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CRC In The News

Judicial ethics questioned

News & Observer
December 23, 2004
Rob Christensen, Valerie Bauerlein and J. Andrew Curliss


Leading Democratic U.S. senators and environmental activists are criticizing what they say is a loosening of judicial ethics standards, led by a Greensboro judge.

U.S. District Judge William Osteen was chairman of the conduct committee that rewrote ethics guidelines for federal judges over the summer. The Community Rights Council, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., said the rewrite allows judges to take more trips paid for by corporations without disclosing them.

"Many judges and other observers have bemoaned the increasingly political way in which the public views the judicial branch," wrote Doug Kendall, the council's executive director, in a letter to Osteen. "Decisions such as this one ... suggest the judiciary deserves much of the blame for this problem."

Osteen, reached at his chambers in Greensboro, said he rotated off as committee chairman in October. He said he agreed with the ethics changes but would not say why.

"I would like very much to be able to comment on it, but anything I say may be construed as speaking for the panel themselves," Osteen said.

Osteen was filmed in a 2001 episode of ABC's "20/20" at a golf course and resort hosting a legal seminar.

Such seminars are often paid for in part by corporate sponsors, some of whom have cases pending in federal courtrooms.

The council said its analysis shows that judges have ruled favorably for some of the corporate sponsors.

The office that administers federal courts released a statement last week defending the changes as giving judges more advice on whether to attend such trips.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and others say they will seek legislation to prohibit these trips next year.

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