The center, a non-profit investigative journalism group, reported Monday that it compared financial disclosure forms filed by 255 of the 258 judges in the appellate courts. It found 24 judges who decided cases involving companies they owned stock in, and two judges who had financial ties to a law firm involved in litigation.
James Hill, a judge on the 11th circuit in Atlanta, ruled in a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson even though he owns $100,000 worth of stock in the medical device giant. Linda Wolicki-Gables and her husband had sued over an allegedly faulty medical pump.
T. Patton Youngblood, Wolicki-Gables' lawyer, said problems with the pump have left her partly paralyzed.
“You like to think that people will be above board but we all know that’s not the case. You can’t presume that,” Youngblood said. “I don’t think it’s fair that he was able to preside over this thing. I just don’t think that’s right. That’s why they ask you for disclosures so that you don’t end up presiding over cases where you have a financial or other conflict.”
Judges are required to report conflicts of interest, and the federal courts installed software after a Washington Post story in 2006 to make finding them easy. But there are no penalties for judges who do sit in cases where there are conflicts.
The center found that Hill ruled in three other cases where he owned stock, always on the side of the company. Hill said he is unaware of his holdings because they are in family trusts.