U.S. House Democrats plan hearings on judges' conflicts of interest

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REUTERS/Tom Brenner

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(Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday pledged to investigate and reform the judicial financial disclosure process in the wake of a report that 131 judges failed to recuse themselves from cases involving companies in which they or their family members owned stock.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said they would hold hearings to investigate issues identified in a report published by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that found judges had improperly failed to disqualify themselves from 685 cases since 2010.

Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee's chairman, and Hank Johnson of Georgia, who chairs its courts, intellectual property and internet subcommittee, in a joint statement said they planned to introduce legislation to address some of the issues highlighted.

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"This would appear to constitute a massive failure of not just individual judges but of the entire system that is ostensibly in place to prevent this illegal conduct," Nadler and Johnson said.

They also said they planned to re-introduce legislation put forward last year that would require judicial financial disclosures to be available online and require the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics for the justices.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the judiciary's administrative agency, had no immediate comment on Wednesday. It had said on Tuesday that it had safeguards in place to protect against conflicts of interest and was "looking for ways to improve."

The office had also, though, in a statement downplayed the significance of the Wall Street Journal's findings, saying the number of cases represented less than 1% of the 2.5 million civil cases filed during that period.

The Administrative Office said the judiciary took its obligations to prevents financial conflicts of interest seriously and that any failures reflected "inadvertent mistakes, flaws in software, and simple human error."

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.