The Center for Public Integrity, in a report to be released today, found 24 cases in which judges ruled despite owning stock in a company appearing before them. This practice is strictly forbidden in both law and the judicial canon. The judicial canon is the code of conduct to which judges voluntarily adhere as part of their professional obligation. The rules go over and above the statutes in order to ensure that there is never an appearance of impropriety and the integrity of the bench is never compromised.
The Center for Public Integrity, is a non-profit watchdog group whose mission is to hold powerful people in the service of the public accountable for their actions.
Among the ethics violators was Federal Appeals Judge, James Hill, who ruled against a Florida woman who sued Johnson & Johnson over a malfunctioning medication pump that was surgically implanted in her body. The judge ruled in favor of the medical equipment leviathan even though, or perhaps because, he owned Johnson & Johnson stock.
The Center for Public Integrity, CPI, also found that Hill ruled on three other appeals cases involving companies in which he had a financial interest. In all four instances, Hill’s rulings favored his financial interest. In a statement released by the Court, Hill claimed not to be aware of owning the stocks in question because of his family’s varied financial assets.
In another case, a judge ruled in favor of chemical company Du Pont in a case brought by a Florida farmer who died from cancer after he used a Du Pont fungicide on his crops. The judge owned Du Pont stock.
Also among the violations listed in the report were the actions of federal Judge John Walker who, in spite of holding AIG stock, ruled on a $25 billion Manhattan lawsuit accusing the Federal Reserve of bailing out AIG at the expense of shareholders in 2008.
Following a Washington Post investigation of ethics violations in 2006, the courts added a computerized screening process to avoid conflicts. However, jurists must input their financial holdings accurately in order for the process to be effective. Many of the judges named in this report claimed ignorance of their own holdings. One need not be the owner of a Juris Doctorate to know that ignorance is not a valid defense in such matters.
When it comes to decisions in cases such as these, the ruling of the Court can instantly impact the value of a company’s stock, and in some cases, affect an entire industry. Even the appearance of judicial impropriety can cause the public to lose confidence in the integrity of the justice system and undermine the very fabric of the Constitution, particularly in light of the fact that it is the pool of Federal Judges from which Supreme Court Justices are plucked.
Each of the judges in this report have acknowledged their violations and have written letters informing the parties of the cases they mishandled. Stunningly, though, none of the jurists named will face disciplinary actions.