The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), and his counterpart on the Budget Committee, 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.” It’s at the Hyatt Regency Maui.
The 2010 conference in Hawaii cost more than $1.1 million “for travel and accommodation expenses alone,” they noted, demanding answers to a series of questions about costs and such.
The senators helpfully noted the available “activities” 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 transporting many of the mainland’s 150 or so 9th Circuit district and appellate judges (from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Montana) — plus 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, meeting 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 Kozinski’s letter but the it appeared the circuit officials “remain defiantly unapologetic about the conference’s scale, location, and itinerary in our current hour of financial crisis.”
Stay tuned. (Zumba?)
Typically, members of Congress and the media keep their natural enmity in polite check. But the gloves are coming off — or rather, they’re going on — as lawmakers and the journos who cover them prepare to face off at Wednesday’s fourth annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game.
And as ugly as things might get on the diamond, it’s all for a good cause: Proceeds go to the Young Survival Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to young women affected by breast cancer.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a breast cancer survivor, should get a spot in the event’s Hall of Fame for a play in the inaugural game in which she broke her leg sliding into second.