11th Cir Judicial Conference: Sequester? Budget Cuts? GOLF!

By William Peacock, Esq. on May 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Faced with the “devastating impact” of the $85 billion in sequestration cuts on the federal judiciary, the Eleventh Circuit did what any responsible circuit facing budget cuts would do:


O.K., that’s not a completely fair assessment of the situation, but it is certainly a valid perception of the Eleventh Circuit’s Judicial Conference, which took place recently at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa, where “Southern charm meets modern luxury.”

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the gathering consisted of 167 federal judges and 309 attorneys and included roundtable discussions on professionalism, presentations on healthy living, and a historical look at "the trial of the slave ship Wanderer."

It wouldn't be unreasonable to question why, in this unique climate of already-strained budgets and the sequestration nonsense, such a conference was necessary. One justification was the classic "it could've been worse." Circuits are authorized to hold these conferences annually or biennially. The Eleventh goes every two years, to maximize benefits and reduce expenses.

(Sidebar: A Motel 6 would've minimized expenses even further.)

Plus, taxpayers didn't foot the entire bill. Most of the programs were not paid for by taxpayer funds, nor were the accommodations for most of the attendees. The main expenses were judges' travel and lodging, which haven't been calculated for this year's conference, but were about $211,000 for 2011's conference in Florida.

Furthermore, "everyone else is doing it!" That's semi-true. The Journal-Constitution points out that other circuits have taken varying approaches to the problem:

  • The Ninth Circuit postponed their conference in Monterey, California to next year;
  • The Tenth Circuit scrapped last year's conference, yet this year, will hold it at a resort in Colorado Springs.

Finally, the circuit's spokesperson pointed out that cancelling would've been costly, as the circuit has already made contractual guarantees to the hotel and conference center.

Look, we're poking fun at the 11th Circuit a bit here, but they really didn't do anything wrong. The cost of the breached contractual guarantees, plus the cost of a presumably cheaper conference delayed until next year probably would've meant little to no cost savings. Plus, you'd have to deal with the nightmare of lawyers who had made travel arrangements for a cancelled conference.

Still, they had to expect some P.R. blowback. They held a conference at a resort in the midst of a budget crisis and recession. Surely, after years in this economy, they could've chosen something cheaper than a golf resort that uses "luxury" in its descriptor.

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