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CRC News Releases


Hidden Camera Exposes Junkets for Judges

“20/20” to Air Investigation Tomorrow of Judges Vacationing
at Luxury Resorts on Corporate Dime
 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 5, 2001

CONTACT: Doug Kendall or Zach Church, Community Rights Counsel, 202-296-6889

Washington – A hidden-camera investigation by ABC’s 20/20, scheduled to air Friday, April 6, will reveal federal judges playing golf and lounging at a premier Tucson resort – at the expense of anti-environmental front groups funded by corporations often having cases before those judges. 

Every year, nearly 100 federal judges spend a week or more being “educated” in seminars held at lavish tropical resorts and scenic dude ranches, paid for not by the judiciary’s education arm but by corporations and pro-business special interests. 

Community Rights Counsel (CRC), a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C., credits 20/20 with providing visual documentation of how these corporate-funded junkets break the public's trust in the judiciary.  CRC exposed these junkets in 1998 and last year issued a report documenting how they appear to be advancing the agenda of their corporate sponsors and undermining the American system of environmental protections.   

20/20’s investigation should be the straw that breaks the camel's back," said CRC Executive Director Doug Kendall. “It will be clear to anyone watching that corporate interests are attempting to buy judicial influence with these junkets. It’s time that the judiciary put a stop to this blatant corporate lobbying.” 

Junkets for judges have been written about for more than two years and have drawn widespread criticism from newspaper editorials, public interest organizations, and judicial ethicists.  Last year, responding to this outcry, Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin introduced a bill to ban the junkets.   They will reintroduce this bill in the coming weeks. 

The 20/20 investigation demonstrates, however, that federal judges are willfully ignoring existing ethics rules and the judiciary has refused to stop the practice of corporations buying judges’ attention.  In fact, Chief Justice Rehnquist recently defended the junkets while demanding a pay raise for federal judges. The judiciary's inaction convinced 20/20 to go undercover at a judges’ junket held at an Arizona golf resort to give Americans a behind-the-scenes access to one of these ethically suspect resort seminars. 

The 20/20 investigation features a junket financed by the conservative Law and Economic Center (LEC), which is loosely affiliated with the George Mason University Law School in Arlington, Virginia. LEC pays for the course, deluxe accommodations, transportation, food, drink, and some recreational activities. It’s not known how much the Tucson trip cost, but one judge attending a 1997 LEC trip reported the value at $7,367. 

The LEC teaches judges the right-leaning “Chicago School” of law and economics, an academic discipline that instructs judges to think like CEOs and marginalizes consumer and regulatory protections, including the tort system, anti-trust, and environmental laws. An LEC newsletter boasts that more than one-third of all federal judges have attended one of its junkets and that many judges believe the programs have “totally altered their frame of reference for cases involving economic issues.”   

LEC has aggressively stonewalled efforts to uncover its funding sources, hiding this information even from the federal judiciary. But research by 20/20 and CRC reveals that LEC's funders include corporations such as Ford Motor Co. and Proctor & Gamble and right-wing financiers such Richard Mellon Scaife and the John M. Olin Foundation. These corporations are frequently involved in federal litigation, and the conservative foundations regularly finance others to litigate on behalf of their pro-corporate ideology. 

In July 2000, CRC published a report entitled Nothing for Free: How Private Judicial Seminars are Undermining Environmental Protections and Breaking the Public’s Trust.  The study – the most thorough investigation of the junkets’ sponsors and participants – revealed a pattern of disturbing facts, including the following: 

  • In 10 of the last decade’s most dramatic departures from established precedent, the judge striking down the environmental protections took part in at least one junket.
  • In six of these cases, the judge attended the seminar while the case was pending.
  • In at least three of these cases, the judge ruled in favor of a litigant bankrolled by the seminar’s sponsors.
  • In one of the decade’s most infamous environmental rulings, a judge ruled to uphold habitat protection, attended a seminar, came back, switched his vote, and wrote an opinion striking down a central component of the Endangered Species Act.

 

CRC Executive Director Doug Kendall, who will be featured on 20/20, is available for interviews. Please call Doug at (202) 296-6889, ext. 3.  

CRC’s report, Nothing for Free, can be downloaded at www.TripsForJudges.org. For a complete list of judges who attended the Tucson seminar featured on 20/20, click here.  To read the 20/20 script from April 6, click here.

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