Despite GOP protests, 9th Circuit to go through with costly Hawaii conference

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals told Senate Republicans late last week that it would go through with a conference in Hawaii later this month, despite GOP complaints that the conference could cost $1 million or more at a time of fiscal crisis.

In an Aug. 3 letter to Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said it would cost too much to cancel at this point. However, he said the Ninth Circuit would try to be more cost-conscious going forward.

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"While it is too late to change course this year, the Ninth Circuit has moved to reschedule its 2013 conference to 2014," he wrote in his letter, which was released Wednesday. "And we will continue to manage future events in the most cost-effective manner possible.

"In hindsight, had we foreseen the nation's current fiscal problems, we may have chosen a different site for this year's conference," he added.

In addition to the letter, Kozinski attached the resort contract for the Hawaii conference later this month that Sessions and Grassley requested. GOP staff on the Budget Committee said the information it has seen so far shows the Ninth Circuit could have been pared back in May, when they started asking questions about it, with minimal charges.

Staff also noted that the Ninth Circuit could have taken steps such as reserving rooms with a resort view rather than an ocean view, and taken more modest rooms. Rooms reserved range from $650 a day to $1,500 a day.

In addition, they said that while the conference schedule runs from Aug. 13-16, rooms are reserved from Aug. 10-17, in part to accommodate a golf tournament before the formal conference starts. Sessions and Grassley have said paring back the conference in these ways would still advance the goal of improving the circuit, although Kozinski did not offer to take these sorts of steps.

"We continue to believe in the importance of the conference in furthering the equation of the bench and bar, and in advancing circuit governance," he wrote.

GOP staff said they have not finished reviewing the contract, but said they still want to assess whether the Ninth Circuit has a long-term agreement with Hyatt Resorts Hawaii, and how the complimentary rooms that came with the package are used by conference planners.