Roberts denounces disputes over the ownership of judges’ shares
Federal courts need to do much better when it comes to enforcing conflicts of interest laws that are supposed to prevent judges from deciding cases in which they have actions, Chief Justice John G. Roberts said. Jr. in its year-end report on the judiciary.
In September, he responded to a report in the Wall Street Journal that from 2010 to 2018, federal judges were involved in 685 cases involving companies in which they or their spouses had actions. When they were contacted, many of them said they were unaware of the stakes because a money manager was managing their investments.
The chief judge said federal law requires judges to challenge a case in which they have a direct financial interest, no matter how small.
“Let me be clear: the judiciary is taking this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and these judges violated a rule of ethics, “he wrote.
“We have a duty to strive to comply 100% because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function,” he continued. “Individually, judges must be scrupulously attentive to both the letter and the spirit of our rules, like most.”
He said that “professed ignorance of the ethical norm” or the failure of computer software designed to avoid such conflicts were no excuses. Most judges rely on a computer program to alert them when a case before them includes a company in which they have shares. Sometimes a major company escapes the software if it is a subsidiary of a larger corporation.
Roberts said this could explain some slips, but not for judges who had multiple rapes. For them, “there is a more serious problem of inadequate ethics training … our ethics training programs need to be more rigorous. This means more class time, webinars and queries. But it also requires more attention to promote a culture of compliance, even when busy records keep court schedules full, “he said.
He noted, however, that violations of ethics appear to be rare. Of the 2.5 million civil cases handled by federal district courts in the nine years that were examined, he said the 685 violations accounted for less than three-hundredths of 1%. “That’s a 99.97% compliance rate,” he said.
In addition, he said the newspaper’s news did not report that “the actions of the judge in any of these cases, often only the routine management of records, really benefited the judge financially.”
The Chief Justice said the U.S. Courts of Justice is working to improve technology and training to deal with the problem.
Judges are not prohibited from taking direct action. If their shares are held indirectly in mutual funds, they are not obliged to give up.
He did not suggest imposing sanctions on repeat offenders. For the most part, federal judges are responsible for deciding when to withdraw from a case.
As Chief Justice, Roberts is the leader of the federal judiciary.
Roberts received the highest job approval score from 11 U.S. leaders in a Gallup poll conducted in early December and published earlier this week, with 60% approving how he is managing his role.
Only two other leaders received positive approval ratings from most Americans surveyed: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell (53%) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health. Allergies and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden. (52%).
Roberts was the only leader to receive majority approval from both Republicans (57%) and Democrats (52%).
The poll fared much better than elected leaders. Biden was approved by 43%, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) by 40% and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) By 34%.