6th Circuit, Department of Justice, Federal Government, Federal Judges, Legal Ethics, Travel / Vacation

Was This ‘Judicial Giant’ Toppled By An Ethics Investigation?

Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr.

Judicial misconduct comes from all across the ideological spectrum. Judge Richard Cebull of Montana, who reportedly spewed out racist emails like an ATM dispensing twenties, was an anti-Obama conservative. Meanwhile, Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr., whose ethical troubles we alluded to yesterday, was a prominent progressive on the Sixth Circuit.

Judge Martin was appointed to the court in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and wrote major opinions attacking the death penalty and defending affirmative action. He also penned fun opinions that included references to The Simpsons and Austin Powers.

Alas, this liberal lion has roared his last. Did an investigation into possible judicial misconduct help drive Judge Martin from the bench?

Quite possibly. Judge Martin cited his and his wife’s health issues when he announced his retirement, but there might have been other factors. Here’s a report from TPM Muckraker:

When federal appellate court judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. announced his retirement in July, he was praised as “one of the giants of the Kentucky judiciary.” But what was unknown publicly until Friday was that Martin left the bench under a cloud of accusations that he had racked up “questionable travel expenses.”

The details came out in a decision filed by five members of a federal panel on judicial conduct. The decision was in response to a petition filed by Boyce in August asking that his name be kept confidential and that his case not be referred to the Justice Department. Both requests were denied.

How much are we talking about in “questionable travel expenses”? It’s not clear, but Judge Martin agreed to repay all of his travel expenses for the period under investigation (from January 1, 2008, until August 2, 2012). That amount comes to almost $140,000 — $138,500, to be exact.

That’s quite a chunk of change. One of Judge Martin’s conservative antagonists on the Sixth Circuit, Judge Danny J. Boggs, once quipped that Judge Martin would stay an execution “based on a hot dog menu” — but I’m guessing Judge Martin favors foie gras over wieners. His impressive knowledge of bourbon makes more sense now too (provided that the bourbon in question is Pappy Van Winkle rather than Old Crow).

In fairness to Judge Martin, recall that the amount he’s repaying represents all his travel expenses for the four-and-a-half-year period in question. According to his spokesperson, Claire Parker, the expenses being challenged represent just “a fraction of the total travel expenses incurred.”

And who’s doing the challenging? The ABA Journal shares that fun fact:

The chief judge of the 6th Circuit, Alice Batchelder, made the initial complaint against Martin, which was referred to the Judicial Council of the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Chief Judge Batchelder is one of the most prominent conservative judges on the Sixth Circuit (and even the entire federal bench; she was considered for the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush). She and fellow conservatives like Judge Boggs have been doing battle with Judge Martin — and ideological allies of his, like Judge Karen Nelson Moore and Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey — for years. (Their most famous fight took place in the Michigan affirmative-action case, Grutter v. Bollinger, in which Judge Boggs included a “Procedural Appendix” in his en banc dissent that accused some of his colleagues of manipulating court rules to advance their political agenda.)

Did Chief Judge Batchelder feel duty-bound to report possible misconduct by Judge Martin? Quite possibly. Might she have taken just a tiny bit of enjoyment out of blowing the whistle on a longtime adversary? Quite possibly. (I say this with no firsthand knowledge of Judge Batchelder, whom I have not met; it is merely speculation based on my knowledge of human nature.)

Some critics of the way that complaints of judicial misconduct are currently handled argue that they are not taken seriously enough. Because complaints against judges are reviewed by other judges, they tend to protect each other, by circling the wagons against the hordes and dispensing “slap on the wrist” punishments.

So maybe it’s a good thing to have judges who don’t get along with each other (as on the Sixth Circuit). They can file and zealously prosecute ethical claims against one another, and those claims, coming from fellow members of the judiciary, will be given more careful scrutiny by judicial panels.

Who will guard the guardians? Let them guard each other.

(Flip to the next page to read the full decision of the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which denied Judge Martin’s requests to (1) withhold his name from public disclosure and (2) refrain from referring his case to the Justice Department.)

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