9th Circuit: Hawaii trip needed to foster 'personal interaction' among judges

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is defending a planned conference in Hawaii this August as a way to provide for "personal interaction" and a "constructive and civil open exchange of ideas" among 9th Circuit judges, despite complaints from Senate Republicans that the million-dollar conference is a waste of taxpayer money.

Alex Kozinski, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, defended the planned trip in a letter dated June 15 to Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Sessions and Grassley wrote to the 9th Circuit last month to demand an explanation for the event.

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While the two senators also indicated their preference that the conferece should be scrapped, Kozinski answered their questions in a 15-page letter that defended it.

"Our Conferences are renowned for the quality and depth of their educational programs," Kozinski wrote. "In short, the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference provides an exceptional educational program and facilitates circuit governance through numerous business meetings."

The 9th Circuit last month was already defending the conference as an activity that is authorized under U.S. law to help better administer justice. In response to how a conference at a Hawaiian resort would better achieve that goal than a teleconference or a less costly meeting, Kozinski wrote:

"Live meetings are more effective in providing education and training. They provide real-time opportunities to solve problems, exchange ideas, and achieve the human connection that powers the business of the courts.

"Meeting in person allows for a frank, constructive and civil open exchange of ideas, and for colleagues who may not see each other but for once a year to act as resources," he added.

"A teleconference is not a feasible substitute for this annual Circuit Conference. Listening from a remote location does not provide the same engaging experience as being physically present. Nor would it offer opportunities for personal interaction among the judges and among the judges, lawyers and court administrators."

Sessions and Grassley acknowledged the reply from Kozinski in a short statement Monday evening, and said they were still reviewing it.

"We remain deeply concerned about the conference's overall costs, as well as the lavish recreational schedule, given that the event is subsidized by taxpayers," the two senators wrote.

"We will closely review the letter, but it appears Circuit officials remain defiantly unapologetic about the conference's scale, location, and itinerary in our current hour of financial crisis. They show no indication of changing their financial behavior in the future."

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