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Judge who helped BP went on junket party on their tab.


Welcome to Arizona
Judge who helped BP junketed partly on their tab

By Chris Vogel

A Houston federal judge who set aside a $100 million verdict against BP last week has taken an all-expenses-paid educational junket that was partially funded by the oil giant.

In 2008, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt attended a three-day-long program in Sedona, Arizona, hosted by the George Mason Law & Economics Center (LEC), a nonprofit organization that has drawn fire for hosting judicial conferences funded in part by big oil and other corporate entities that appear in court before federal judges. LEC has traditionally used the funding to pay for judges' airfare, meals and hotel accommodations, which are often at posh resorts.

Three years ago, federal Judge Andrew Kleinfeld got into hot water after reducing the penalty against ExxonMobil for the Valdez oil spill when it came out that he had taken trips with LEC that were partially funded by Exxon. LEC, which is loosely affiliated with George Mason University's law school in Virginia, has maintained that it adheres to all legal and ethical rules and that its seminars are purely for educational purposes.

Hoyt's deputy clerk, Diane Palacios, tells Hair Balls that Hoyt has declined to comment.

When news of Hoyt's ruling hit the papers, Hair Balls dialed up Hoyt's financial disclosure report for 2008, the most recent year readily available. Under reimbursements, Hoyt listed an LEC seminar that he attended in July. Next, we pulled up who funded the seminar, which must be reported to the federal judiciary. There, on page 63, we saw that the seminar Hoyt attended was held in Sedona and that BP America was among the funders.

Watchdog groups have in the past accused LEC of influencing judges' opinions with pro-business-interest educational seminars. At the very least, critics have argued, the appearance of a conflict of interest threatens to undermine judicial integrity.

This does not, however, mean that Hoyt was improperly influenced. The seminar he attended was a year before he was put on the BP case and it was about Abraham Lincoln, far less suspicious-­looking than if he had attended one of LEC's lectures on environmental issues or negligence, strict liability and causation.

LEC additionally claims that judges who attend its programs do not meet the standard for recusal, citing on its Web site a federal court decision which states that a judge who attended a similar junket did not have to step down "from a case involving a corporation that had contributed between 3 to 6 percent" of the funding for the program "because no one could reasonably doubt the judge's impartiality in the case."

Now, we're not saying that a judge can't go learn about ol' Honest Abe, but if we were the refinery workers who had just had $100 million yanked away from them by a judge who got an all-expense-paid trip to Sedona, funded in part by BP, we can't say we'd be all that pleased. At the very least, the plaintiffs might wish that they had the chance to pay for a trip for the judge, too.


Breakfast of Champions?

By Margaret Downing

The upcoming cost-savings cutback in hours for cafeteria workers in the Houston ISD brought union leader Orell Fitzsimmons over to two HISD elementaries last week, and when he looked in on the actual breakfast being served, he was not amused.

"Milk, juice, Pop-Tarts and animal crackers!" the field director for the Service Employees International Union Local 100 announced at a recent school board meeting. "Can anyone defend this?"

That was at Looscan Elementary. At Montgomery Elementary, where he visited on another day, the breakfast was marginally better: a banana instead of the animal crackers. But then the teacher in the classroom he was in topped everything off with a special treat of her own — a Shipley's donut for every child who finished his breakfast, Fitzsimmons said.

"Why don't we use science instead of sugar? Our children need real food, not processed food," he told the board.

He passed out flyers complete with a chart showing Pop-Tarts have 200 calories and animal crackers 130.

Fitzsimmons is not a fan of Aramark, the food service contractor based out of Philadelphia that HISD uses, and has criticized its breakfast program before.

Outside the meeting, he told of picking up a sealed Aramark breakfast with a chicken biscuit and eggs that he didn't open. Two and a half weeks later, he said, the eggs looked just as they had when he first got them. "They are saturated with preservatives."


Bill White's Tax Returns Revealed! (Maybe)

By Richard Connelly

You know things have gotten off on the wrong foot challenging Rick Perry when the state's leading political writer, Paul Burka of Texas Monthly, compares your operation to Kay Bailey Hutchison's.

Here's how things have gone in the Texas governor's race since the primaries: Rick Perry has been in Patton mode, ostentatiously "activating" a secret plan to beef up border security because of Mexico drug violence. Bill White, on the other hand, has made his key issue so far his refusal to release his tax returns.

If White's aim was to get himself slaughtered in the blogosphere — Mission ­Accomplished!!

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