Federal Judge Martin Leach-Cross Feldman engaged in an oil spill cleanup of his own last week. Five hours before he rendered his decision blocking the six-month moratorium on deep-water Gulf oil drilling, Judge Feldman sold his personal holdings of Exxon Mobil stock. Exxon was not a party to the case under consideration but will directly benefit from the Judge’s action.
Judge Feldman may have lost a few dollars on the sale; he definitely lost much more in credibility. “The judicial canons require that judges be aware of their investments,” wrote Steven Mufson and Joe Stephens in the Washington Post:
“Judicial ethicists said that, had he been aware of his holdings, Feldman should have disclosed the ownership or recused himself at the case’s outset if he thought it posed a conflict or raised questions about his impartiality. The court docket indicates that Feldman signed several orders before the sale.
“‘I’ve never heard of a situation like this,’ said Jeffrey M. Shaman, a judicial ethics specialist and law professor at DePaul University.
“The judge may have thought the stock did not create a substantial conflict, legal analysts said, but the fact that he apparently felt compelled to sell the stock and disclose it could be seen as indicating otherwise.