Legal Ethics

Ethics complaint over judge's Federalist Society appearance is dismissed


A federal appeals judge who appeared at a Federalist Society dinner did not violate the ethics rules because the event was not a fundraiser, according to the chief judge of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Chief Judge Diane Wood dismissed the ethics complaint filed against Judge Diane Sykes in a Dec. 5 memorandum (PDF), the National Law Journal (reg. req.) reports. Sykes had questioned Justice Clarence Thomas during an onstage appearance at the Nov. 14 event.

Wood says she conducted a “limited inquiry” and learned the ticket prices at the dinner were $175 for members and $200 for nonmembers, while the actual cost of the dinner was more than $225. “The price does not even cover the full cost of the event,” Wood wrote.

The liberal groups Alliance for Justice and Common Cause had filed the complaint along with a Democratic lawmaker. They also sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. complaining about Thomas’ appearance at the event. Roberts has not replied, according to the National Law Journal. Supreme Court justices are not legally required to abide by the canons that apply to other federal judges, the story says, and there is no formal complaint procedure for the justices.

The Alliance for Justice said it respectfully disagrees with Wood’s decision. Its statement said many law firms and corporations were listed in the program as gold, silver and bronze sponsors for the dinner and “you don’t earn that kind of special mention for only $200 a plate.”

Wood said in her memorandum that she did not believe the sponsors transformed the even into a fundraiser.

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