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
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,"
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