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CRC News Release


CONTACT: Doug Kendall, 202-296-6889 x3

Opinion Shows Ethics Process is Broken:
Letter to Breyer Panel Calls for Reform

After Three Judges Resign, Holdout Allowed to Stay on Junkets Board

Today, Community Rights Counsel (CRC) wrote Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer calling for reforms to the judiciary's flawed system for reviewing ethical complaints. The flaws are illustrated by a May 23rd opinion by Chief Judge James Loken of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which refuses to force Chief Judge Danny Boggs of the Sixth Circuit to resign from the board of directors of Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), even after three other federal judges resigned from FREE's Board last month. Justice Breyer is chairing a Commission formed by Chief Justice Rehnquist last year to improve the functioning of the ethics complaint process.

According to CRC's Executive Director Doug Kendall: "This is why the Breyer Commission was formed. Judge Loken applied the wrong legal standard to reach the wrong result."

A CRC investigation released last year provided startling evidence of the ethical issues raised by judicial service on FREE's board. Based on the evidence collected in this report, Tainted Justice: How Private Judicial Trips Undermine Public Trust in the Federal Judiciary, CRC filed ethics petitions against Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the DC Circuit, Judge Jane Roth of the Third Circuit, Judge Andre Davis of the Maryland-based U.S. District Court, and Judge Boggs. Judges Ginsburg, Roth, and Davis resigned from FREE's Board last month in response to these petitions.

Judge Boggs refused to resign, and Judge Loken's opinion illustrates that these ethics complaints almost never result in any action by a reviewing judge to address the alleged misconduct. Between September 1998 and September 2003, 3,673 complaints against judges were closed by the judiciary with action taken against a judge in only six cases, an average of one wrist slap for every 600 complaints filed. Little wonder members of Congress of both political parties have seriously questioned the ability of the judicial branch to police its own ethics.

Two of the nation's leading ethics experts have confirmed merits of CRC's ethics petitions, with NYU's Stephen Gillers stating that service on FREE's board "compromises the public's view of the impartiality of panels on which [the judge] sits in every case of interest to FREE's members." But according to Judge Loken, service on FREE's board is not the type of "serious judicial transgressions" the ethics petitions are designed to combat. Kendall responds, "the 'serious judicial transgression' standard is an eye-of-the-beholder test, and statistics demonstrate the judicial eye never beholds a sufficiently serious violation. The Breyer panel clearly has its work cut out for it."

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