Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts chided federal judges for not recusing themselves from cases posing a financial conflict of interest.
In his year-end report on the federal judiciary, Roberts addressed a series of articles published by the Wall Street Journal that found 131 federal judges participated in 685 matters involving companies in which they or their families owned shares of stock between 2010-18.
"Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously," Roberts wrote. "We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule."
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Roberts acknowledged there was a high compliance rate. The 685 instances made up less than 0.03% of the 2.5 million civil cases analyzed by the Wall Street Journal. Roberts also noted how the newspaper found that 83 of the 131 judges had only one or two lapses in cases over the nine-year period, making these "isolated violations likely entailed unintentional oversights in which the judge’s conflict-checking procedures failed to reveal the financial conflict."
Still, Roberts called for more rigorous ethics training for judges. Some of the recommendations he suggested included "more classtime, webinars, and consultations," as well as using technology to check for conflicts of interest.
Roberts revealed what steps are being taken by the Administrative Office and the Judicial Conference’s committees to address the problems of conflicting interests. These steps include a review of case-management software and an enhancement on the ethics training and refresher courses for the judges.
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"The bottom line is that the Conference is taking the concerns seriously and has committed itself to the careful labor of addressing them," Roberts wrote.