U.S. judiciary to review conflict policies after report on judges' stocks


(Reuters) - The federal judiciary is reviewing its conflict screening process to evaluate ways to improve it following a news report that 131 judges failed to recuse themselves from cases involving companies in which they or their family members owned stock.

U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, in a Wednesday memo announced the review as she reiterated the importance of complying with existing financial conflict of interest policies.

The policy review comes in the wake of reports beginning late last month by the Wall Street Journal detailing how 131 judges had improperly failed to disqualify themselves from 685 cases since 2010 involving companies in which they or their family owned stock.

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Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee soon afterwards announced they would hold hearings to investigate issues identified by the newspaper.

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 at the time of the report stressed the judiciary's existing safeguards against such conflicts while saying the number of cases represented less than 1% of the 2.5 million civil cases filed during the period in question.

In Wednesday's memo, Mauskopf provided guidance to judges on policies governing how to ensure they are recused from cases they have financial conflicts in.

Mauskopf also said she was directing committee staff for the Judicial Conference, the judiciary's policymaking body, to review the judiciary's processes to submit recommendations on ways to "clarify or improve" the conflict screening process.

She said the Administrative Office will also be offering training to judges and court staff on how to screen for conflicts.

Read more:

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

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