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Judge Ends Ethics Case By Leaving Foundation
Appearance of Partiality Is at Issue

The Washington Post
May 6, 2005
Carol D. Leonnig

A federal judge in Maryland has ended an ethics complaint against him by resigning from the board of a corporate-funded group that opposes environmental regulation and provides free seminars and trips to judges.

An environmental advocacy organization sought U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis's departure from the organization last year when it filed an ethics complaint against the Baltimore-based trial judge, citing his position on the board of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). The group has filed similar complaints against three prominent federal appellate judges who are on FREE's board.

Davis's decision could put pressure on those judges, Douglas H. Ginsburg, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Danny J. Boggs, chief judge of the 6th Circuit appeals court; and Jane R. Roth, a judge on the 3rd Circuit appeals court.

Davis's decision was detailed in an order released yesterday by the chief judge of the 4th Circuit appeals court, who dismissed the complaint by the Community Rights Counsel as moot. It said no court action was needed "because appropriate action has been taken to remedy the problem raised by the complaint."

Davis did not explain why he resigned, leaving unclear whether he acknowledged that his membership had posed the appearance of an ethics problem or whether he left the seat for other reasons. Davis did not return telephone messages left at his court office yesterday.

At issue is whether federal judges -- especially circuit judges who are likely to hear cases in which businesses and other groups challenge environmental regulations -- create the appearance of partiality when they serve on a board funded by corporations that have sued for the removal of environmental constraints on their business operations.

FREE has received sponsorship from petroleum corporations such as Exxon and Texaco, as the companies were then known, and Koch Industries, as well as Georgia Pacific, a major paper and timber company. All have fought environmental fines and rules in federal court.

The Montana-based foundation has drawn criticism for sponsoring all-expense-paid judicial education trips for judges that include ample time for horseback riding, fly-fishing and hiking at Rocky Mountain resorts.

Boggs said yesterday that he will take the action a fellow chief judge deems appropriate. Because Boggs and Ginsburg are chief circuit judges, an 8th Circuit chief judge will rule on their cases.

"As far as I know, the ethics complaint against me is running its due course, and I'm happy to abide by whatever is decided," Boggs said.

Ginsburg and Roth did not return telephone calls to their chambers yesterday asking about their response to the complaints. Community Rights Counsel attorney Doug Kendall applauded Davis's resignation and said it sets a precedent that will be hard for other judges to ignore.

"For the first time, the federal judiciary is forced to look hard at the facts and it finds there's a problem," he said.

In a prepared statement, FREE Chairman John A. Baden said he was disappointed by Davis's resignation, but glad that he has committed to participating in a foundation seminar this summer.

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