Seven district court and bankruptcy judges in the Third Circuit were named among those who took sponsored trips in order to attend educational seminars over the last five years in a report from the Center for Public Integrity.
The bulk of the seminars were held at George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center in Virginia and the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment in Montana — both of which were cast in the report as politically conservative institutions.
The seminars typically run over several days and the cost of the judges’ travel and accommodations is paid for.
“If a conference is public and it’s not a boondoggle … it doesn’t really bother me,” said John Leubsdorf, a professor who teaches ethics and professional responsibility at Rutgers School of Law-Newark.
The biggest potential problem for privately sponsored educational seminars is in the possibility of “a bias in the curriculum, so to speak,” said Geoffrey Hazard Jr., an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
“They can be perfectly OK,” Hazard said, as long as the people presenting the program are carefully selected to be either “middle of the road” or display a balance of views.
Another element to be considered is the location of the seminar, Hazard said, noting that there’s a distinct difference between Hawaii and a more conventional setting for a continuing legal education class. Judges are generally quite sensitive to both issues, Hazard said.
Senior U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who has attended seminars in both locations as well as others that weren’t noted in the report, defended the practice.The question, he said, is whether the seminars are for education or indoctrination.
“Who’s to decide what’s education and what’s indoctrination?” Baylson asked, adding that judges should be equipped to decide that for themselves.
Basically, he said, information available to judges shouldn’t be censored.
Unless judges are living in an ivory tower, Baylson said, “there’s got to be some interplay.”
Baylson attended an economics seminar at George Mason last year and a seminar called “Climate Change, Economics, and the Courts” at FREE in 2008, according to the report.
Read more about it in Friday’s Legal.