Majority of judges hearing drilling moratorium 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.  Feldman  owned stock in Exxon and other drilling 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.  TP has the story in this cross-post.

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:


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18 Responses to Majority of judges hearing drilling moratorium appeal attended oil-funded junkets

  1. Sam says:

    As you can see, all but 5 of these judges were appointed by Republican presidents, and the 5th Circuit is known as one of the most conservative Circuit Courts of Appeal in the U.S.

    Of course, their judgment could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court has five reliably conservative votes.

    Judges with significant investments in the oil industry should recuse themselves from consideration of this issue.

  2. Richard Brenne says:

    Sam (#1) – You sound as wise and impartial as an uncle with the same name I once had – I’d love to see his like come around again.

    To second Sam’s motion, if an activist judge actively invests in oil stocks and can be legally (when it should be illegal) bribed with activities for right-wing activist judges, if they had a tar ball’s worth of integrity they would recuse themselves, and as soon as possible where appointed they should be un-appointed, where elected un-elected, and in any bar disbarred.

  3. mike roddy says:

    “Junkets for judges”. Could someone please explain the difference between the US and Kuwait or Nigeria?

  4. Prokaryotes says:

    Obama Presses BP on Procedures to Recover More Oil

    With a weeklong window of favorable weather opening in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration is pressing BP to move quickly on two operations that could double the amount of oil captured from the gushing well.

  5. catman306 says:

    If all judges were prevented from owning corporate stocks and bonds, they would be much less likely to make decisions favoring the corporatists. This could be accomplished by Constitutional Amendment or perhaps some other way. Such restrictions might be a way to begin to take back the government from the corporatists.

    But, because it breaks the status quo, has near zero probability of ever happening.

  6. Leif says:

    “$20,000 was for a “Climate Seminar.” . . ” I would sure like to see a copy of that “Climate seminar.” Does FOI apply? If it is good enough for Judges to be “paid to see,” well gosh, there could even be a “public service” here, don’t you think?

    Of course if it is “taken out of context” there might be some misunderstanding in the public’s eye.

  7. Dan from Canada says:

    “Junkets for judges”? I hope this is a joke, but if it is true then the USA is as corrupt as any Third World country.

  8. MarkB says:


    June U.S. stats out today. A few states had their hottest ever June. Of modest meaning in the global warming sense, but I’m bet the denial crowd will be focusing on somewhat cooler temperatures in Oregon/Washington.

    For weather stat buffs:

  9. Chris Winter says:

    Junkets for Judges, that’s the way ya do it.
    Send ‘em to Montana for some time with FREE.
    Junkets for Judges, there’s no conflict to it.
    It never influences their decree.

    They gotta have their indoctrinations;
    They gotta learn more than ecology.
    It only aids their deliberations
    If they’re investing in energy.

    (Apologies to Dire Straits…)

  10. Lars smith says:

    The halting of drilling is a breech of contract on the lessors part. There are no provisions in the lease written by the gubment for this.
    The other illegal stunt is doing this without a period of open discussion and allowing citizen input.

  11. Leland Palmer says:

    Good parody, Chris. :)

    It’s the usual suspects, regarding the funding, of course.

    ExxonMobil funds the cause in a minor way, and the Scaife foundations (Richard Mellon Scaife, the major funder of the Clinton impeachment effort), and the Koch Foundations (the Claude R. Lambe foundation, in this case) among others, do the heavy lifting.

    This is Hillary’s “vast right wing conspiracy”, and yes, it’s vast, and yes, it is a conspiracy, IMO, to influence politics and preserve profits for corporations controlled by our financial elites.

    It’s all about profit,IMO,and yes, they do lie, and engage in astroturf propaganda campaigns, and conceal the true sources of their funding as much as they can.

    Funder : Purpose Amount Date
    Armstrong Foundation $22,500
    Environmental & economic research & education $5,000 12/31/2005
    Environmental research and education $5,000 12/31/2004
    Environmental research and education $2,500 12/31/2003
    Environmental research and education $2,500 12/31/2002
    Environmental educational programs $2,500 12/31/2000
    Environmental programs and education $2,500 12/31/1999
    Environmental programs and education $2,500 5/29/1998
    Carthage Foundation $880,000 [controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife-LP]
    General operating support $50,000 12/31/2006
    General operating support $50,000 12/31/2005
    General operating support $70,000 12/31/2004
    General operating support $35,000 12/31/2003
    No comment provided $50,000 1/1/2002
    no description given $50,000 1/1/1999
    No description available $75,000 1/1/1998
    GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT $100,000 1/1/1996
    GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT $100,000 1/1/1995
    NO PURPOSE GIVEN $50,000 1/1/1991
    No purpose available $25,000 1/30/1990
    No purpose available $25,000 11/28/1989
    Castle Rock Foundation $200,000
    General operating support $50,000 1/1/2005
    General operating support $50,000 1/1/2002
    General support. $50,000 1/1/2000
    Research and seminars targeted to judges, media, academics and environmental leaders. Tries to demonstrate how economics and sound science can make for better decisions on protecting the environment. One-third of the federal judiciary has either attendedone of FREE’s seminars or has enrolled in one. $50,000 1/1/1997
    Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation $95,500 [the Koch Brothers, owners of Koch Industries – Oil, Coal, Refining, Diversified- LP]
    Educational Program $75,000 1/1/1998
    August ’92 Conference $13,000 7/1/1992
    General $5,000 10/1/1989
    Energy education $2,500 12/1/1987
    Charlotte and Walter Kohler Charitable Trust $650,000
    General operating support $500,000 1/1/2003
    General operating support $30,000 1/1/2002
    General operating support $30,000 1/1/2001
    General operating support $30,000 1/1/2000
    General operating support $30,000 1/1/1999
    General operating support $30,000 1/1/1998
    Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation $1,210,000 [the Koch Brothers, owners of Koch Industries – Oil, Coal, Refining, Diversified- LP]
    General Operating Support $100,000 1/1/2005
    General Operating Support $150,000 1/1/2004
    General Operating Support $150,000 1/1/2003
    General Operating Support $150,000 1/1/2002
    General Operating Support $150,000 1/1/2001
    General Operating Support. $150,000 1/1/2000
    Educational Program Support. $150,000 1/1/1999
    Educational Programs $120,000 1/1/1997
    Educational Programs $90,000 1/1/1996
    Earhart Foundation $25,000
    To support a conference for federal judges, “Biotechnology, Risk Analysis, and the Environment: Implications for Federal Judges,” October 12-16, 2005, Racine, Wisconsin. (Amended 10/10/05, to support another conference in the same series, “Environmental Economics: Implications for State Officials”, Oct. 26-30, 2005 in Bozeman, Montana.) $25,000 12/31/2005
    John M. Olin Foundation $484,250
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental economics $50,000 7/18/2003
    seminars for federal judges on environmental economics $50,000 1/1/2002
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental economics $75,000 1/1/2001
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental economics. $50,000 1/1/2000
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental economics $75,000 1/1/1999
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental economics $50,000 1/1/1998
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental economics $74,250 1/1/1997
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental economics $25,000 1/1/1996
    Seminars for federal judges on environmental concerns $25,000 1/1/1995
    To support the 1991 regional meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society $10,000 1/1/1991
    Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation $35,500
    To support general operations $5,000 12/16/2005
    To support general operations $5,000 12/3/2004
    To support general operations $5,000 12/12/2003
    To support general operations $5,000 12/13/2002
    To support a society on freedom politics $3,000 1/25/1993
    To support the 1991 meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society $12,500 10/14/1991
    Philip M. McKenna Foundation $30,000
    Seminar for Law Professors $10,000 1/1/1999
    Seminar for Law Professors $10,000 1/1/1998
    Program for Media Leaders $10,000 1/1/1996
    Roe Foundation $4,000
    General operating expense $2,500 12/31/2006
    General operating fund $1,500 12/31/2005
    Sarah Scaife Foundation $575,000 [controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife-LP]
    No purpose given. $50,000 1/1/2001
    No purpose given. $125,000 1/1/2000
    No purpose given $75,000 1/1/1999
    GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT $75,000 1/1/1997
    GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT $50,000 1/1/1992
    GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT $50,000 1/1/1991
    General operating support $50,000 1/1/1989
    General operating support $50,000 1/1/1988
    General operating support $50,000 1/1/1987
    William H. Donner Foundation $90,000

  12. Well, it´s a crazy world we´re living in…
    Very interesting article!

  13. Chris Winter says:

    Two questions, Lars Smith:

    1) You’ve examined the text of those leases?

    2) Have you considered the legal precedents for emergency action? For example, if an airplane is found to have crashed because of a design defect, all extant versions of that type of airplane will be grounded for examination. Someone objecting because the grounding prevented him from taking the cruise he had booked would not get very far.

  14. Jesreel smith says:

    Appeals court said the drillers have legal rights to drill.
    Obama lost 3 times in a row.

  15. sod says:

    yes. money won another court decision. BP and Co are buying law for a few 100 bucks. it is a travesty.

  16. Chris Winter says:

    So, Jesreel Smith, you’re OK with the people of the Gulf Coast losing their livelihoods as long as Obama loses politically?

    (Aside: “Lars smith”, “Jesreel smith” — it suggests a certain commonality…)

  17. April smith says:

    Obama is firing NASA workers and that means another 2,000 jobs in southern LA. They build shuttle tanks down there. The war against cajuns is escalating.
    Where are the jobs?
    They are in China.
    No unions.

  18. Chris Winter says:

    Festus smith protests the injustice of ending space shuttle external tank manufacture at NASA’s Michoud facility outside New Orleans. Some 2,000 jobs will be lost.

    Far more jobs than that have been lost by Gulf Coast fishermen, and by the region’s tourism industry, due to the failure of BP’s well. But apparently Festus feels those jobs are of a different character than jobs at NASA or on an oil rig.

    Here’s the thing, Festus: The country needs NASA and space exploration. The country needs oil, in the short term. (It also needs to start converting to carbon-free energy — which will create many jobs.) The country needs fishing and tourism, not only in the Gulf of Mexico but elsewhere.

    What’s really hurting all these activities is go-fever such as currently prompts those urging us to keep sinking oil wells and pumping every last drop of American crude. That go-fever was a big factor in the oil-well failure that’s messing up fishing and tourism in the Gulf.

    It was go-fever that doomed Space Shuttle Challenger and, arguably, Columbia, the loss of which prompted the decision to end the shuttle program in 2010. And before you go blaming Obama, Festus, remember that decision was made by the Bush administration and Congress.

    Why is it that thinking and remembering have so little part in protests these days?