Former U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Chief Judge Randall Rader (Diego M. Radzinschi)
Federal appeals judges traveled the globe in 2012 on the tab of law schools, bar associations, private companies and other groups. [See map.]
Judge Randall Rader of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was the most frequent flyer, reporting 36 reimbursed trips, according to the latest data available. He was one of 161 judges to report at least one reimbursed trip and one of 34 judges to travel overseas, according to The National Law Journal’s review of 257 financial reports federal appeals judges filed.
The federal judiciary’s Code of Conduct encourages judges to engage in activities involving the law and administration of justice as long as “the judge’s time permits and impartiality is not compromised.”
Rader said in an email interview that he accepted invitations “compatible with the timing and other demands of my case load,” and that advanced the practice of law. His travels took him across the United States and to Israel, Canada, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Finland, Poland, South Korea, Japan and India.
“In sum, I work on airplanes well, and I consistently maintain one of the most productive dockets on the court,” he said.
Rader has more travel on the horizon. He resigned as chief judge in May after breaching ethics rules by sending an email to a lawyer praising his skills. In the resignation notice, the court said Rader would continue to serve on the court but “undertake additional teaching, lecturing and travel.”
Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood was another top traveler, reporting 27 reimbursed trips in the United States and to Belgium, Russia and Australia. Wood said she accepted invitations if she was on track to finish writing opinions by the start of a new term. “Obvi­ously, the court work has to come first,” she said.
Federal judges and officials in all three branches of government file annual reports on their finances, including travel reimbursements worth at least $350. The reports don’t specify the value, but judges disclose who paid, when and where they traveled, and the purpose of the trip.
Judges must file additional reports if they receive travel reimbursements for privately funded seminars aimed at educating judges — events that have raised concerns about the influence of corporations and other private sponsors.
Federal appeals judges infrequently attend such seminars, according to their travel reimbursements. But at least three judges who took reimbursed trips to seminars in 2012 failed to file the required disclosures: Ninth Circuit judges Sandra Ikuta and Carlos Bea and Fifth Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly.
Ikuta and Bea filed the disclosures in response to inquiries by the NLJ. Those were “oversights,” according to a court official.
Jolly said in an interview he wasn’t familiar with the rule. He said his secretary told him she knew about the requirement, but did not think the event — an economics seminar at the Law & Economics Center at George Mason University School of Law — was privately funded. Jolly said the disclosure rule seemed “superfluous,” since he listed reimbursed trips in his annual reports. “But I have no objection to complying,” he added.
Other judges gave vague descriptions in their annual financial reports of reimbursed trips, making it more difficult to check whether events fell under the seminar reporting rules. Rader described trips he reported for 2012 as an “education seminar” or “educational seminar.”
Bar associations, which are excluded under the seminar reporting rules, paid for many of Rader’s trips. Law schools and other entities covered by the rules paid for approximately half. Rader said none of the events qualified as privately funded seminars requiring additional reports. “Perhaps I could have been more precise in describing the events” to avoid any confusion, he said.
The judiciary adopted the seminar reporting rules nearly eight years ago in response to public criticism that certain events were essentially corporate ­junkets.
“The seminars themselves, in certain iterations, are highly ideological efforts to wine, dine and instruct judges about certain areas of law that the corporate or other sponsors care deeply about,” said Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center. The additional reporting requirements, he said, were a “step in the right ­direction.”
The judiciary had to confront the perception of undue influence, said Arthur Hellman, a judicial ethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
“I think most judges are made of stiffer stuff than that. They can accept hospitality from a corporation or a university and rule against them the next day,” he said. “But in all of this, all of these rules, a lot of it is for appearance.”
U.S. District Judge John Bates, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said the seminar disclosure rules had increased transparency. The rules don’t include a penalty for noncompliance, but Bates said judges understand their responsibility. “Isolated incidents can be a concern,” he said, but maintained there was not “a widespread pattern of abuse or inappropriate behavior.”
Under the seminar reporting rules, organizers must file reports with the judiciary in advance if a “significant purpose” of a program is to educate judges, and if they’re paying judges’ travel expenses. They disclose each event’s funders, topics and speakers.
The rules don’t apply to bar associations and judges’ organizations, but they do apply to law schools, private companies and other nongovernmental groups. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts publishes a master list of reports filed by program providers on its website.
Any judge who receives travel reimbursements to these events must file a report within 30 days of attending. Unlike the annual financial reports, which the public can obtain only in paper form through the judiciary, the seminar disclosures are supposed to be readily accessible online on individual court websites.
As of late April, the links to copies of the seminar reports were broken. The judiciary fixed the system in response to an inquiry by the NLJ. It was unclear how long the reports were unavailable.
Seventeen appeals judges — including Bea and Ikuta — have filed seminar disclosures since 2011. (The reports remain public for three years.) Two other judges filed the disclosures in 2012: Third Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher and Fourth Circuit Judge Albert Diaz. Both judges received travel reimbursements from George Mason.
Diaz said the burden falls on judges to follow the rules. If an organizer hasn’t filed the required information in advance, “you as a judge are asked to let that provider know that they need to input that information,” he said.
George Mason’s Law & Economics Center reported 11 privately funded seminars in 2012, the most of any provider. The center says on its website that it offers judges “intense programs designed to build understanding of critical economic disciplines,” recognizing “that the US civil justice system imposes tremendous burdens on American businesses.”
The center receives funding from individuals, foundations and corporations, which it discloses online. It listed two dozen corporate sponsors this year, ranging from Dow Chemical Co. and Google Inc. to Raytheon Co. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The center’s executive director, Henry Butler, said no single donor or group of donors funds particular judges’ programs. In 2012, it reported “xyz corp” as the sole funder of five privately funded seminars. Butler said that was a mistake. The center, he said, funded those events.
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Thirty-four federal appeals judges took reimbursed trips abroad to 39 countries in 2012, according to a National Law Journal review of 257 financial disclosures judges filed last year. Click on a dot to see where judges traveled and to view their annual financial reports, or search for a judge by name. The source of each judge’s travel reimbursement is in parentheses.