Community Rights Counsel (CRC) recently completed a review of public records documenting compliance with new rules for reporting corporate-funded judicial junkets. It found that the staff at the Administrative Office of the United States Courts is slow-walking enforcement of rules and withholding information that is supposed to be made promptly available to the public.
In September 2005, Chief Justice John Roberts declared “I don’t think special interests should be allowed to lobby federal judges,” and in September 2006, the Judicial Conference, headed by Roberts, issued new rules designed to help judges avoid lobbying junkets. Unfortunately, the AO staff is implementing the policy in way that judges can avoid having to report junketing sponsors for as long as possible. Indeed, 80 days have passed since the standards went into effect on January 1, 2007, and not a single junket has been reported. Click here to see the results of CRC’s review.
The judiciary has faced a steady stream of embarrassing revelations about conflicts and influence peddling stemming from the junkets for almost a decade. The Senate has proposed legislation banning the junkets and judges have been caught on camera by ABC’s 20/20 lounging poolside and playing golf at the “seminars” at luxury resorts – paid for in part by major corporate polluters. The announcement of the new disclosure rules in September has not made these problems go away.
U.S. Ninth Circuit Court Judge Andrew Kleinfeld took at least three trips in recent years paid for by an ExxonMobil-funded junketing organization and Judge Kleinfeld still serves on the junketing organization’s board of advisors. In December 2006, two months after the new reporting requirements were announced -- and after Exxon’s involvement in the junketing organization was fully documented -- Judge Kleinfeld sided with ExxonMobil in a 2-1 ruling that cut $2 billion off a $4.5 billion punitive damages award for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Click here for more on ExxonMobil, Judge Kleinfeld, and the Exxon Valdez.
CRC is calling on Judge Kleinfeld to resign from the junketing organization’s board. CRC is also calling on the AO to stop business as usual and to start implementing the new reporting requirements.
Update: The Administrative Office of the United States Courts responded to CRC’s review of the implementation of its new reporting policy by agreeing to promptly release the information provided by junketing organizations. We appreciate this concession to the mandates of the policy, but remain deeply concerned about the other implementation flaws identified in our review.