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Judges resign from FREE board

Bozeman Daily Chronicle
May 7, 2005
Nick Gevock


Three federal judges have resigned from a Bozeman think tank's board of directors following allegations that their involvement with the group was unethical.

Judge Andre Davis of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Baltimore resigned last month from the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment's board of directors. FREE is a libertarian-leaning group that advocates free-market approaches to environmental protection.

The resignation came on the heels of ethics complaints filed last year against four judges who sit on FREE's board. The complaints were filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Community Rights Council.

In addition, Douglas Ginsburg, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Judge Jane Roth of the 3rd Circuit Court in Philadelphia resigned from FREE's board Friday.

The complaint against FREE board member Danny J. Boggs, chief judge of the 6th Circuit Court in Kentucky, is still pending.

CRC alleged last year that corporate interests were trying to influence judges who had environmental lawsuits pending in their courts.

The council alleged that FREE's Montana-based seminars gave corporations and individuals unusual access to these judges.

"These resignations prove the simple point that a judge can't sit on the board of an organization that takes money from corporations and other interested parties to influence the outcome of environmental cases," Doug Kendall, CRC executive director, said Thursday in a telephone interview from his Washington office.

"This should make any federal judge very concerned about taking a FREE trip," Kendall said.

FREE director John Baden Friday praised the judges' service on the board. And Baden blasted Kendall, saying his allegations of influence peddling are unfounded.

"What bothers the judges so much is the assertion that we are anti-environmental, and that we run these boondoggles to brainwash judges," Baden said. "Every judge on our board is hurt and offended by the assertions that are made by an organization that has no regard for the truth."

Baden also writes a column for the Chronicle's opinion page.

Ginsburg in his resignation letter said he was reluctant to leave the board. "As a judge, however, I am not in a position constantly to be correcting the false impressions and calumnies that appear in the press."

CRC spent three years studying FREE's seminars. In a final report, it cited examples in which judges were flown to Montana for those seminars, their trips paid for by the same businesses that had pending litigation in those judges' courts.

In some cases, lawyers for industries with pending lawsuits were speaking to the judges who would decide the case, the report concluded.

Some environmentalists have defended FREE, saying it goes to great pains to present numerous points of view at its seminars.

But Kendall said if the judges' actions were ethical, they wouldn't have quit the board. Ginsburg's resignation in particular is substantial because he's been on FREE's board since its inception, and weathered a lot of criticism.

"I don't think he would have resigned unless it was clear to him that one of the reviewing judges thought such a course was necessary," Kendall said. "We're delighted that the judicial ethics process has worked."

Nick Gevock is at

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