Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had to dismiss a case brought by Katrina victims against the energy industry because so many judges were required to recuse themselves that there weren’t enough judges left to hear an appeal. More recently, two Fifth Circuit judges, Jerry Smith and Eugene Davis, ruled in favor of the oil industry in a major drilling moratorium case, despite the fact that they both attended expense-paid “junkets for judges” sponsored by an oil-industry funded organization. As of last year, a majority of the court’s active judges had oil investments, even though their court is frequently called upon to resolve questions involving the oil industry.
And yet, one year after their oily conflicts of interest became so severe that the court was unable to hear a major case, only one judge has divested from oil:
The new reports show that only one judge who formerly had stocks in an oil and gas company is now free from any association with the industry.
That is Judge Catharina Haynes, an appointee of President George W. Bush who previously held up to $15,000 in BP PLC stock but sold several weeks after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig began the Gulf spill. BP was the owner of the leaking oil well. [...]
“It seems to me that someone who is a federal judge has some responsibility to avoid holding onto financial assets that will compromise his or her ability to do the job,” said Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Owning energy stocks while sitting on the 5th Circuit “has that effect because they are so many of those cases,” he added.
Sadly, this is not the only example of Fifth Circuit judges placing their corporate connections above ethical concerns. Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Clement actually serves on the junkets for judges organization’s board, despite an opinion from the federal judiciary’s ethics committee saying that Clement violates her ethical obligations by doing so.