Judicial Transparency Report Finds Few Conflicts

Every year, The National Law Journal publishes a “Judicial Transparency Report” based on financial reports filed by federal circuit judges from across the U.S. The report reveals who pays for judges’ expenses when they travel for speaking engagements, judicial workshops, and other events in which they participate.

The most recent report --- which covers the 2013 calendar year – reveals that only six of the 802 reimbursements that judges reported for 2013 came from legal advocacy groups, and those groups took positions in only three cases heard by the judges in the following year and a half. In each instance, the advocacy groups had filed amicus briefs and were not actual parties to litigation. 

The National Law Journal interviewed the lawyers who lost the three cases; significantly, they unanimously agreed that they saw no conflict based on the judges’ reimbursements for travel expenses by the amicus filers.

Federal judges often come under intense scrutiny for their subsidized travel for speaking and interacting with legal groups, but such criticism is often painted as being much more sinister than reality. While judges need to be impartial and willing to fairly consider all sides of an issue, that doesn’t mean that they should be locked up in chambers for fear that the outside world will somehow taint that impartiality. By contrast, the best judges are active in both the legal community and the outside world because so much of what they are asked to do depends on their understanding of the context in which the cases and controversies arise.  

Lawyers generally understand that notion, and most are intensely interested in hearing from members of the bench on a variety of issues so long as judges avoid the appearance of impropriety and don’t cover cases or issues that are (or may end up) before the bench. But judicial polls will tell you that the really good judges have attorney approval ratings in the 80-90% range, numbers the average politician will see only in their dreams. Numbers that high mean that even most of the lawyers who have lost before that judge believe the judge is doing a good job.  

When most lawyers think that a judge is impartial, regardless of outcome, that’s usually a pretty good sign that’s exactly the case.

Posted: 11/18/2015 4:44:01 PM by TCLE Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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