Majority of Judges Hearing Oil Drilling Appeal Attended Oil-Funded Junkets

moneyjudgeLast month, Judge Martin Feldman, a federal trial judge in Louisiana, handed down a poorly-reasoned opinion lifting the Obama Administration’s temportary moratorium on new oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Judge Feldman’s most recent financial disclosure form indicates that he is heavily invested in oil companies.

Today in New Orleans, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will consider whether to stay Feldman’s decision. According to a new report by the Alliance for Justice, however, it is unlikely that these Fifth Circuit judges will approach the case without the perception of bias.

Judges Jerry Smith and Eugene Davis, both of whom are assigned to today’s panel, attended expense-paid “junkets for judges” sponsored by an oil-industry front group:

[Judge Smith] attended a seminar hosted by the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE) in Big Sky, Montana, for which he was reimbursed transportation, lodging, and meal expenses. FREE is a think-tank that promotes free-market environmentalism rather than environmental regulation and is funded largely by corporations like ExxonMobil and conservative foundations. FREE hosts industry-funded seminars for judges, often including leisure activities such as golf and horseback riding, to “explain why ecological values are not the only important ones.” The year that Judge Smith attended the seminar, FREE received $70,000 from ExxonMobil, of which $20,000 was for “Federal Judicial Seminars,” $30,000 was for “General Operating Support,” and $20,000 was for a “Climate Seminar.” . . .

Additionally, in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008, Judge Davis attended the same seminar as Judge Smith run by the FREE Foundation, the free market environmentalism group described above, and sought corresponding reimbursement for transportation, food, and housing. Judge Davis has attended another of other judicial seminars, and in fact, was ranked tenth in the country on a list of judges who accept free trips.

Both men also worked as oil-industry litigators before their appointments to the federal bench, and Judge Davis owns as much as $30,000 in oil investments. The third judge on the panel, Judge James Dennis, has not received any free trips from the oil industry, but he is heavily invested in oil stocks with investments that may total as much as $305,000.

Should this oil-soaked panel nonetheless decide to reinstate the drilling moratorium, the industry may appeal that decision to the full Fifth Circuit. Of the sixteen active judges eligible to hear such an appeal, ten of them have oil investments, including the court’s Chief Judge. In addition to owning as much as $330,000 in oil investments, Chief Judge Edith Jones ranked fourth of a list of judges who have attended junkets.

A full list of the Fifth Circuit’s judges and the extent of their financial holdings in oil companies is copied below:


Cross-posted on ThinkProgress.


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