Monday, January 23, 2006
By Will Evans
James H. Payne, left, after being sworn in on Dec. 17, 2001, as a U.S. district judge at the federal courthouse in Muskogee, Okla. Photo by Kelly Kerr, Tulsa World.
Jan. 23, 2006 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.
Last fall, Payne’s nomination to the 10th Circuit got little public attention while the media focused on the president’s Supreme Court nominations. But Chief Justice John Roberts and current nominee Samuel Alito have tripped over the conflict of interest issue as well. Roberts, who holds an array of blue chip stocks and has unprecedented corporate ties for a sitting Supreme Court justice, has already recused himself from numerous cases and admitted a mistake in not recusing himself earlier from another. Alito was grilled in Senate hearings this month about why in one instance he didn’t follow through on a pledge to recuse himself from any case involving the mutual fund company Vanguard, in which he held investments.
Payne refused to answer repeated requests by Salon for comment regarding conflicts of interest in the cases over which he presided. When reached by phone for comment on Dec. 20, Payne said, “I do not have time ... I can’t do it,” before abruptly hanging up. He did not respond to a subsequent call, or to a follow-up letter delivered to his office on Dec. 22, detailing the problematic cases and asking for an explanation.
Praised for his integrity by a number of Oklahoma lawyers, Payne did eventually recuse himself in some cases and kept himself off others from the start. In the cases in which he didn’t recuse himself, most of his actions were routine and procedural. Most of the cases were settled, rather than going to trial.
Full story: Salon Magazine.
John Pettit comments: Holy Moly! How many crooks can the Bush crime family appoint before we stand up and take notice?
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