I read with keen interest your recent editorial regarding federal judges and their alleged ethical lapses in cases in which the judges reportedly had financial conflicts of interest. Your editorial highlighted the extensive Wall Street Journal article that found more than 130 federal judges improperly handled some aspect of litigation in over 680 cases involving companies in which the judges or their family members owned stock. I commend the Daily News-Record for its editorial.

The editorial reminded me of my experience circa 2003, when I had the humbling honor and privilege of being short-listed, by recommendation of our U.S. senators, to the president of the United States for an Article III federal judgeship. The recommendation culminated in an interview by the president’s lawyers in the West Wing of the White House, although it still did not give our Valley its first local community resident an Article III judgeship in Harrisonburg since 1954.

Prior to the White House interview, during one of the numerous interviews with statewide lawyer committees, one committee member poignantly — perhaps provocatively — posed the following question to me: “Mr. Guynn, do you know the difference between a federal judge and God?” I paused, smiled, and although tempted otherwise, decided to answer that I didn’t. The committee member replied, “Mr. Guynn, God knows He is not a federal judge.” The point was that human nature, cloaked in a black robe, can lead someone who becomes a federal judge — given the incredible power of that position and lifetime tenure under Article III of the U.S. Constitution — to become arrogant with power.

Your editorial, based on the Wall Street Journal’s commendable investigation and reporting, offers yet another unfortunately needed reminder, especially in these times, that judges, whether federal or state, should be held truly accountable. I, however, aspire to something beyond the editorial’s suggestion that removal — impeachment proceedings — from office may be required to effect change; instead I suggest that culpable judges should now do the right thing: resign now, just the same as two Federal Reserve Bank presidents reportedly have done recently in arguably parallel circumstances.

The risk for our nation and its local communities is that our citizens and litigants, who depend upon our courts to be temples of uninfluenced and untainted justice, become understandably cynical about those in positions of power who don’t accept responsibility for their own lapses. Trust is lost. For example, the attributed excuse by the one of the federal judges, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, was partly that his spouse completed his financial disclosures, so he supposedly didn’t and wouldn’t know about any financial conflict of interest. According to that judge, he had done nothing wrong — and was not accountable. Some other cited federal judges also offered evasive excuses. Let a lawyer try that kind of argument before one of our respected Virginia federal judges; that lawyer rightfully would risk consequential sanctions.

Still, we should not forget that there are many judges, federal and state, who serve with honor and distinction — and even humility about their positions, and with modesty in the exercise of the immense power over people’s lives entrusted to our courts. We are fortunate in our Western District of Virginia to have stellar federal judges. They have not forgotten that they are appointed, not anointed. We are grateful for their devoted, even brave, service and for the similar service of others like them who are models of integrity in our communities and nation.

Douglas L. Guynn lives in Mount Crawford.

(1) comment


Spot on Mr. Guynn.

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