Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Senate Budget Committee ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) wrote the circuit’s chief judge, Alex Kozinski, on May 18 asking why, in these tough budget times, the yearly conference had to be held in a pricey “island paradise.”
The 2010 conference held there cost more than $1.1 million “for travel and accommodation expenses alone,” they noted, demanding answers to a long series of questions about costs and such.
The senators helpfully noted the available “activities” that the conference offers, such as: sport fishing, golf, yoga classes, surfing lessons, tennis, a catamaran snorkel trip and Zumba, which is “an exhilarating, effective, easy-to-follow, Latin-inspired calorie burning dance fitness program.”
The most obvious cost concern might be that of transporting many of the mainland’s 150 or so district and appellate judges (from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Montana) and a similar number of judicial employees and government lawyers to Hawaii rather than have the Hawaii’s five federal judges fly to the mainland. (More than half the circuit’s judges are in California.).
Kozinski submitted a 13-page response by the June 15 deadline the senators had given him.
“Our conferences are renowned for the quality and depth of their educational program,” Kozinski said, explaining in some detail how the conference was put together and the various cost options. And he noted that conference attendees “are reimbursed for their travel in accordance with judiciary travel policies.”
In a statement, a circuit official said “the conference is cost efficient and a productive investment into the administration of justice in the western states.”
Grassley and Sessions issued a statement Monday saying that they were reviewing Kosinski’s letter but that it appeared circuit officials “remain defiantly unapologetic about the conference’s scale, location, and itinerary in our current hour of financial crisis.”
Stay tuned. Zumba?