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As the controversy regarding judicial junkets intensifies, one prominent law school is finding itself at the center of the commotion. The Law and Economics Center at George Mason University School of Law is one of the biggest sponsors of judicial educational programs-”not junkets,” according to the school’s dean-and has earned the law school wide recognition because of the hundreds of judges who have attended its programs. But a recent report released by a public interest law firm and pending legislation seeking to curb the expense-paid trips may be giving the school more attention than it wants. “We are trying to conduct business like all the rest of the universities,” said Daniel Polsby, dean of George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va. “If you call our program ‘junkets,’ it’s the equivalent of saying four years at Harvard is four years of sex, drugs and parties.” A report released last month by Community Rights Counsel, a Washington-based nonprofit law firm, found that the George Mason University Law and Economics Center, among the top three largest providers of judicial seminars, received $40,000 from tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos. and $40,000 from the Exxon Mobil Foundation from 1996 to 2004. The Law and Economics Center, which is “part of the law school,” according to Polsby, has a policy of not disclosing its funding sources to the public or to judges who attend its programs. ‘We’re nobody’s allies’ Francis Buckley, a law professor at George Mason University and the director of the Law and Economic Center Foundation, said that the “crucial thing to look at” was that no single corporation donated more than 2% of the center’s $1.67 million annual budget. “We’re nobody’s allies,” Buckley said. But Doug Kendall, attorney and executive director of Community Rights Counsel, said that the George Mason center has a duty to disclose its sources of funding in what amounts to gifts to judges. “You want to ensure that corporations that appear before judges aren’t controlling the education and aren’t providing large gifts to judges,” he said. The school’s Law and Economic Center offers expense-paid programs, sometimes held at vacation resorts, on a variety of cerebral topics such as the religious origins of Western culture and heroism in Homer and Sophocles. It also offers programs more aligned with law and economics theory, including seminars on the economics of tort law and seminars on science in the courtroom. Some of those programs, critics contend, present an undercurrent of tort reform and other conservative agendas. Attending one of the seminars in Santa Fe, N.M., a few years ago was David Yellen, dean at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He said that the program on the wealth of nations was “incredibly lively and stimulating.” He also said that the speakers were “predominantly people identified as conservative,” and that it “weighed to the conservative side.” The Law and Economics Center routinely invites law deans to attend its programs. The Community Rights Counsel report comes amid legislation introduced earlier this year by senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., which seeks to ban judicial junkets and provide a fund to cover judges’ costs of continuing education. In addition, Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., and Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have proposed the creation of an inspector general to investigate judicial impropriety. The funding factor George Mason University, a state-funded school, maintains that it has no duty to reveal the source of funding for the Law and Economics Center. Its Web site states that the center’s 12-member board of judges has advised it that although judges attending the programs have a duty to inquire about funding where there is “a reasonable question concerning the propriety of participation,” no such duty arises with the center’s programs because of their academic nature. Those serving on the center’s board include five federal appellate court judges and four federal district court judges. Vaughn Walker, chief U.S. district judge for the Northern District of California and a member of the center’s board, said he was not aware that it had received the donations from the two corporations. He also said that the center has no duty to reveal its funding sources because the programs are not related to the donors’ interests. He added, however, that he was “sure the people who provide the funding satisfy themselves that this is something they want to support.”

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