Ninth Circuit court takes million-dollar trip on taxpayer dime

Meagan Clark Contributor
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Judges, lawyers and staff from the federal district, appeals and bankruptcy courts in the famously liberal Ninth Circuit are planning a million-dollar trip to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa August 13-16, at taxpayers’ expense.

Participants can choose to stay in rooms ranging from $230 to $250 per night, costing a minimum of $920 per person for a four-night stay. The Ninth Circuit’s 2010 conference cost taxpayers more than $657,000 in travel costs alone for 700 attendees; taxpayers were billed a combined $860,000 for travel to the 2008 and 2009 conferences.

Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking members of the budget and judiciary committees, respectively, wrote to Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski on May 18 “to ensure that the courts are using their current funding allocation effectively.”

“We are concerned about the overall cost of this conference and do not believe that discussions about the administration of justice would be less successful were they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Hawaii,” the senators wrote.

Although the conference starts on a Monday, registration opens Saturday. Sport fishing and golf are scheduled for Sunday. According to the letter, other activities during the week will include yoga, surfing lessons, stand-up paddle board lessons, Zumba (a latin-inspired dance program), a tennis tournament, a tour of Upcountry Maui, a snorkel trip and an event called “The Aloha Experience.”

U-T San Diego reported in August 2011 that after convening at La Costa Resort and Spa in Southern California, the Ninth Circuit would next travel to Maui “with a lock-in commitment that would make it prohibitive to cancel.”

The Ninth Circuit includes courts in 15 districts in nine Western states and two territories, and has the highest percentage of Democrats in judgeships — 64 percent.

Other circuits are holding conferences in less luxurious places, or canceling their annual conferences entirely. The Eighth Circuit will convene for a three-day conference in Kansas City, the Seventh Circuit will go to Chicago and the Sixth Circuit will hold its event in Lexington, Ky. Districts covering New England, the Rocky Mountains and the mid-Atlantic have cancelled their conferences.

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Meagan Clark