On October 15, 2003, HALT and Community Rights Counsel (CRC),
public interest groups that advocate for a more fair judicial
system, jointly urged an American Bar Association commission
to revise the Model Code of Judicial Conduct to include strict
requirements for financial disclosure, recusal lists, certification
and privately-funded junkets for judges.
"Americans deserve a judiciary that observes the highest
ethical standards," stated HALT Executive Director James
C. Turner. "When judges accept gifts from special interests
groups or preside over cases where they have a financial interest,
it is simply wrong."
"Judicial stock conflicts and junkets are undermining
public confidence in the judicial branch," stated CRC
Executive Director Douglas Kendall. "The ABA must include
a solution to these problems in its new Model Code."
In response to a request from the ABA commission, the groups
issued written comments calling for clear, specific ethical
standards. The Model Code, which will be amended for the first
time in 13 years, has been adopted, at least in part, by the
vast majority of states.
While the current Model Code provides broad guidance on conflicts
of interest, its omissions are striking. HALT and CRC advised
the commission to add substance to its guidelines by requiring
judges to file annual financial disclosure reports and updated
recusal lists, which detail their economic interests and the
relationship of those investments to the cases over which
they preside. The groups called for convenient public access
to these reports through the clerk's office in the courthouse
where the judge serves. These recommendations follow Kansas
City Star and Washington Post investigations that uncovered
hundreds of instances in which judges issued court orders
while holding stock in a litigating corporation.
The groups also urged the commission to require judges to
sign certifications that they have not presided over a case
in which they have had a financial conflict of interest. "Just
as Congress has recently passed legislation requiring corporate
chief executives to certify that their reports to the SEC
are accurate, judges should be required to certify that they
have not handled matters in which they or their families held
a financial interest," stated HALT Associate Counsel
Finally, HALT and CRC called for restrictions on judicial
junkets, which are expense-paid vacations funded by private
foundations and corporations that purport to "educate"
judges through one-sided, often politically charged seminars.
CRC's report, Nothing for Free, found a remarkable correlation
between judicial attendance at these seminars and judicial
rulings in cases involving parties and subject matter involved
in the seminars.
The ethical questions raised by these practices have led to
calls for reform from more than 30 editorial boards and numerous
legislators from across the political spectrum. In particular,
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA)
have been outspoken advocates for many of the reforms requested
by HALT and CRC.
To read the comments submitted by HALT and CRC to the ABA
Joint Commission, click here