I’ve received quite the education in the workings of the media since Katrina and never cease to be amazed how those that supposedly see things as they are (ie journalists) over PR spin are impacted by the same cognitive biases that afflict the rest of us mere mortals. Since we broke the news contained on Judge Martin Feldman’s 2008 financial disclosure form regarding his affinity for oil related stocks, the media have woven that facet into most every report on Feldman’s ruling yesterday blocking President Obama’s drilling moratorium. Simply put it appears results oriented Judge Feldman has a huge conflict of interest here, one that his backers will not be able to wish away and sweep under the carpet New Orleans style.
Normally one would expect the best reporting on this would come from the local media outlets and indeed some have done a masterful job covering this story. Sadly, the regions premiere newspaper The Times Picayune has chosen to circle the wagons around Judge Feldman and break out the pom poms rather than explore how Feldman’s ruling is now tainted. Becky Mowbray, a fine journalist who has done some fantastic reporting on the scams insurers employed to dump their wind claim obligations on the National Flood Insurance Program and whose work we have featured on stabbed more times than I can count took a journalistic leave of absence in favor of pom poms and it is with her story we begin:
A federal judge in New Orleans blocked the Obama administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling Tuesday, prohibiting the government from enforcing the six-month drilling ban announced just weeks after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that many in Louisiana fear will be economically devastating.
“This court is persuaded that the public interest weighs in favor of granting a preliminary injunction,” U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman wrote, a day after holding a hearing on a suit brought by an offshore marine service company. “An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country.”
Was there any doubt how Feldman would rule? We began talking about the hearing internally here at Slabbed Monday morning and my partner in blog Nowdy always follows the money when we research such matters. We were not the only ones doing that kind of research as our two previous posts on Judge Feldman and his curious rulings in the Katrina litigation were attracting search results hits from across the country including national media outlets which is a testament to the quality of my partner in blog’s work and google’s recognition of such as we are page 1 in their search results on Judge Martin Feldman. (Our readers can find those posts here and here.) Nowdy of course did something no media outlet evidently considered in looking up Feldman’s last financial disclosure form which was in circulation among select members of the Slabbed Nation by late Monday afternoon. Before I give more behind the scenes background lets continue with Becky’s report:
After the decision, detractors raised questions about whether Feldman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, should have been presiding over the case.
According to his most recent financial disclosure report — filed in May 2009 and reflecting financial holdings in 2008 — Feldman owned stock in Transocean Ltd., the owner of the Deepwater Horizon and many other rigs operating in the Gulf. Feldman also had stock in in Halliburton Co., the company that did the cement seals on the well, and in several other energy or offshore companies, including at least one affected by the drilling moratorium, ATP Oil & Gas Corp.
Seven of the 12 judges at federal district court in New Orleans have recused themselves from handling oil leak cases because they own stock in companies involved or because family members work for law firms that will be involved in th litigation. Feldman could not be reached Tuesday afternoon to find out whether he still owns the stock in question, or his thoughts on recusal.
Tulane Law professor Ed Sherman said that judges have a great deal of discretion about when to recuse themselves from cases. In this situation, it’s unknown whether Feldman still owns the stock, and if so, how much he owns. “If it’s a sizable amount, it certainly does raise questions,” he said.
This is where Becky goes off the reservation first terming us “detractors” instead of a “legal affairs blog” whose work has been good enough to grace page 1 of the Sunday Times Picayune in the past. All we want is an impartial judiciary and clean government Becky and if that makes us detractors then so be it. Even worse is Becky tells a whopper saying we raised questions “after the ruling” which is complete BS and she knows it. In fact, though Becky is not a member of the Slabbed Nation I tipped her on her twitter page at 5:29pm Monday to check Feldman’s financial disclosure form! The fact is we tried to sound the alarm with the local media and the story was passed on by the Times Picayune and Becky Mowbray.
Telling such a whopper as Becky did has implications, one of which is if this had gone public well in advance of Feldman’s decision maybe Ol’ Marty would have done the right thing. The sad thing is it shouldn’t take a blog run by two legal lay people in Mississippi to get an Article 3 federal judge to do the right thing.
Immediately after Nowdy published Feldman’s dirty little secret I noticed we immediately got lots of hits from Tulane University and no doubt Ed Sherman was one of them. Feldman is a Tulane law school grad so it does not surprise me the uptown gang would try to circle the wagons around Judge Marty from the salons of their uptown mansions. I’ve found that only on the Federal courts do judges have problems recusing themselves despite blatant conflicts of interest and the gang from Tulane seems particularly challenged in that regard.
So while Ed Sherman trys to spin this, occasional Slabbed commenter and Loyola University Law School professor Dane Ciolino had a far different take, so it is his comments for WWL 870 AM we visit with next:
“If the new moratorium is based on non-arbitrary, rational reasons, then they’ll have a much more difficult time challenging that than they did before Judge Feldman with the original moratorium,” Ciolino said.
According to Ciolino, much of the case before the court, including the second attempt at a moratorium, is uncharted territory.
“I don’t think this is something that you see very often,” Ciolino said. “You don’t very often see a federal judge invalidate a rule by a department of the federal government, either.”
Perhaps Dane will stop in with us and add more color to his remarks. (Ya’ll be sweet to Dane.)
It gets worse for ol’ Marty though because the national pundits are weighing in and the analysis from them is not nearly as charitable as Ed Sherman’s as this AP story in the Sun Herald illustrates:
Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said the ruling should be rescinded if the judge still has investments in companies that could benefit.
“If Judge Feldman has any investments in oil and gas operators in the Gulf, it represents a flagrant conflict of interest,” Reichert said.
This is the sentiment I am hearing from the legal community. Even worse, since Feldman’s 2009 information is still not on file IMHO even if he did sell some of the drilling company stock he owned his decision is tainted which is a point our own Sock Puppet drove home in the comments to Nowdy’s post on this topic.
Lots of you guys need to stop excusing misconduct because you believe the outcome was the right one based on your politics. The cornerstone of our judicial system is a fair and impartial judiciary. You cannot disregard the taint on this one just because you desired the outcome.
Becky gets a rare F from Slabbed. You’re better than that story you wrote, you know it and we do too.