FISA Court Judges Keep Buying Verizon Stock; Wonder What They Know...
from the foia-ftw dept
While this may not be a true sign of corruption, it at least raises some basic ethics questions. As Fang notes, ethics rules say that judges need to recuse themselves from cases where they have a financial stake in the outcome. But, it's not as clear cut, since the telcos aren't actually parties to the cases brought by the DOJ to the FISA Court (there are no other parties, generally, it's just the government). And even if there isn't anything fishy here, just the appearance of a potential bias seems problematic.
On May 28 last year, Judge James Zagel, a FISA Court member since 2008, purchased stock in Verizon. In June of this year, Zagel signed off on a government request to the FISA Court to renew the ongoing metadata collection program.
He's not the only one. We filed a request to the courts for the personal finance statements for all of the FISA Court judges. About a month ago, federal judges began turning in their disclosures, which cover the calendar year of 2013. The disclosures show that FISA Court Judge Susan Wright purchased Verizon stock valued at $15,000 or less on October 22. FISA Court Judge Dennis Saylor has owned Verizon stock, and last year collected a dividend of less than $1,000. The precise amount and value of each investment is unclear—like many government ethics disclosures, including those for federal lawmakers, investments amounts are revealed within certain ranges of value.
"I think prudence would suggest that a FISA judge would not acquire investments in these telecommunication stocks," says Professor William G. Ross, an expert on judicial ethics at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law in Alabama. "I'm not saying there is a conflict of interest, which my impression says there's probably not," Ross says, adding, "this is between what's improper and what's prudent."And, indeed, there definitely appears to be a conflict of interest here. As you may recall, it's been reported that the telcos were given over $100 million for "volunteering" to hand over customer records. While that may be peanuts overall to a major telco's bottom line, it's not nothing.