[JURIST] A panel of federal judges headed by US District Judge D. Brock Hornby [official profile] of Maine has begun considering whether members of the federal bench should have their way paid to private seminars. Federal judges are currently allowed to go on expense-paid trips as long as they report the travel, but travel financed by private organizations has recently gained attention in Washington DC, where top Democratic Senators John Kerry (MA), Patrick Leahy (VT) and Russ Feingold (WI) [official websites] want to bar federal judges from attending seminars [Leahy press release and bill text; JURIST report] sponsored by special interests unless their own courts pay the expenses. Along somewhat more general lines, US House Republicans have introduced a bill [press release] that would create an inspector general for the federal judiciary to investigate possible ethical violations, a move which the federal courts say is unecessary [JURIST report]. The panel of judges will eventually make a recommendation to the federal judiciary on whether they should ban expense-paid trips.
The Community Rights Counsel (CRC) [advocacy website], an environmental organization, gave the panel records [CRC press release] Wednesday indicating that tobacco and oil companies have helped finance private judicial seminars hosted by conservative groups, including the George Mason University-based Law and Economics Center [education website] and the Montana-based Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment [foundation website]. Both conservative groups have responded that they do receive funding from tobacco and oil companies, but deny that they use it to host private seminars for the judiciary and that they do not reveal who their donors are to the seminar attendees. Earlier, CRC gave the panel evidence of 22 judges taking expense-paid trips without reporting them. AP has more.