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Last month, the latest in a series of attacks against a small and selected number of organizations that sponsor events attended by federal judges ran in Legal Times [ "Stop Judges Tripping on Corporate Dollar," July 18, 2005, Page 60]. These articles — like the latest, often written by individuals affiliated with the self-styled “public interest law firm” Community Rights Counsel — always imply that there is something particularly sinister about such events and, by implication, that there is nothing similar going on anywhere else. The stories always contain, explicitly or by implication or analogous words, the key concepts of “corporate,” “plush,” and “one-sided” to describe the events. And each of these words, as well as the overall attack, is wrong — ranging from wildly misleading to just plain false. Since I have been a board member of one of these organizations, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), and since I was the well-publicized target of a judicial misconduct complaint (whose dismissal was far less publicized), may I be permitted some comments? The truth of the matter is that, under long-standing judicial guidelines, judges may accept expenses for attending a wide variety of events, organized by a wide variety of organizations. I have received expense reimbursement for listening and speaking at events sponsored by the Aspen Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Defense Research Institute, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and New York University, to name just a few. Each of these organizations received some part of its funding from corporations or from other organizations that are “guilty by association” of funding other groups. But if a conservative group were to attack a judge who attended a seminar sponsored by Harvard Law School, on the grounds that Harvard also received funds from George Soros, who takes unpalatable political stands and makes political contributions, such an attacker would rightly be considered some type of McCarthyite loon. Yet that is the basic analog of the attack that Legal Times has helped to spread. THE REAL INTERESTED PARTIES In fact, not one penny of the money used to fund judicial seminars that I have been associated with comes from corporations. All of it comes from so-called dead-man foundations, which have no current funding source with any interests at all, and certainly none engage in litigation in their own names or as amici. FREE, one of the main targets of these attacks, does not engage in litigation or take legislative positions.
• Stop Judges Tripping on Corporate Dollar (July 18, 2005) • Are They Swaying Judges? (August 1, 2005) • Letters to the Editor: A Simple Ethical Problem (August 8, 2005 – Bottom letter)

Contrast this with law schools or bar associations, which litigate extensively on the most controversial issues of the day, from racial discrimination in admissions to anti-terrorist policies to the death penalty, to name a few. Yet no one seems concerned that law schools provide huge numbers of federal judges with a variety of conferences, speaking perks, and something that no other organization can offer: cold cash. Only law schools can put money directly into our pockets, for speaking and teaching deals that can range from the truly onerous to the barely difficult. The attacks against FREE and the judges who participate in its seminars could, with just as much merit (which is to say none), be lodged against federal judges who serve on the board of a university with controversial and litigated admissions policies, or of a law school that has been called the “law school for activists,” or of other private organizations that might, in some regard, support some positions that might offend someone. As for “plush,” I can guarantee you that the arrangements with which I have been provided by Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc., are far more plush, usually at very comfortable big-city hotels, than the fairly plain accommodations at the attacked seminars. (Consider, for example, the availability of room service for the hungry arriver versus a dusty walk to the “gourmet gas station” at my latest FREE conference.) Indeed, if the appearance of “plush” were actually a problem, I would have no difficulty with a rule limiting reimbursement to what would be permitted for ordinary judicial travel. I have no doubt that the conferences I have been involved in arranging could easily meet this standard; I am less sure about those I have attended that were sponsored by various law schools, the Aspen Institute, or the Freedom Forum. ‘IN NO SENSE BIASED’ Finally, I categorically reject the charge that FREE’s seminars are somehow worse, in the sense of bias or quality, than those sponsored by others. We have received glowing evaluations from many judges and academics. The late Chief Judge Richard Arnold of the 8th Circuit, a Democratic appointee, wrote that the seminar he attended “was of the highest intellectual quality of any seminar I have attended” as a judge and that the program was “well balanced, a good mix that was in no sense biased. Of course, different points of view were presented, but that’s a good thing, not a bad one.” Compare that to a recent seminar I attended, co-sponsored by Harvard Law School and the American taxpayer. A veritable who’s who of the academic left spoke — professors Charles Ogletree, Alan Dershowitz, Martha Minow, Elizabeth Warren, and Elena Kagan, among others. It was a fine seminar. I’m glad I attended. The hotel was plush. All the delights of Boston and Cambridge were at our disposal. But there was no visible effort at achieving any kind of intellectual balance. Judge Arnold’s quotation gets to the heart of the matter. The attackers have a clear agenda: intimidate judges from attending any seminar that does not hew to the line they wish to promote, while leaving us all free to attend seminars that don’t deviate from that line. If we really want an evenhanded rule to ensure that judges are as pure as newborn babes, let’s keep everyone from reimbursing us for listening or speaking anywhere ever. And stop the law schools from forking over five-figure teaching fees, honorary degrees, plush jurist-in-residence gigs, and other perks that might influence us were we as venal and weak-willed as these attacks suggest. Or we could all just settle down, allow the operation of rules that have served us well for decades, and quit pretending that attending some seminars is unethical while the virtue of others is self-evident.

Danny J. Boggs is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

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