for judges.
In 2006, judges decided to require faster and fuller disclosure of their expense-paid trips, a response to criticism that the travel could undermine the public's faith in an impartial judiciary.
Sponsors must now disclose financial backers of the trips and judges must file public reports within 30 days of the end of a program.