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Statement of Purpose

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Judicial Conference Policy on Judges' Attendance
at Privately Funded Educational Programs

Judicial Branch Committee Statement of Purpose

October 2006

The continuing education of judges is in the public interest. Judges need to enhance their understanding of law, science, history, economics, sociology, philosophy, and other disciplines to the same extent as lawyers and other professionals. In an age where rapid technological changes are revolutionizing virtually every aspect of American life, the law must keep pace with changes that society undergoes. Without such knowledge of the world around them, judges would be ill-prepared to make informed and fair decisions.

In view of the compelling need for and many benefits of continuing education, the Judicial Conference believes that neither it nor any other entity should seek to limit judges' access to knowledge or censor their right to increase that knowledge.

The Federal Judicial Center provides high quality educational programs to the judiciary, but it does not and likely never will have sufficient resources to meet the needs of every judge. Private funding of expenses for attendance at educational programs facilitates judges' participation in these activities.

Judicial attendance at privately funded educational programs poses certain concerns, however. Some observers believe that judges may be influenced inappropriately by those who sponsor or contribute (financially or otherwise) to these seminar programs and who might be litigants before those judges. That influence, it is argued, may be exerted through program content, contact between judges and those who litigate before them, and perquisites provided to program attendees.

To address these concerns, the Judicial Conference has adopted a policy that provides for timely disclosure by educational program providers and judges who attend those programs. The required disclosure includes judges' attendance at the program, dates and location of the program, topics to be presented, speakers who will address each topic, funding source for the program, and sponsors of the programs.

The Conference's overarching objective in preparing this policy is greater transparency. The required disclosure by program providers will better enable judges to determine whether they should attend a program. The disclosure will also enable a party, attorney, or the public to check on a local court's website to determine whether a judge has recently attended an educational seminar covered by this policy. A party, an attorney, or the public may consult the judiciary's website (www.uscourts.gov) to access further details concerning the educational program. This transparency and accountability should strengthen public and congressional confidence in federal judicial ethics.

This new policy appropriately balances judges' educational needs and the desire of the public to be informed promptly when judges meet those needs by attending privately funded programs.