Chief Justice: Judges must better avoid financial disputes

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has said federal justice needs to do more to ensure judges are not involved in cases where they have financial conflicts of interest.

Roberts made these comments as part of his Annual Report on the federal judiciary released Friday night.

Roberts pointed to a series of articles recently published in the Wall Street Journal which found that “between 2010 and 2018, 131 federal judges were involved in a total of 685 cases involving businesses in which they or their families held interests. actions ”. Federal judges and Supreme Court judges are required by law to recuse themselves from cases where they have a personal financial interest.

“Let me be crystal clear: the judiciary is taking this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and these judges have violated a rule of ethics, ”Roberts wrote in the nine-page report.

Roberts is one of three nine-member Supreme Court justices to hold individual shares. These holdings sometimes lead judges to withdraw from a case or sell shares in order to participate. The other judges who own individual shares are Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. In the past, these holdings have sometimes given rise to problems.

In 2015, Breyer was involved in a high-profile energy case involving a subsidiary of Johnson Controls Inc, based in Wisconsin. A routine check by Breyer’s office failed to identify his wife as owning shares of Johnson Controls. After the case was debated, a media investigation brought the issue to Breyer’s attention and his wife sold 750 shares worth about $ 33,000.

Alito was involved in a television curse case involving ABC Inc. and other networks. At the time the case was argued in 2008, Alito owned approximately $ 2,000 in shares of ABC’s parent company, Walt Disney Co. The case ended 5-4, with Alito voting with the majority. and against the interests of ABC. He later said his participation was an oversight.

Roberts did not write about the challenges in his own court for financial or other reasons. He noted that in the cases identified by the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper found no conflicts affecting the actions of judges in the cases. And Roberts pointed out that conflicts were identified in “less than three hundredths of one percent of the 2.5 million civil cases filed in district courts over the nine years included in the study,” a rate 99.97% compliance.

But Roberts said: “We have a duty to strive for 100% compliance because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function.”

Roberts said ethics training programs need to be more rigorous and that “information systems that help courts detect and prevent conflicts need to be refreshed,” among others. He said authorities were working to resolve the issue.

As coronavirus cases multiplyRoberts only mentioned the pandemic briefly. Last year, Roberts Annual Report focused on the impact of the pandemic on federal courts, with Roberts praising the work of the judiciary staff during the pandemic.

Roberts and his colleagues are expected to return to the courtroom on January 7 for a special set of arguments to assess challenges to two Biden administration policies covering vaccine requirements for millions of workers. The cases concern policies that affect large employers and healthcare workers.

Due to the pandemic, the courtroom is not open to the public and only judges, lawyers, court staff and journalists will be in attendance. Judges spent nearly 19 months hearing arguments over the phone due to the pandemic but returned to the courtroom in October.


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