In our series of posts about Libya, we listed three dishonorable honorables – federal judges whose recently disclosed behavior during the Edwin Wilson trial should lead to the resignations of the two of them still on the bench, D. Lowell Jensen and Stephen Trott, and should cast a shadow over the third, Stanley Sporkin, who served as a judge in the very prominent D.C. Federal Court.
Today, the NYT has a story about the Monsanto Judge. It is so nice when a major corporation has a judge in its pocket, it so makes one feel that capitalism is being guarded from its enemies.. The judge, Rodney W. Sippel, is a Clinton appointee – by way of Gephardt. When he was a mere lawyer for Husch & Eppenberger, he worked as a lawyer for Monsanto, and is even listed as a Monsanto lawyer on a price fixing case. Now, as a Judge, he is presiding over a Monsanto price fixing case. Oh, and he forgot to disclose that previous connection. But not to worry! We are assured by the archons of good behavior in the law world, consulted by the Times, that he is an honorable guy and would NEVER, EVER be biased in favor of his former bread and butter.
After quoting the code in the matter of when a Judge is supposed to recuse himself (“The Judicial Code of Conduct says that "a judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances in which: the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding." The code also says a judge should disqualify him or herself if "the judge served as lawyer in the matter in controversy, or a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter"), the Times got a Professor Stephen Giller on the line. Giller is sophisticated enough to know that if we are going to go by the wording of the judicial code, why, you just aren’t going to get the kind of rulings that will countenance the spirit of blithe corporate corruption:
“Prof. Stephen Gillers at New York University Law School, however, said that while Judge Sippel probably should have disclosed his relationship with Monsanto, there did not appear to be enough evidence to disqualify him from the price-fixing case because the earlier case - even if he had worked on it for Monsanto - was not the exact same case.
"These are not sufficiently connected to be the same matter," Professor Gillers said, referring to the code of conduct. "The judge has not violated the code of conduct but he could have and should have told the parties about his prior relationship."”
Gillers interpretation of the code would, of course, practically eviscerate it. But what the hell, eh? How are you going to put in those billable hours for corporate giants, bring home the half a mil, and still get your cushy behind ensconced in the seat of judgment otherwise?
Sippel, meanwhile, has put the letter asking him to be recused under seal – which is not, according to the article, very standard behavior. Using the Giller principle, however, that unless a judge is caught slaughtering people with an automatic weapon on a downtown street at noon, he hasn’t violated any petty code, Sippel’s behavior isn’t going to earn him any demerits.
However, perhaps the Gillers principle only works when the Judge has been appointed by a Democrat president. In a case this summer in which a Wyoming Judge, a Republican, overturned Clinton’s rules against roads on national lands, it came out afterwards that the Judge had about a million dollars invested with oil companies. Gillers is quoted in the Denver Post as saying “Brimmer [the Judge in question] had an obligation to notify the parties of his holdings. 'You can't bury your head in the sand. You have to know your assets and know how they may be affected by cases that come before you,' he said.
Gillers said that in his opinion, Brimmer should have recused himself.”
Conflict of interest, you know, a veritable mosaic. It’s why we need ethical “experts.”