A federal judge identified by the Center for Investigative Reporting for making campaign contributions while on the bench has apologized for violating the judicial code of conduct.
Judge Deborah L. Cook of Ohio made two political donations after she was appointed by President Bush to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. A CIR report and story for Salon.com on Oct. 31 revealed that both Cook and a Clinton-appointed judge, Dean D. Pregerson of California, had apparently given campaign contributions, though federal judges are prohibited from doing so.
In response to CIR’s reporting, Chief Judge Danny J. Boggs of the 6th Circuit initiated a formal complaint of judicial misconduct against Cook and – contrary to normal procedure – made the results public on Jan. 10.
“I violated this proscription against federal judges making political contributions early in what I hope will be a long tenure,” Cook wrote in her letter of apology, which was filed with Judge Boggs’ order. “Though not an excuse, my misstep here resulted from habit and a lack of awareness of the prohibition.”
Cook wrote that she was used to making contributions as a state judge. According to her letter, she did not attend the “New Judges School” after she was confirmed as a federal judge and “thus missed being alerted there to the federal canon.” The “Baby Judges School,” as it is often called by judges, is a non-mandatory training and orientation for newly appointed judges.
In December 2005, Cook gave $800 to former Sen. Mike DeWine, only to have the money returned. It was from the senator’s campaign, Cook wrote, that she first learned that federal judges cannot contribute.
“I sincerely apologize for this error, and regret both that this happened and any resulting embarrassment to the court. It will not happen again, of course,” she wrote.
Chief Judge Boggs wrote in his Jan. 10 order that Cook consented to making her apology public and “also has assured me that such conduct will not happen in the future.” He considers the case closed.
Professor Arthur D. Hellman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law told CIR that Boggs’ action will send a strong signal to judges across the country. One result, he said, might be better attendance at “Baby Judges School.”
“I think one of the things this might well do is to put a little more pressure on newly appointed judges to take that training. They should not assume that they know everything that they’re supposed to do,” said Hellman. “Maybe chief judges will take it upon themselves to say to newly appointed judges that there’s really no excuse: ‘I know you wanted to take your vacation, but look at what happened to Judge Cook, you don’t want that to happen to you.’”
Hellman, who has testified before Congress on the issue of judicial misconduct, said Chief Judge Boggs should be commended for taking the rare step of initiating the judicial misconduct process. “That’s what you want the chief judge to do,” he said.
Admitting to the violations is a turnaround for Judge Cook. Her chambers had answered CIR’s repeated requests for comment by faxing a one-sentence response suggesting that her husband made the donations, not her. “Campaigns attributed contributions from (husband) Robert Linton to Deborah Cook,” read the unsigned statement.
The CIR/Salon investigation also found campaign contributions in the name of a Clinton appointee, Judge Dean D. Pregerson of the Central District of California, while he was on the bench. Federal records show a $1,000 donation from Pregerson to Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware in 2002, listing Pregerson’s former law firm as his occupation. Previous donations in 1999 and 2000 to other candidates listed Pregerson as the donor and “federal judge” as his occupation.
Pregerson’s assistant said in October that the contributions in his name were actually made by his wife.
Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “made an inquiry” into the subject and accepted Pregerson’s explanation that his wife had made the donations through a joint checking account, 9th Circuit spokesman David Madden told CIR.
“She was assured by Judge Pregerson that that practice would stop,” said Madden. “She has concluded the matter.”