Justice Roberts Talks Judicial Accountability But Fails to Acknowledge Huge Nationwide Problem

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Chief Justice Roberts released his year-end report, and in it was a call to federal judges to follow ethics rules. His remarks came after James Grimaldi of the Wall Street Journal and a team of journalists uncovered 131 judges in 685 cases between 2010 and 2018 had refused to recuse themselves from hearing cases in which they had a financial interest.


While Roberts cited the WSJ investigation in his report, he got the details wrong. “Let me be crystal clear,” he wrote. “The judiciary takes this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule.” Then Roberts made an unfounded claim that it’s a very small number of judges doing this. “But I do want to put these lapses in context,” he wrote. “According to The Wall Street Journal’s own data the 685 instances identified amount to a very small fraction — less than three hundredths of 1 percent — of the 2.5 million civil cases filed in the district courts in the nine years included in the study. That’s a 99.97 percent compliance rate.”

Not so fast, your honor. Grimaldi responded, saying, “The Journal’s initial tally was an undercount; it was impossible because of the peculiarities of the judiciary’s financial-disclosure process and incomplete information available on case litgants.” Grimaldi also took issue with Roberts’s numbers. “The suggestion that we could review millions of cases is misleading.” Grimaldi suggests that, if the Journal had reviewed millions of cases, the number of judges found to have engaged in misconduct would be staggering. In fact, in an updated reporting, the Journal found over 800 more violations to add to that first report.


Related: 31 Missouri Judges Recuse Themselves from Lawsuit Alleging Family Court Guardians and Psychologists Orchestrated Money-Making Scheme

Judicial misconduct is a hot topic, and it’s a problem in every state in the nation. It’s so prolific that it inspired a 27-part investigative series right here on PJ Media — and that was only in one state. Another series is set to begin, investigating the shenanigans by the Montana judiciary (stay tuned right here for that exposé very soon), where judges have been caught lobbying against bills in the legislature that would hold them accountable for misconduct.
Roberts also chalked up the inappropriate judicial behavior as “unintentional oversight.” Maybe that’s because Roberts was recently caught in a similar scandal. The New York Times reported that Roberts failed to recuse himself from a case in which he had more than a $100,000 investment.

Though Chief Justice Roberts did not mention it, the Supreme Court has not been immune from similar lapses. In 2017, for instance, after participating in the oral arguments in a patent case, that Chief Justice Roberts “has concluded that he should not continue to participate in this case.” He had discovered, the court said, that he owned 1,212 shares of the parent company of one of the parties in the case. The shares were worth more than $100,000, according to a financial disclosure report.
“The ordinary conflict check conducted in the chief justice’s chambers inadvertently failed to find this potential conflict,” a letter from a court official to lawyers in the patent case said.


Perhaps it’s not surprising that Roberts would want to write off the misconduct as “unintentional,” since he did it too. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that judges across this nation are taking advantage of their positions of power for personal gain. Who holds these judges accountable? In most states, it’s a judiciary oversight board … made up of other judges.

Related: St. Louis County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Michael Burton Resigns After Incriminating Email Scandal

If that sounds like the fox guarding the henhouse, consider that in Montana, the current judicial accountability board has a 98% dismissal rate. The Missouri judicial accountability board, run by members of the BAR, rarely even answers complaints and when they do, they dismiss them. There’s no way to tell what Missouri’s dismissal numbers are because the “oversight” committee is so secretive, but no one I’ve ever met who complained to them through official channels even got a hearing. In Texas, the dismissal rate is similar, and the accountability board only meets once every two years to hear the complaints of the public. Many of those people have been waiting that long or longer for a response to their complaints. In Illinois, two St. Clair County judges were using cocaine and heroin and were only caught when one of them overdosed and died. In the same county, two judges caught drinking and driving with open containers in the car were allowed to stay on the bench. Not only is no one holding judges to any standards but no one cares when they break actual laws, either.


When you take into consideration what kinds of decisions judges are making —whether or not to remove your children from your home, into whose custody to place your children, whether or not you are deprived of your property and freedom — the standards for their behavior ought to be not only printed but enforced. Failure to do so is a stain on this country.


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