Environmentalists say a third of all federal judges have accepted junkets funded by groups seeking to make the government pay when its environmental or endangered species actions hurt property values.
They question if that - coupled with a bill by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that could give some of the targeted judges expanded jurisdiction over such cases - amounts to improper influence."It at least creates an appearance problem," said Douglas Kendall, executive director of Community Rights Counsel.
The group and the National Environmental Trust provided documentation to the Deseret News that they have gathered about the trips, first reported by the Washington Post on Thursday.
It shows the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) says a third of the 900 federal judges have attended its expenses-paid, five-day seminars at a resort near Yellowstone National Park to discuss related issues. (No Utah federal judges were on partial lists of attendees disclosed).
An invitation to one judge said the sessions were to "explore the role of property rights, incentives and voluntary cooperation in achieving environmental goals."
It added, "Conference and travel expenses are paid and time is provided for cycling, fishing, golfing, hiking and horseback riding."
The National Environmental Trust estimated - based on published resort rates and airfares - that the seminars cost about $2,000 per attendee, and spouses were invited with judges.
Kendall said disclosure forms show FREE receives money from groups such as the Olin, Carthage and Sarah Scaife foundations - which also are helping fund lawsuits seeking to expand when the government must compensate for property values hurt by its actions.
Attendees have included 10 of the 25 judges on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and the Court of Federal Claims - Washington courts with jurisdiction over most "takings" cases, when someone alleges the government has taken their property or hurts its value and should compensate them.
Among them was Judge Randall Rader of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, who was once a counsel for Hatch on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
John A. Baden, FREE's chairman, told the Washington Post he started the seminars (using law professors, judges and others as lecturers) because most judges lack a grounding in economic and environmental issues. He said a wide range of views on property rights and environmental law are presented.
But Kendall said that still looks like "junkets for judges."