Judge Seminars: To Inform or Influence?

The Tucson excursion was the fifth such seminar for Judge James Jarvis of Tennessee. Since Jarvis began attending the seminars, he has presided over at least six cases involving large corporations, all of which confirmed to 20/20 that they helped pay for the George Mason seminars. Jarvis says he doesn't know who was funding the conference and points out he's paying his own greens fees.

Judge Neal Biggers of Mississippi insists his decisions won't be swayed regardless of who's paying the tab. "If I don't know who is paying for it, then I am not going to be affected either way by who it is."

But former Judge Abner Mikva thinks the judges should avoid even the appearance of unethical behavior. "I think judges should realize that, that they don't have that much credibility to spare," says Mikva.

As chief judge of the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, he was appalled to see many upstanding judges being wined and dined by corporations in the name of judicial education. Mikva says, "The appearance of impropriety is considered as important as the impropriety itself."

Mikva worries that judges will follow the footsteps of politicians and lose the faith of the American public. "Most of the time we think about judges with more respect and more deference than we think about elected officials. I want to keep that distinction," he says.

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