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
"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