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Report Details Action On Judicial Accountability
In August 2006, the Executive Committee of the
Judicial Conference sent to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. a status report
detailing the Conference's action on judicial ethics and accountability. The
following report was distributed to federal judges.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., directed the Executive Committee of the
Judicial Conference of the United States to report on actions taken and in
process by the Conference's relevant committees and the Administrative Office of
the United States Courts (AO) in response to the recent reports of instances in
which federal judges may not have complied with established ethical obligations.
Specifically, several judges may have participated in matters in which they had
a financial interest, and some did not report their attendance at private
educational seminars for which their expenses were paid. This is the first
report in a series to be made by the Executive Committee. The second and third
reports will be made following Executive Committee and Judicial Conference
First, the Executive Committee has undertaken a comprehensive review of all
Judicial Conference policies on ethical obligations, and will be meeting in
August and September to assess efforts already underway to aid judges'
compliance with those obligations, and to consider whether further action is
Second, the Judicial Conference Committees on Financial Disclosure and Codes
of Conduct are considering additional administrative rules and reporting
requirements for recusals and seminar attendance. Furthermore, these committees
are providing to judges additional training sessions, video presentations,
written reminders, and regular updated information on current ethical
Third, judges who have been cited in the above reports are taking appropriate
steps to address the concerns that have been raised and put procedures in place
to avoid any errors.
Fourth, the AO recently deployed conflict-checking software in almost every
district and bankruptcy court, and is in the process of doing so in the courts
of appeals. Moreover, the AO is continuously working on improving the software
by, among other things, refining the name-matching function to increase the
accuracy of results and thereby assist judges in identifying potential recusal
situations. The AO and the Federal Judicial Center are also devoting substantial
resources to educate judges on how to use the conflict-checking technology.
Additional measures to promote, track and utilize the CM/ECF conflict-checking
application are expected.
Fifth, the Judicial Branch Committee of the Judicial Conference is working on
an expanded disclosure policy for private seminar attendance by judges, which is
expected to be considered by the Judicial Conference in September.
Sixth, the AO has been working with Congress to include in the tax laws a
capital gains rollover provision that will enable judges who sell property in
order to avoid conflicts of interest to defer capital gains taxes until the
substitute financial interests are subsequently liquidated. Members of the
executive branch are already covered by such a provision. Language extending it
to the Judiciary has been passed by the House of Representatives and is under
consideration by the Senate, and such a provision would significantly assist
judges in avoiding conflicts of interest.
Seventh, the special committee established by the late Chief Justice
Rehnquist to examine the implementation of the Judicial Conduct and Disability
Act of 1980, chaired by Justice Stephen Breyer, will deliver its report to Chief
Justice Roberts in the fall.
The federal Judiciary has a long record of high ethical standards and
continuing efforts to assure that all judges comply with those standards. The
great increase in workload and multiplication of detailed reporting obligations
make occasional slips inevitable, but the Judicial Conference is committed to
achieving compliance by all judges with all obligations and reporting
requirements relating to ethics.
To preserve the independence of the Judiciary, Congress has traditionally
agreed that the responsibility for enforcement of ethical conduct should be that
of the Judiciary itself, and the Conference continues firmly to oppose
deviations from this wise principle. Proposals in Congress to create an
inspector general to oversee the Judiciary are unnecessary, unprecedented and
may violate judicial independence and the separation of powers. Ethical
violations of the nature recently reported are, and should be, managed,
regulated and addressed by the Judiciary itself. We take these matters very
seriously and will continue to do everything we can to assure that the conduct
of all judges remains above reproach.
The Judicial Conference of the United States will meet on September 19, 2006,
at which time it will consider the actions taken and proposed by its
Thomas F. Hogan, Chairman
Paul R. Michel
David L. Russell
Charles R. Breyer
John M. Walker, Jr.
James C. Duff
August 3, 2006