The lawbreakers on the federal bench
Federal Reserve senior officials aren’t the only government employees with fresh ethics problems. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, more than 130 federal judges participated in court cases “involving companies in which they or their family owned stock.”
Such behavior is a big no-no according to judicial ethics rules – and federal law. As the Journal notes:
…judges have improperly failed to disqualify themselves from 685 court cases around the nation since 2010. The jurists were appointed by nearly every president from Lyndon Johnson to Donald Trump.
About two-thirds of federal district judges disclosed holdings of individual stocks, and nearly one of every five who did heard at least one case involving those stocks.
When some jurists got the word they had crossed the ethical line, they did the right thing:
…56 of the judges have directed court clerks to notify parties in 329 lawsuits that they should have recused themselves. That means new judges might be assigned, potentially upending rulings.
When judges participated in such cases, about two-thirds of their rulings on motions that were contested came down in favor of their or their family’s financial interests.
The excuses the judges deployed run the gamut:
Some blamed court clerks. Some said their recusal lists had misspellings that foiled the conflict-screening software. Some pointed to trades that resulted in losses. Others said they had only nominal roles, such as confirming settlements or transferring cases to other courts, though there is no legal exemption for such work.
Bottom line: Ignorance of the law is no excuse, your honors. But willful ignorance is a downright disgrace.