Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Seminar Trips by Judges Raise Some Concerns

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Seminar Trips by Judges Raise Some Concerns

Article excerpt

Three New Jersey-based judges were among more than 185 federal judges across the nation who attended seminars sponsored by private groups, many of them companies or conservative organizations with a political agenda, according to an investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity.

The report said 11 percent of the nation's federal judges participated in 109 seminars over a 4 1/2-year period that were sponsored by large foundations and companies. They included the conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and companies in the oil and pharmaceutical businesses.

The report alleges that some of the judges' decisions might have been influenced by the seminars, citing a ruling that seemed to benefit the fossil fuel industry that was rendered by a judge who attended a seminar sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.

However, John Dunbar, a director with the center who participated in the investigative report, said there was no indication that any of the three New Jersey-based judges it cited -- Michael B. Kaplan, Joseph E. Irenas and Stanley R. Chesler -- ever made a decision that was influenced by one of the seminars they attended.

The report identified Kaplan, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Trenton, as one of the most widely traveled judges, citing his attendance at a total of six seminars in 2009 and 2011 in Virginia and Chicago, all hosted by either George Mason University in Virginia or Northwestern University in Illinois.

The topics included case analysis, economics and civil justice, according to a database on the center's website. The sponsors included Shell Oil, Exxon Mobil, the Koch Charitable Foundation, Pfizer, the American Petroleum Institute, Johnson & Johnson and Wal- Mart.

Kaplan was not available for comment on Monday, but the Center for Public Integrity said it had received an email from him in which he said that the "seminars offer a valuable opportunity for new judicial appointees to enhance their knowledge and skills in complex areas of the law," including economics. …

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