"If the judges interpret the laws themselves, and suffer none else to interpret, they may easily make, of the laws, [a shredded] shipman's hose!" - King James I of England, around 1616.

“No class of the community ought to be allowed freer scope in the expression or publication of opinions as to the capacity, impartiality or integrity of judges than members of the bar. They have the best opportunities of observing and forming a correct judgment. They are in constant attendance on the courts. Hundreds of those who are called on to vote never enter a court-house, or if they do, it is only at intervals as jurors, witnesses or parties. To say that an attorney can only act or speak on this subject under liability to be called to account and to be deprived of his profession and livelihood by the very judge or judges whom he may consider it his duty to attack and expose, is a position too monstrous to be entertained for a moment under our present system,” Justice Sharwood in Ex Parte Steinman and Hensel, 95 Pa 220, 238-39 (1880).

“This case illustrates to me the serious consequences to the Bar itself of not affording the full protections of the First Amendment to its applicants for admission. For this record shows that [the rejected attorney candidate] has many of the qualities that are needed in the American Bar. It shows not only that [the rejected attorney candidate] has followed a high moral, ethical and patriotic course in all of the activities of his life, but also that he combines these more common virtues with the uncommon virtue of courage to stand by his principles at any cost.

It is such men as these who have most greatly honored the profession of the law. The legal profession will lose much of its nobility and its glory if it is not constantly replenished with lawyers like these. To force the Bar to become a group of thoroughly orthodox, time-serving, government-fearing individuals is to humiliate and degrade it.” In Re Anastaplo, 18 Ill. 2d 182, 163 N.E.2d 429 (1959), cert. granted, 362 U.S. 968 (1960), affirmed over strong dissent, 366 U.S. 82 (1961), Justice Black, Chief Justice Douglas and Justice Brennan, dissenting.

" I do not believe that the practice of law is a "privilege" which empowers Government to deny lawyers their constitutional rights. The mere fact that a lawyer has important responsibilities in society does not require or even permit the State to deprive him of those protections of freedom set out in the Bill of Rights for the precise purpose of insuring the independence of the individual against the Government and those acting for the Government”. Lathrop v Donohue, 367 US 820 (1961), Justice Black, dissenting.

"The legal profession must take great care not to emulate the many occupational groups that have managed to convert licensure from a sharp weapon of public defense into blunt instrument of self-enrichment". Walter Gellhorn, "The Abuse of Occupational Licensing", University of Chicago Law Review, Volume 44 Issue 1, September of 1976.

“Because the law requires that judges no matter how corrupt, who do not act in the clear absence of jurisdiction while performing a judicial act, are immune from suit, former Judge Ciavarella will escape liability for the vast majority of his conduct in this action. This is, to be sure, against the popular will, but it is the very oath which he is alleged to have so indecently, cavalierly, baselessly and willfully violated for personal gain that requires this Court to find him immune from suit”, District Judge A. Richard Caputo in H.T., et al, v. Ciavarella, Jr, et al, Case No. 3:09-cv-00286-ARC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Document 336, page 18, November 20, 2009. This is about judges who were sentencing kids to juvenile detention for kickbacks.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What is the necessity for judges to have their continued legal education seminars held at resorts, and have all expenses paid either by the public or by private sponsors when the CLE requirement is a personal condition to maintain the judge's law licenses?

Every licensed attorney must attend the required number of hours in continued legal education (CLE) for the reporting period (24 hours in 2 years in the state of New York).

Every attorney must also do that at his own expense.  Attorneys are lucky if their law firms pay for their CLE seminars (some law firms do) and/or allow attorneys to attend those during business week.

Many, if not most attorneys, though, carry that expense on their own.

Lately, it has become more or less easy to "attend" a CLE seminar without physically being there - online.  Paid subscriptions to such seminars are available to attorneys.

All federal judges and most state judges are also attorneys.  Being an attorney and maintaining the licensing requirements (including the CLE requirements) is a pre-requisite for many judges.  Yet, judges apparently, are not required to pay for their CLE courses.  They either charge the public, or accept gifts of all-expenses-paid CLE seminars in resort areas from private sponsors.

In my view, both of those options create appearances of impropriety for judges and puts the judicial office into a disrepute.

There is a definite problem when the judiciary, while cutting court budgets and creating backlog of cases, splurge public funds allegedly on "continuing legal education" which happens at resorts in and even outside of the country.

It was recently reported that some criminal court judges in New Orleans have spent $75,000.00 over the recent years to take them to such "continued legal education" conferences and seminars.

The same source as reported this splurge reports that judges who were rated least efficient got the most travel at public expense. 

Judges defended their behavior because, allegedly, the Louisiana Supreme Court has set the cap for such travel per judge at the whopping $15,000.00 (!).  It is beyond me as to what is the need for such an expense for a judge, and why the public must pay $15,000.00 per year per judge for continued legal education (CLE), especially that apparenty such CLE took, reportedly, only 3.5 hours a day and can be easily delivered through an online seminar that the same judge can do from his home on the Internet, without spending a penny of public money.

There is a no less pronounced problem when judges attend such CLE conferences at the expense of private sponsors (see, for example, here, here and here) - and then preside over the sponsor's cases and rule for the sponsors.  It is not a direct bribe, of course, but it surely resembles one, and such an appearance of impropriety should be enough to take a judge off the "sponsored" case.

The problem of sponsored travel for judges has existed and was reported for a long time, yet, obviously, nothing has changed.

It is illustrative that law schools opposed a legislative cap on travel expenses for federal judges.

It is no less illustrative that the proposal for the cap provided for an exception, that the cap will not be applicable if the trips were sponsored by governmental bodies, judicial associations and bar associations.

Apparently, if attorneys pay judges' expenses - and then appear before those judges - that is somehow ok?

Recently, a Louisiana judge was disciplined for accepting a direct gift of an all-expenses-paid trip from an attorney who had a case tried in front of the judge.

I see no difference when the all-expenses-paid trips are paid for by a group of attorneys, or a group of corporate sponsors whose cases are or likely to come before that judge.

It is disingenuous at best to claim that judges do not know sponsors of the seminar and do not feel obliged to rule in a certain way to get invited to such a seminar again.

The appearance of impropriety still taints any decisions that such a "sponsored" judge makes.

And that destroys what remains of the public trust in the integrity of the judiciary.

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