According to a report published by The Wall Street Journal, 131 federal judges reportedly violated the law by hearing cases involving personal interests or those of their family members.
The research shows that between 2010 and 2018, there were 685 cases in which judges acted on lawsuits involving companies in which they or their relatives owned stock.
In almost two out of three of these 685 cases, there were verdicts in favor of the companies where the judges or their relatives had economic interests.
The explanations given by the judges for these alleged violations were varied; some said that the recusal lists contained spelling errors so that some cases could not be detected as “conflict of interest” because of the software they use, others blamed their clerks, and also some said that the operations resulted in losses.
Among some of the cases is that of Judge Lewis Babcock of Colorado, who ruled in favor of a Comcast Corp. subsidiary, and he or his family reportedly held $15,001 to $50,000 worth of company stock at the time.
In this case, a couple accused Comcast workers of scaring their 10-year-old daughter and hurting their dog and asked the judge, who Ronald Reagan appointed, to issue an order that company workers do not enter their property to install fiber-optic cable.
Babcock’s ruling was that the couple had blocked access to company workers, and the case was sent back to state court, just as Comcast wanted.
When asked about his violation, the judge alluded to faulty internal procedures and thanked The Wall Street Journal for alerting him, assuring he would not make that blunder again.
Another case occurred in New York, where Barack Obama-appointed Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that TGI Insurance Co. owed $25 million, plus $8 million more added by him, to Exxon Mobil Corp. in a pollution lawsuit.
At the time, the judge held stock in Exxon worth between $15,001 and $50,000.
A court official said Ramos did not know of his violation because his challenge list included only the name of the parent company Exxon Mobil Corp. and did not include the company in question, so the court’s conflict-detection software did not find a violation because it is based on exact matches.
On the other hand, court records say that at the beginning of the case, the unit reported that it was a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil so that the appointed judge could evaluate a possible recusal or disqualification.
For its part, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said about the report that it is troubling that such cases have occurred in which no conflicts of interest were detected and that the Administrative Office is reviewing the matter.
They also clarified that the federal judiciary places great importance on avoiding instances of financial conflicts of interest, so they are using screening software and ethics training to prevent violations in the future.