Report Finds Appeals Court Judges Violated Ethics Laws

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - More than a dozen federal appeals court judges have violated federal conflict-of-interest laws over the past three years, throwing into doubt decisions in 26 cases, according to an analysis from a watchdog group.

The Center for Public Integrity, in a report being released today, found 24 cases in which judges ruled despite owning stock in a company appearing before them. In two other cases, the judges had financial ties to law firms representing one of the parties.

When informed of the conflicts, all 16 judges sent letters to the parties involved in the cases, disclosing the violations. Several judges said their failure to withdraw from the cases was an oversight, the report said. Some of the judges had conflicts in more than one case.

In one 2011 case, Judge James Hill, of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, was part of a three-judge panel that affirmed a lower court verdict in favor of health care giant Johnson & Johnson in a lawsuit over a malfunctioning medication pump. At the time of the decision, Hill owned as much as $100,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock, the report found.

The conflicts took place despite a new policy adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States in 2006 that requires all federal courts to conduct automated screenings to help avoid potential conflicts of interest. Judges must disclose a list of their financial holdings and each court is required to screen for conflicts on a regular basis. …