How Scalia Faced Ethics Issue

By Benjamin Weiser and Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 22, 1986; 12:00 AM

Judges often are required to decide whether they can ethically participate in a case before them because of previous relationships they may have had with those involved in the dispute.

Antonin Scalia, President Reagan's choice for the Supreme Court, confronted such an issue last fall on the U.S. Court of Appeals here. A law firm in the case before him had paid him a consulting fee of $25,800 three years earlier, before he was a judge, for services on behalf of AT&T in connection with an unrelated case. AT&T was also a litigant in the case that came before him last fall.

Scalia, after informally seeking advice from the chief judge about his former relationship with AT&T, remained on the case. He wrote an opinion ruling against the company.

Experts in judicial ethics, in interviews last week, were divided about whether Scalia did the correct thing, whether his remaining on the case created an appearance of conflict of interest in violation of the canons of ethics.

"I think it does raise questions about his judicial judgment," said Monroe H. Freedman, former dean of the Hofstra Law School and a longtime legal activist and commentator on legal ethics. Freedman called Scalia's participation an "act of serious misjudgment."

By contrast, John P. Frank, a leading commentator on the subject of judicial disqualification, saw "absolutely . . . no impropriety" in Scalia's action.

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© 1986 The Washington Post Company