Federal judge Henry E. Hudson’s ownership of a stake worth between $15,000 and $50,000 in a GOP political consulting firm that worked against health care reform — the very law against which he ruled today — raises some ethics questions for some of the nation’s top judicial ethics experts. It isn’t that Hudson’s decision would have necessarily been influenced by his ownership in the company, given his established track record as a judicial conservative. But his ownership stake does create, at the very least, a perception problem for Hudson that could affect the case.
“Is Judge Hudson’s status as a shareholder coincidence or causation? Probably the former, but the optics aren’t good,” James J. Sample, an associate professor at Hofstra Law School, told TPM. “Federal judges are required by statute to disqualify themselves from hearing a case whenever their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. It’s a hyper-protective rule and for good reason. At the very least, his continued financial interest in Campaign Solutions undermines the perceived legitimacy of his decision.”
The rules are pretty straightforward: if a judge is invested in a company that is a litigant in a case, he or she can’t be involved. But in cases where a company owned by a judge has an interest in the outcome of a case but is not a direct litigant, the lines get much more murky.
“The company is not technically a direct party in the case,” Sample told TPM. But he noted the judge is “treading very close to the line.”
“You would certainly want to ask whether he has an interest in an organization that’s devoted to an outcome that he has control over,” Professor Charles Gardner Geyh of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law told TPM. “That would certainly be the inquiry I would want to undertake.”
“The more general analysis is whether the judge’s impartiality might be questioned. The most I’m willing to commit to is that it certainly raises concerns in my mind that one might fairly explore,” Geyh said.
Hudson has held a stake in Campaign Solutions at least since 2003, according to financial disclosure reports. Every year since 2003, Hudson’s stake has had a “gross value” of between $15,001 and $50,000 dollars, but his yearly income from his investment has increased. Before 2006, he reported that he earned less that $1,000 dollars. In 2006 and 2007, he earned between $1,001 and $2,500 dollars. Since 2008, his yearly income from his partial ownership of Campaign Solutions has been between $5,001 and $15,000 dollars.
A Campaign Solutions representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Late Update: So guess who ends up to be a client of Campaign Solutions? None other than Cuccinelli himself. He racked up $9,000 in website and credit card processing expenses in 2010, as noted in this story.
Additional reporting by Alex Sciuto.