Federal courts must do much better to enforce conflict of interest laws that are supposed to prevent judges from adjudicating cases in which they hold shares, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his report. end of the year on the judiciary.
He was responding to a Wall Street Journal article in September that from 2010 to 2018, federal judges were involved in 685 cases involving companies in which they or their spouses owned shares. When contacted, many said they were unaware of the stocks held because a fund manager was managing their investments.
The chief justice said federal law requires judges to withdraw from a case in which they have a direct financial interest, however small.
“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, ”he wrote.
“We have a duty to strive for 100% compliance because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function,” he continued. “Individually, judges must be scrupulously attentive to the letter and the spirit of our rules, as most are. “
He said “open ignorance of the rule of ethics” or the failure of computer software designed to prevent such conflicts was no excuse. Most judges rely on a computer program to alert them when a case before them involves a company in which they hold shares. Sometimes an affected company goes through the software if it is an affiliate of a larger company.
Roberts said this may explain some shortcomings, but not for judges who committed multiple violations. For them, “there is a more serious problem of inadequate ethics training … our ethics training programs need to be more rigorous. That means more class time, webinars, and consultations. But it also requires greater attention to promoting a culture of compliance, even when loaded cases fill court calendars, ”he said.
He noted, however, that ethics violations appear to be rare. Of the 2.5 million civil cases handled by federal district courts over the nine years reviewed, he said the 685 violations were less than three hundredths of 1%. “That’s a 99.97% compliance rate,” he said.
Further, he said the newspaper article did not indicate that “the judge’s actions in any of these cases – often just the routine handling of the case – actually benefited the judge financially.”
The chief justice said the U.S. Courts Administrative Office is working to improve technology and training to deal with the problem.
Judges are not prohibited from owning direct shares. If their shares are held indirectly in mutual funds, they are not required to opt out.
He did not suggest imposing penalties on repeat offenders. For the most part, federal judges are responsible for deciding when to withdraw from a case.
As Chief Justice, Roberts is the Head of the Federal Judiciary.
Roberts received the highest job approval rating of 11 U.S. executives in a Gallup poll taken in early December and released earlier this week, with 60% approval of the way he is handling his role.
Only two other executives received positive job approval ratings from a majority of Americans surveyed: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell (53%) and Dr.Anthony Fauci, director of the ‘National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden (52%).
Roberts was the only leader to receive majority approval from Republicans (57%) and Democrats (52%).
He is doing much better in the poll than the elected leaders. Biden was approved by 43%, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) by 40%, and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) By 34%.