At the time of his abrupt retirement last August, former Sixth Circuit Chief Judge Boyce Martin stated, "I want to go out at the top of my game rather than having to be carried up and down from the bench."
Allow us to amend that, with recent allegations in mind: "I want to go out at the top of my game rather than having to be carried up and down from the bench [in handcuffs]."
That's better. Now, what scandal forced the "liberal lion" off the bench, and possibly into the defendant's chair?
Travel Expenses Probed
From January 1, 2008 to August 2, 2012, Judge Martin submitted requests for travel reimbursements totaling $138,500. The amount was high enough to not only trigger an ethics investigation, initiated by Chief Judge Alice Batchelder, but it also has been forwarded to the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice.
For his part, Judge Martin noted that only a small fraction of the total charges were contested. He admitted that there were some administrative errors that occurred, but he also has paid back the entire amount, not just the contested portions. (Though the opinion notes that the final one-third installment payment was never received, Judge Martin's representatives told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the third check was lost in the mail, and has since been resubmitted.)
Scandal Made Public
It may be too little, too late, however. On Friday, the Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Conduct released an opinion denying Judge Martin's petition for review, which questioned the need to disclose his name to the public, and the statement in the opinion that the matter would be referred to the DOJ.
Technically, the investigation ceased without a formal report, since Judge Martin's retirement was an intervening event that made formal proceedings unnecessary under JCD Rule 20(b)(1)(B) [PDF]. Still, Rule 24(a)(2), specifically the commentary to the rule, notes that "it may be in the public interest, particularly if a judicial officer resigns in the course of an investigation, to make the identity of the judge known." Both the Second Circuit's Council, and the review Committee, felt that disclosure was warranted here.
As for the public referral of the case to the DOJ, a referral which Martin correctly notes is unprecedented, whether public or private, the Judicial Conference's Conduct Committee showed no sympathy for the accidental trailblazer, holding, "In the judgment of the Second Circuit Judicial Council, sound administration of the Act in this matter rested on public awareness that potentially actionable conduct may be at issue. We see no abuse of discretion."
Is Martin Getting Shafted?
Judge Martin's counsel, in a sworn affidavit, claimed that there was a handshake deal with "informal contacts" with outside counsel for the special committee: if Martin walked away, and paid back the all travel expenses (even the uncontested ones), that the matter would go away quietly. The Committee wasn't hearing it:
"On review, this claim raises no issue because the statements attributed to outside counsel reflect only advice or suggestions on how Judge Martin might seek to improve his legal position outside the context of the judicial misconduct complaint process, and not a promise to conclude the investigation without referral and to maintain confidentiality. We note, as well, that Judge Martin evidently did not seek to have the alleged assurance reduced to writing even from a person lacking authority under statute or rule to extend it [...]."
Fair or not, our reaction is mostly shock. We're not sure if we've ever heard of a federal judicial ethics panel forwarding a case to the DOJ, nor would we expect the process to play out publicly.
- Judicial Giant Quietly Retired Under Investigation For Travel Expenses (TPM Muckraker)
- Federal Defender's Name, Reputation, Sanctions Cleared (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)
- Case Western Dean Takes Leave After Complaints Get Juicier (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)