After eight years of inaction, the Judicial Conference today issued important new rules for judges’ participation in corporate-funded judicial junkets.
The Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for the federal judiciary, changed its ethics rules governing these trips in four important ways:
§ First, the Judicial Conference established a critical distinction between desirable judicial educational programs, run by groups such as the American Bar Association and the National Judicial College, and trips sponsored by other non-governmental sources, which are more problematic.
§ Second, for the problematic category of trips, the Judicial Conference will insist that a trip’s sponsor provide the Administrative Office of the United States Courts with detailed information about the event, the sponsor’s funding sources, and the program offered to judges.
§ Third, the Judicial Conference will require judges to disclose detailed information about any trip they take that falls into the more problematic category within 30 days of the end of the trip.
§ Fourth, and most importantly, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts must post all of the information disclosed by judges and trip sponsors on its website.
According to CRC’s Executive Director, Doug Kendall, “This is a very significant step that sends a clear message to judges to stop and think before taking a junket. Just as important, the details of every trip will now be publicly available almost in real time.”
One disconcerting loophole in the new rules might allow trip sponsors to hide the fact that their programs are funded by corporations and other special interests. CRC will closely monitor the new mandatory disclosure postings to make sure that sponsors are fulfilling the clear intent of the Judicial Conference’s rules, which is to increase transparency and bolster confidence in the integrity of the federal judiciary.
For eight years, CRC has been pressing for action on the issue of judicial junkets. See
www.tripsforjudges.org. These trips have generated criticism by ethics experts, policy makers and editorial writers, who have concluded that they are vehicles for corporate underwriters to lobby federal judges. CRC will continue to work with the judiciary and others on additional reforms, including the bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, which would ban junkets while creating a fund to pay for needed continuing legal education for judges.