Sen. Coburn Probing Lavish Judicial Conferences

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Three months ago, we dedicated a few hundred words to mocking the Eleventh Circuit's senseless spending. We asked why, in a time of furloughs, layoffs, and sequestration, the judges were headed to the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort, where "Southern charm meets modern luxury."

Looks like we weren't alone in questioning the curious use of fiscal resources. Senator Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, recently penned a letter to the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC), asking them for a breakdown of the expenses, both from the conferences and court construction since the recession.

And while our snark was targeted at the Eleventh Circuit exclusively, Sen. Coburn's inquisition was targeted at the system as a whole, including the following dubious expenditures:

  • A Los Angeles courthouse, initially approved for 41 courtrooms and 1,016,300 square feet of space was designed to have 54 courtrooms and 1,279,650 square feet of space. Congress wasn't notified of the change for 18 months. When the plan was rejected, the designs had to be redrafted, leading to a two-year delay and budget overruns. Even the final courthouse was too big, as it failed to account for courtroom sharing.
  • In the decade leading up to 2010, thirty-three federal courthouses were built with 3.56 million square feet of surplus space created above the Congressionally authorized size. That's another $835 million wasted.

Lest you think he (and we) forgot about the conferences, here are a few recent ones:

  • The Eleventh Circuit's conference from this year, the bill for which hasn't yet been calculated, and their 2011 conference, which cost taxpayers $211,000.
  • The Fourth Circuit's trip to Greenbriar Resort earlier this year, which closed courts on a Friday, and cost taxpayers $270 per night per room for 150 judges and their staff.
  • The Ninth Circuit's 2012 trip to Maui, Hawaii. (As we previously noted, their 2013 conference in Monterey, California was graciously deferred to next year.)
  • The Eighth Circuit's 2012 conference in Kansas City, Missouri (generally cheap), which included participation in the College Basketball Experience, including a slam dunk competition (presumably not so cheap).
  • The Third Circuit's planned conference for 2014 at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania and the Tenth Circuit's plans for this month's conference at the "historic, upscale Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado," which will cost $273 per room per night, plus taxes and fees.

That all goes to show two things: the Eleventh Circuit is not alone in their "resort-style" tastes and judges, despite furloughs and budget cutbacks, don't seem to be living in reality.

We were kidding about holding your conference in a Motel 6, but a few hundred thousand dollars spent on your conference-vacation could have saved more than a few staffers' jobs.

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