Maui News

Judicial Conference on Maui Criticized

May 22, 2012, 5:41 AM HST
* Updated May 22, 9:33 AM
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File photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

The annual 9th Circuit Judicial Conference, planned on Maui this year, is drawing some heated criticism for the expenses associated with the event.

Two Republican senators from the mainland issued a letter to the court’s chief judge saying they are concerned that the conference, planned for August 13-16 at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, is inconsistent with the nation’s financial crisis.

If the conference draws the nearly 700 participants that it did in 2010, when it was also held on Maui, critics claim the cost of accommodations alone would cost more than a half million dollars.

An executive with the court issued a statement saying they are fully aware of its responsibilities as a steward of public funds.

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Court of Appeals Executive Cathy A. Catterson said costs of lodging and air travel are comparative to those found at mainland venues. Any sporting or recreational activities, the court said, are paid for by individuals, and are not reimbursable.

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The letter to the court’s chief judge came from Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The two said documents received from the Administrative Office of the US Courts indicate that the Ninth Circuit spent over $657,000 on travel-related costs for the 2010 Judicial Conference on Maui.  The court, they say, also spent a combined $860,000 on travel costs for judges to attend conferences in 209 and 2008, held in Monterey, California, and Sun Valley, Idaho.

“We are concerned that using the tax dollars of the American people to pay for conferences of this sort is not the most appropriate use of funds,” the letter stated.

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In addition to various business meetings, the conference website states that the event “provides a rich educational program on the law and legal profession, the administration of the courts and other relevant topics.”

This year’s program features presentations on a variety of issues involving social media, mobile computing and data mining on the internet, recent findings in sentencing policy, and anti-trust issues in the world of sports law.

“The conference is authorized by law for the purpose of considering the business of the courts and advising means of improving the administration of justice within the circuit.  The conference fully adheres to these goals, providing an exceptional educational program and the opportunity to conduct numerous business meetings that further circuit governance,” said Catterson in a statement referencing the letter.

Federal government funding allocated to the Ninth Circuit for the Conference is used to provide the educational program and to conduct the business meetings.

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