Report: More Than 130 Judges Violated Law By Hearing Cases With Conflict Of Interest

(DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images)

Varun Hukeri General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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Over 130 federal judges reportedly broke U.S. law and violated judicial ethics by hearing cases in which they had a financial conflict of interest, according to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published Tuesday.

The WSJ reviewed financial disclosure forms filed between 2010 and 2018 by around 700 federal district and appellate judges who reported individual stock holdings of large companies and compared the holdings to thousands of court dockets in civil cases involving those companies.

The investigation found that 129 federal district judges and two federal appellate judges failed to recuse themselves from 685 court cases in which a company they or their families owned stock in was a plaintiff or defendant. (RELATED: Clarence Thomas: The Supreme Court Could Be The ‘Most Dangerous’ Branch Of Government)

In the hundreds of suspect cases reviewed, around two-thirds of rulings were in favor of the judge’s financial interests, according to the WSJ.

Judges are not barred from owning stocks, but federal law does prohibit judges from hearing cases that involve a party in which they or their immediate families have a “legal or equitable interest, however small.”

The Judicial Conference of the U.S., the federal court system’s policy-making organ, also requires judges to avoid financial conflicts of interest in order to promote public confidence in the judiciary.

The WSJ found that judges’ holdings were greater than $15,000 in 173 cases and greater than $50,000 in 21 cases. The outlet also reported that 61 judges or their families were actively trading stocks while hearing cases involving the companies.

At least 56 judges have since notified parties in more than 300 court cases about their conflicts of interests, the WSJ reported. Judges also released statements offering a number of explanations for the apparent violation of federal law. Some blamed court clerks, and others said their involvement in the cases were minimal and didn’t warrant recusal.

“The Wall Street Journal’s report on instances where conflicts inadvertently were not identified before a case was resolved or transferred is troubling, and the Administrative Office is carefully reviewing the matter,” the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts told the outlet.