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Published in Washington, D.C.. . . . . . . . . . . . . 5am -- July 11, 1997 . . . . . . . . . . . .


Ginsburg ruled despite con�icts

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By Frank J. Murray

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's husband sold all his stocks Thursday just hours after Insight magazine reported that his wife illegally participated in 21 cases involving companies he had invested 
. . . . in.
. . . . Justice Ginsburg remained silent on the matter, but Martin D. Ginsburg told The Washington Times from London he is shaken by a mistake that may have led his wife to violate conflict-of-interest laws.
. . . . "It's one of those things that shakes you up. We've always been very careful, and it's entirely possible for me to make a mistake and get my wife in great difficulty," said Mr. Ginsburg, a Georgetown University law professor and renowned tax lawyer in semiretirement.
. . . . He blamed the episode on his misunderstanding of an individual retirement account held in a custodial account managed by a broker. But he did not explain why the justice wasn't aware he held stocks that were detailed on two annual financial disclosure forms she signed. The account was not a blind trust, and monthly statements were sent.
. . . . "She's never seen the fund," he said. "I always try to tell the truth, and I never bought or sold a single thing in that account."
. . . . Justice Ginsburg's multiple violations of the judicial conflict-of-interest law (Section 455 of Title 28)  -- Continued from Front Page --  were revealed by Insight in an article by John Berlau that was published Thursday in the July 28 issue.
. . . . Violating the law carries no statutory penalty.
. . . . A spokesman at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, David Sellers, said Thursday there would be no comment. He declined to answer questions about a May 1996 request for more details on the contents of Mr. Ginsburg's custodial account at Smith Barney.
. . . . "I can't imagine anyone here who's going to second-guess a justice on the basis of skimpy information. That's an individual judge's decision whether to recuse themselves," Mr. Sellers said. "There's no one here who's going to pass judgment on a judge."
. . . . Justice Ginsburg has been mentioned as President Clinton's favorite to become chief justice if that post opens during his administration. Any ethical lapse would surely come under Senate scrutiny in that situation.
. . . . "Until reading the Insight article I had not appreciated that stocks held in an IRA account managed by a third-party professional raised the concern Insight has highlighted," Mr. Ginsburg said in a written statement announcing that he had ordered all his common stocks sold and the proceeds used to purchase mutual funds, which are exempt from the law.
. . . . "I am indebted to Insight magazine for bringing this perception to my attention," said the statement, distributed by the Supreme Court public information office.
. . . . Insight's attempts to reach the justice before publishing the article were blocked by her secretary, who said the justice had no time to comment because she was in conference and getting ready to teach abroad while the court is out of session.
. . . . Mr. Ginsburg and his broker, Paul Madison of Smith Barney's Penn Plaza branch in New York, told The Times on Thursday that all buy and sell decisions have been Mr. Madison's since the account was opened May 31, 1995. It was a rollover from a Merrill Lynch account made up mostly of mutual funds and a few obscure stocks unlikely to come before the court.
. . . . Mr. Madison said Justice Ginsburg's IRA at Smith Barney has no common stocks at her explicit direction.
. . . . "These folks are totally clean and totally well-meaning," said Mr. Madison, who described himself as a longtime family friend. "Knowing them as I do, I believe she would not know of any position held by her husband."
. . . . Justice Ginsburg was Mr. Clinton's first selection for the high court, which she joined in August 1993. She and her husband appear to be the wealthiest family on the court, judging from financial disclosures in May showing that they hold assets worth between $4.6 million and $15.4 million.
. . . . Mr. Ginsburg's role as manager of the household, overseeing investments and even screening news sources for his busy wife, is something of a legend.
. . . . Mr. Madison said he operated under clear investment directions given when the account was opened, mostly with a view to avoiding conflicts with Mr. Ginsburg's law practice.
. . . . "We weren't really thinking in legalistic terms, and we certainly were not thinking in terms of doing anything that might compromise anything for Justice Ginsburg," the broker said.
. . . . "She explained to me that there could be no individual stocks in her account," Mr. Madison said. He discussed the matter Thursday with approval from Mr. Ginsburg and Smith Barney superiors.
. . . . Since 1995, Insight reported, Justice Ginsburg had failed to disqualify herself from 21 cases that directly involved eight companies whose stocks were in her husband's IRA.
. . . . The shares involved were holdings worth $15,001 to $50,000 each in Nynex, American Home Products, Exxon, General Electric, American International Group, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and a smaller amount in AT&T.
. . . . None of the cases reported by Insight appeared to hinge directly on a single vote. Two other justices -- Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen G. Breyer -- recused themselves from cases because of stock holdings in some of the same companies as Mr. Ginsburg.
. . . . All the cases but one were decided by secret votes on whether to hear appeals. The only case in which the court heard arguments, Exxon Chemical Co. U.S.A. vs. Sofec, resulted in a 9-0 decision in May 1996 against a company Mr. Ginsburg held stock in.
. . . . Northwestern University judicial ethics specialist Steven Lubet found it inexplicable for a justice to take part in such a decision on the merits.
. . . . The law requires all federal judges to disqualify themselves if their "impartiality might reasonably be questioned" or when the judge, a spouse or a minor child living at home "has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding," no matter how small.
. . . . "The statute is pretty clear," Mr. Lubet said after Insight sent him lists of Mr. Ginsburg's holdings and cases involving those companies. "At least in some of these cases, it appears that Justice Ginsburg should have disqualified herself."
. . . . In a 1988 case the Supreme Court vacated a Louisiana decision because District Judge Robert Collins was a member of Loyola University's board while the New Orleans school was party to a contract case in his court. But the judge was not disciplined.
. . . . In an earlier case, the high court ruled that judges could hear challenges filed by colleagues to congressional changes in judicial pay, even though any change would affect all judges.
. . . . In 1969 the Senate rejected the Supreme Court nomination of Circuit Judge Clement Haynsworth Jr. on a 55-45 vote because he owned a one-seventh interest in a vending company that did business with a firm before his court.


Opinion| Survey: Lies or Opinions?| Justice Ginzberg's Background| Syllabus| UVa Speech| Biography| Ginzberg & Gays| Picture| VMI Forum| Dissenting Opinion| Excerpts from Dissenting Opinion| Guestbook| Phyllis Schaffley on VMI



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