Misconduct Findings Against U.S. Judges Kept Secret

By Andrew Kreig

Concerned citizens seeking honest judges now have further evidence they face a secretive, self-protective system that hinders effective oversight. The Washington Post reported Dec. 24 that complaints of judicial ethics go to a special panel that generally refuses to comment.  More specifically, the Post said: “The current chair of the Codes of Conduct committee, Judge Mary Margaret McKeown [at left] of the 9th Circuit in San Diego, said in response to questions that the panel 'does not reveal any information related to an ethics inquiry or opinion unless required by law or where the inquirer has consented or waived confidentiality.'"

The Justice Integrity Project has reported extensive abuses by federal judges. In 2003, for example, an attorney in a civil lawsuit seeking the recusal of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of the Middle District of Alabama filed papers in court alleging that the judge had attempted to defraud Alabama's pension system of $330,000, and therefore should be recused from future cases, and then indicted and impeached. Those papers -- a 39-page affidavit and nearly 140 pages of supporting exhibits -- are mysteriously missing from the court system's public docket even though the attorney delivered multiple copies to the court and such oversight officials as the entire U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as court administrators and the U.S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.  There's been no reported action on a corruption investigation by any of the authorities to whom they were sent, with the attorney saying no one ever bothered to contact him to ask a single question about the evidence. The judge went on to be promoted to chief judge, to preside over many politically charged cases and to become enriched by Bush-era federal contracts for Doss Aviation, Inc., a closely held company the judge controlled at the same time he was helping the Bush administration convict former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and businessman Richard Scrushy on corruption charges.  The Huffington Post published our report, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company. Doss services include Air Force refueling and pilot training.

The judge, who declines to provide his photo, is portrayed at right above in photo taken by Phil Fleming in a portrait session that Fleming says the judge requested minutes after the jury's guilty verdict in June, 2006.  The Republican judge sentenced them each to seven years in prison in what has since become a notorious human rights disgrace because of multiple violations of normal procedures, albeit some rubber-stamped by other courts. Aside from the impact on the defendants, their families and colleagues, the prosecution of Alabama's leading Democrat has helped destroy the two-party system in the state and has undermined the credibility of the Obama Justice Department and the federal judiciary nationwide.  Further, sources have informed us that the prosecution was designed to help pave the way for the politically well-connected in Alabama and overseas to profit if the Department of Defense awards some $40 billion in Air Force contracts to North American EADS to manufacture the next generation of Air Force refueling tankers. EADS, headquartered in Europe and promoted by national leaders there, has promised to build an assembly plant in Alabama if it and its consortium win the military contract, which is one of its most important, disputed and scandal-plagued in the nation's recent history.

Siegelman, his state's leading Democrat before the long-term Justice Department campaign of leaks and prosecutions against him, is portrayed at left in a 2008 CBS 60 Minutes report describing his frame-up.  Tens of thousands of complaints by his supporters have been sent to the Bush and Obama White House and Justice Department, with no apparent effect.  Fuller and his Justice Department defenders have said the judge deserves the right to own stock in the contracting company Doss Aviation, and so does not need to recuse himself. Various motions are pending in the case before the Eleventh Circuit federal appeals court, which in 2009 affirmed convictions for “honest services” later vacated by the Supreme Court for further review. For details, see our June 29 column: Court Vacates Siegelman Charges, As Kagan and DOJ Team Lose.

More generally, the Washington Post report this week continued, “Douglas Kendall, who heads the Constitutional Accountability Center, a nonprofit law firm, and brought the initial complaints against judges linked to the foundation, said the episode raises serious questions about a judicial ethics process that is 'completely self-policing and unenforceable.' Why have a code of conduct, he said, 'if judges can violate it with impunity?'”  For the full article, see below:

Washington Post, For Judges, inconsistent use of ethics rules is evident, R. Jeffrey Smith, Dec. 24, 2010.  Ethics guidelines for the more than 3,000 federal judges are regularly issued and updated by the ethics panel, which includes 15 federal judges. But its advice is mostly given in secret communications to individual judges, and there is no systematic way for others to know what has been decided. Moreover, the decisions of the committee are advisory and may be ignored, unlike those issued by most state judicial ethics committees. Enforcement actions are rare, except in unusual cases of corruption and criminality that can lead to impeachment. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana, ousted by the Senate on Dec. 8 for taking bribes and lying to Congress, was only the eighth federal judge impeached this century.

Editor's Note: Below is a selection of significant blogs and news articles on legal reform and related political, security and media dimensions. The articles contain a sample of news, with the full article viewable by clicking the link.

Freedoms for Sale
Washington Post, Agony at the Airport: Scanner firms rely on Washington insiders, Dan Eggen, Dec. 24, 2010.  The companies that build futuristic airport scanners take a more old-fashioned approach when it comes to pushing their business interests in Washington: hiring dozens of former lawmakers, congressional aides and federal employees as their lobbyists.

FireDogLake, Rape Victim Arrested by TSA for Refusing Groping, Michael Whitney, Dec. 24, 2010. A 56-year-old rape survivor with a pacemaker refused a groping by TSA agents at Austin Bergstrom airport, and was subsequently arrested, pushed to the floor, dragged, and banned from flying from the airport. KVUE in Austin has the horrifying story. Video.

Salon/Unclaimed Territory, What WikiLeaks revealed to the world in 2010, Glenn Greenwald, Dec. 24, 2010. The vast bulk of the outrage has been devoted not to the crimes that have been exposed but rather to those who exposed them:  WikiLeaks and (allegedly) Bradley Manning.
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