A judge nominated by President Bush to one of the highest courts in the nation apparently violated federal law repeatedly while serving on the federal bench. Judge James H. Payne, 64, who was nominated by Bush in late September to join the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver, issued more than 100 orders in at least 18 cases that involved corporations in which he owned stock, a review of court and financial records shows.
Federal law and the official Code of Conduct for U.S. judges explicitly prohibit judges from sitting on cases involving companies in which they own stock -- no matter how small their holdings -- in order to uphold the integrity of the judicial system. (Judges' financial filings typically don't differentiate ownership between the judge and immediate family members.) The clear-cut, objective standard aims to prevent even the appearance that a judge may be taking into consideration his or her personal financial interests.
Payne's financial filings show holdings of up to $100,000 in SBC Communications stock, up to $50,000 in Wal-Mart stock and up to $15,000 in Pfizer stock, among others, while he presided over lawsuits involving the companies or their subsidiaries. In fact, it appears that since he was appointed by Bush in 2001 as a federal district judge in Oklahoma, Payne has been sitting inappropriately on at least one case at any given moment for nearly his entire federal judgeship. (. . .)
"If I was suing Wal-Mart and I knew the judge held stock in Wal-Mart, I'd be concerned about that," said professor Leslie W. Abramson, a legal ethics expert at the University of Louisville's law school, after reviewing Payne's cases. While there is no proof of malfeasance on Payne's part, Abramson says, the letter of the law is clear on judicial conflict of interest -- and Payne's conduct, he says, leaves the impression that Payne has run his court in a "sloppy" fashion. "He took an oath to follow the law. The judge is supposed to recognize these things himself. If he owned the stock, he shouldn't have been sitting on the case. That to me is a clear call," Abramson said. "I think it speaks to whether a judge has been doing his job responsibly and is likely to do his job responsibly in the future."
"There's no wriggle room here," says professor Stephen Gillers, a scholar of legal ethics at the New York University School of Law. "It's not just an ethics rule, it's a congressional statute -- a law." Even if he doesn't make any orders during the proceedings, he can't be the judge on such a case, Gillers says. "He's disqualified, period."
There you have it. A crook sits on one of the nation's highest courts. Just the sort of story that should make an impact upon the Alito nomination. But you know as well as I do that it won't. Once again, the Bush Republicans are shown to be not only uninsterested in the welfare of the nation, but committed to consolidation of power above all else. The only thing is, you can't get a corrupt judge off the court the way you can get a corrupt Frist, Cunningham, DeLay or Ney off Capitol Hill. That's one aspect of the law these swindlers know all about.
Required reading. I just wish it weren't the sort of news that will cause a furor on the blogs and go ignored by the mainstream press. Its impact will only come from citation in letters to the editor or to Congressmen. And that's what we have to do. 2006 is going to be a year when we all have to fight for the future of the nation.