The Center for Public Integrity released a report today showing that in 26 cases since 2010, federal appellate judges had a financial interest in one of the parties before them. As you might imagine, that's a giant no-no under federal law. Judges are supposed to keep an eye on what their investments are and recuse themselves from cases accordingly.
The seriousness of the financial involvement varies from case to case. The Center says it notified each of the judges implicated and those courts involved sent out letters to the parties in those cases notifying them of the conflict. The judge in question claims to have only recently become aware of the potential conflict of interest. (The overall theme of the denials seems to be that someone else manages their investments, so the judge wasn't aware of the stock holding.) A computerized system introduced in 2006 didn't catch the conflict either. So the court gives the parties the chance to challenge the judgment.
The problem here is optics as much as it is corruption. For example, in one case the Center for Public Integrity highlights, an Eleventh Circuit judge ruled against the plaintiff-appellants in a product liability suit about a defective medication pump. Problem: the judge had a financial stake in Johnson & Johnson, who distributed the pump.
Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Hill owned as much as $100,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock when he and two other judges ruled against the Gables' appeal in the precedent-setting case.
And the Center says its survey was not exhaustive.
Every time something like this happens, the judges in question look awful even if these investments really are being worked at arm's length. The public feels righteously cynical about all of it, and everyone despairs about the alleged impartiality of Lady Justice in America once again. Assuming, of course, that they ever truly believed in the first place.
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