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How Appealing, reported: “The Center for Public Integrity today has a report that begins, ‘A federal appeals court has withdrawn a three-judge panel’s 2007 dismissal of a Pennsylvania man’s lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp.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: No 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.