A decade after a travel junket scandal rocked the California
Supreme Court, the public doesn't always know where judges
go on expense-paid trips to out-of-state conferences.
Justice Janice Rogers Brown complied with public disclosure
laws when she listed $4,000 in expenses for two week-long
educational seminars in 1999 sponsored by the University of
But nowhere did the state's financial disclosure report
require Brown to note that she spent the second week of her
studies not on campus in Lawrence, Kans., but at the Sun Dial
Beach Resort on southern Florida's Sanibel Island.
Likewise, Brown and Justices Ming Chin and Marvin Baxter
all jetted to Key West, Fla., in May 1997 for a three-day
seminar as the guests of the Indiana-based Liberty Fund and
Claremont-McKenna College's Center for Judicial Studies, according
to their disclosure reports. They each listed $1,920 in gifts
as payment of expenses for travel, lodging and subsistence.
But the public wouldn't know from their reports that they
discussed the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the writings
of the Founding Fathers at a vacation destination.
The director of the University of Kansas seminar program
for state judges, the Law and Organizational Economics Center,
confirmed Brown's attendance at the Florida session Dec. 11-18,
Director Henry Butler also informed the Daily Journal of
Brown's attendance at a three-day law symposium at University
of Kansas in 1998 for which he said she was paid $200 to help
cover the cost of airfare, lodging and group meals.
That trip, for a round-table debate about tort law, was
not disclosed by Brown at all.
The standard disclosure form filed by judges on a yearly
basis requires to them to name of the source of gifts they
have received, as well as the address of the source, but not
the destination of their travels. Educational seminars do
not count as gifts, but privately paid expenses for out-of-state
travel must be reported, according to the Fair Political Practices
"I just didn't think the destination was that important,"
said Brown's secretary, Harriette Helmar. "I tried to
put everything in that little form that I could possibly squeeze
in with a typewriter."
Baxter made the same point in an interview. Chin, who was
traveling out of state last week, declined to comment.
Helmar confirmed Brown's attendance at the 1998 symposium,
but declined to comment further.
In 1993, then-Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas drew heavy criticism
when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that he had made
12 trips and spent 76 days traveling outside California the
year before to law conferences as far away as Bolivia and
Egypt. The Chronicle relied on Lucas' annual disclosure report
to tally his $18,000 in out-of-state travel expenses for that
Though some critics questioned the propriety of some of
his trips, Lucas was cleared of any wrongdoing after he asked
for an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Performance.
Lucas had come under fire not only for the amount of time
he was on the road, but also for accepting invitations to
appear at lavish conferences sponsored by insurance industry
In any event, Lucas' disclosure reports consistently listed
his destinations along with all the other information required
by the Fair Political Practices Commission on "statement
of economic interest" forms.
While none of the justices on the current court travel nearly
as much as Lucas did, including Chief Justice Ronald George,
they, too, have customarily listed destinations when describing
their out-of-state travel on the disclosure forms.
Baxter, for instance, reported that he went to Hawaii in
2000 to give a keynote speech at an American Bar Trial Lawyers
seminar. He has also reported specific locations of State
Bar conferences he's attended in Anaheim and Monterey.
Chin reported that in 2000 he took trips to Ottawa and Toronto,
Canada; Rome; and Washington, D.C., for meetings of the Einstein
Institute for Science, Health and the Courts.
FPPC officials declined to comment on the adequacy of the
state's travel disclosure rules.
"We can't comment on a specific fact situation,"
said spokeswoman Sigrid Bathen. "The law is what it is."
A Washington, D.C., liberal advocacy group that reported
on 237 federal judges attending more than 500 privately-funded
seminars found that dozens of judges in the 1990s failed to
follow federal rules requiring disclosure of expenses.
"Non-disclosure is a very big problem," said Doug
Kendall, executive director of Community Rights Counsel, which
published a report in 2000 titled "Nothing for Free."
Kendall's report concluded that corporate interests and
conservative philanthropies were wining and dining judges
in a veiled effort to lobby the judiciary to support their
The sponsors of the seminars that hosted Brown, Chin and
Baxter say those charges are unfounded. They particularly
object to the seminars being labeled junkets.
Butler, director of the Kansas program, which sent Brown
and hundreds of other state judges to Sanibel Island between
1995 and 2000, said the University of Kansas was economizing
by conducting its session at an off-season resort with hotel
rooms cheaper than in Lawrence.
However, Brown's financial disclosure states that her December
1999 session cost $2,200, compared with $1,800 for her week
in Kansas in June.
According to a press account describing the seminar, the
Florida itinerary, beyond five hours of classes each day,
featured pool-side receptions at the Sun Dial Beach Resort
and an array of extracurricular activities, including biking,
golf, fishing and visits to wildlife sanctuaries.
Chris Talley, president and CEO of the Liberty Fund, a tax-exempt
education foundation, described the Key West seminar as a
busy academic schedule without a lot of time for hanging out
on the beach. He said the Liberty Fund hosts conferences all
over the nation, including places not normally considered
vacation hot-spots like Fairfax, Va.
"The [judges] got a two- to three-hour break in the
afternoon," he said. "The accommodations and amenities
and meals are generally well-done, but they are not lavish."