Ex-colleague of chief justice's wife makes ethics claim

The former co-worker pointed to Jane Roberts work as a recruiter.

ByABC News
February 1, 2023, 12:14 PM

A Boston attorney and former colleague of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts' wife, Jane, has filed a complaint with Congress and the Justice Department alleging her work as a legal recruiter poses a conflict of interest at the Supreme Court.

The confidential complaint, first obtained and reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, suggests Jane Roberts' past position as legal recruiter -- helping high-profile firms hire top talent, some of whom later have business before the court -- may present an ethical concern.

While she quit her job as a law partner when her husband was confirmed as chief justice in 2005, Jane Roberts made millions of dollars in commissions helping recruit for firms regularly involved in court business, according to the former colleague, Kendal Price, as reported by the Times.

"I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges' households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms," Price wrote, according to the Times.

Neither John nor Jane Roberts immediately responded to ABC News' request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court did not respond either, though a spokesperson told the Times that the court's members were "attentive to ethical constraints" and cited the federal judges' code of conduct and related advisories, which specifically said a judge didn't have to recuse themselves solely because their spouse had been a recruiter for a firm before the court.

ABC News has reached out to the Department of Justice and didn't immediately receive a response.

The complaint, which the Times reported was sent in December, has not been independently reviewed by ABC News. But in a statement provided by his attorney, Price explained why he is coming forward years later.

"I made the disclosures at this time for two principal reasons. First, any potential influence on what cases are accepted by the Supreme Court is a serious matter that affects the justice system in the U.S., particularly if that influence is not publicly known," Price said.

PHOTO: Chief Justice John Roberts sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, April 23, 2021.
Chief Justice John Roberts sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, April 23, 2021.
Pool/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

"Second, the national controversy and debate regarding the integrity of the Supreme Court demanded that I no longer keep silent about the information I possessed, regardless of the impact such disclosures might have upon me professionally and personally," he added.

Jane Roberts is currently the managing partner at a Washington-based legal recruiting firm. She previously worked with Price at a separate firm in Maryland.

Price was fired from the firm in 2013, according to the Times, and later sued Jane Roberts and another executive.

Price is calling on lawmakers and Justice Department attorneys to investigate. However, the Supreme Court is not typically subject to outside ethics oversight and largely polices itself.

"This complaint raises troubling issues that once again demonstrate the need for a mandatory code of conduct for Supreme Court justices," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement. "We must work on a bipartisan basis to pass Sen. [Chris] Murphy's bill, the Supreme Court Ethics Act, which would simply require Supreme Court justices to adhere to the same standard of ethics as other federally appointed judges. Passing this requirement is a common sense step that would help begin the process of restoring faith in the Supreme Court."

Price's complaint is the latest in a string of ethics allegations against sitting justices and their spouses, which have stoked longstanding calls for greater transparency and enforceable ethics rules at the Supreme Court.

Justice Clarence Thomas has faced calls to recuse himself on a number of issues and cases over the conservative political activism of his wife, Ginni. Justice Samuel Alito was recently accused by a former anti-abortion activist of leaking the outcome of a major case at a dinner with his wife.

Both justices have denied any wrongdoing.

Separately, independent watchdog group Fix the Court -- which has long lobbied for a Supreme Court ethics code -- argued the Roberts' case shows "there effectively are no rules."

"Judicial spouses should of course have whatever jobs they want, but the public should have more information as to whether those jobs might pose a conflict to their wives' or husbands' judicial work," said Gabe Roth, Fix the Court's executive director.

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