The Center for Public Integrity’s breathless revelations are like the Seinfeld show–they are all about nothing

I don’t trust the Center for Public Integrity’s treatment of federal judges. Running headlines like “federal judges plead guilty” when it was discovered that there was a tiny fraction of federal appellate cases where judges or their spouses had a financial interest (stock) in an appellate party and the judges mistakenly failed to recuse, is not serious investigative reporting.

Yesterday, Howard Bashman, at How Appealing, reported: “The Center for Public Integrity today has a report that begins, ‘A federal appeals court has withdrawn a three-judge panel’s 2007 dismissal of a Pennsylvania man’s lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. after a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the wife of one of the judges owned up to $100,000 worth of stock in the oil company at the time of the panel’s decision.'”

Turns out that it was the Clerk’s error that the judge sat. The judge had given the proper recusal information to the Clerk for the automatic screening, but the Clerk failed to enter the information and hence the problem.  The judge has now recused himself, as he must, and the Fifth Circuit will probably proceed with a “do over.”

It occurred to me that it would be good to know what the case was about in order to understand why the judge may have overlooked his wife’s interest.  Turns out it was a frivolous pro se case* originated by this silly complaint: tilli-v-exxonmobil-original-complaint-p1-normal   tilli-v-exxonmobil-original-complaint-p2-normalNo wonder the judge did not tumble to the problem. This case must be one many frivolous pro se cases that get pitched every day of the year by the Fifth Circuit based upon screening panel memos from the staff law clerks. While the error should not have occurred and the judge probably feels horrible, the Center’s publicity blast is all about nothing. My advice, when you see a report about federal judges from the Center for Public Integrity, is this: Be skeptical–do your own due diligence.


*Tilli is apparently quit the litigator. He sued Exon Mobil, for example, in the Third Circuit. See Tilli v. Exxon-Mobil Oil Corp., et al., No. 09-1301, at *1 (E.D. Pa. April 3, 2009), aff’d, No. 09-2279 (3d Cir. Sept. 17, 2009). This suit was dismissed by the district court without prejudice for the following reasons: (1) Plaintiff failed to satisfy the requirements for in forma pauperis status; (2) Plaintiff neglected to satisfactorily state grounds for the court’s jurisdiction; and (3) Plaintiff failed to support his claim for damages. Id. The Third Circuit subsequently affirmed. Id.

PS See my financial disclosure form for 2013 here, at our public website. I have made all my reports available to the public going back to 2008.

More bull shit from the humorously named “Center for Public Integrity”

Using inaccurate and incendiary language, like “Federal judges plead guilty” and “Juris imprudence: Litigants reeling after judges admit conflicts of interest,”  here is more bullshit from the Center for Public Integrity on federal judicial ethics.  As I have said before, those folks wouldn’t know a thing about judicial ethics if it bit them in the ass. This time around the Center investigated whether federal appellate judges decided cases in which they may have owned equity interests in a party. They found a few.

To be precise, they found “0.02 percent of the 109,000 total cases decided in the U.S. Courts of Appeals over the last three years” involved such a problem. If anything, this analysis proves that the present system of conflict checking for financial interests in a party is about as close to perfection as a human can design. Clearly, the Center looks for any little error in an effort to drive judges out of the stock market altogether. Since I don’t own stocks, I don’t give a damn. That’s my choice, but this bunch is not going to dictate to me what investments I own.



The Center for Public Integrity and the Sick Obsession with Caesar’s Wife


A group that has received funding from foundations created by Mr. George Soros, pompously named the Center for Public Integrity, has published another one of those reports about federal judges attending seminars funded by large corporations and conservative nonprofits. See Corporations, pro-business nonprofits foot bill for judicial seminars (March 28, 2013).

The report is interactive and allows the reader to search for judges by name, court, title of the seminar and location of the seminar.  It also lists the funding entities or persons who contributed to each of the seminars.

The Center got most of the data from public reports judges are required to make each year.  Those reports are available on each federal court’s web site, and they are kept for three years.

In 2009, I attended one of the “junkets” to Northwestern University and I am listed in the report as having done so.  I was reimbursed for my expenses which totaled less than $815 and that reimbursement was fully disclosed on my financial disclosure report.  While no one from the Center for Public Integrity called to ask why I attended, I would have been happy to disclose that I attended primarily because I wanted to hear Judge Posner speak and because I was interested in one of the topics dealing with the “New Science of  Judicial Behavior.”  As it turned out, the seminar was boring, and I left early.

Why am I writing this post?  I am deeply disturbed by the “Caesar’s wife” syndrome that the Center and other do-gooders are obsessed with when it comes to federal judges.  That is, the idea that judges are supposed to comport themselves as Julius Caesar demanded of his wife Pompeia.  In my view, this way of thinking is corrupt.  After all, Caesar was a vain jerk.  His decision to divorce his wife because his reputation was more important than the truth is a perfect example of the decadence that brought down Rome.

Since 1987, when I became a magistrate judge, I have elected not to vote and I have not even registered to vote.  I have withdrawn from all civic groups.  I have severed all connections with religious institutions like a church or synagogue or mosque.  I socialize virtually not at all.  I gave up my law license when I withdrew from membership in Nebraska’s integrated bar association.  My financial disclosure reports and recusal lists are posted on our court’s web site for all to see for free.  I have owned no stocks.  I could go on.**

Now, please put the Center for Public Integrity’s report of my attendance at the sleepy little seminar into the full context of my judicial life.  Far more importantly, do the same for each and every other federal judge listed in the report.  Crudely put, the authors of the Center’s report would not recognize judicial integrity if it bit them in the ass.

I urge those who are sincerely interested in the federal judiciary to ignore groups like the Center for Public Integrity when they publish tripe of the kind represented by the report.  Caesar was wrong to punish and impugn the integrity of his wife for the sake of his reputation.  In like manner, the Center for Public Integrity is wrong to promote an ideal that finds it roots in the decay of Rome.


*It is believed that the drawing of Pompeai was published by Guillaume Rouille (1518-1589).  In any event, the work is in the public domain because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

**These were my choices.  I do not recommend them to anyone else.

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