5th Circuit Judges and Oil: The Duty to Recuse and Divest

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 01, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

New Orleans is a key area for the oil industry. So it is really fair that the judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have investments in oil, when it's highly possible that they may be hearing cases involving oil companies?

Many environmentalists are arguing that the Fifth Circuit Judges aren't necessarily impartial, reports The New York Times.

Remember that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is based out of New Orleans.

Here's another ingredient in the mix: Several members of the Fifth Circuit once held jobs in the energy sector or worked in the energy sector when in private practice, writes The Times.

So, oil investments and potential conflicts of interest, the environmentalists and certain liberal groups allege, equals a slant in the favor of the oil industry.

And papers don't lie, say these parties, as the financial disclosure statements from last month show that seven of the court's 15 active judges have oil-company interests.

These interests really came to light in 2009, when eight of the sixteen judges recused themselves in a case against Murphy Oil, where plaintiffs alleged that global warming contributed to the severity of Hurricane Katrina. While the court had originally agreed to hear the case en banc, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was unable to reach a decision as it concluded it did not have the required quorum after the judges recused themselves.

With the Fifth Circuit potentially hearing several cases relating to the oil spills, many are becoming highly critical of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

And while many of the judges can simply sit the cases out, that might not be enough.

According to The Times, ethics experts say that the judges have a duty to minimize the need to recuse themselves.

The code of conduct of the federal judiciary calls on the judges to "divest investments and other financial interests that might require frequent disqualification."

Environmental groups will no doubt be watching closely as the oil spill cases make their way to the Fifth Circuit.

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