Stephen Maseda | Character Assassination of Judges

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

It has always bothered me that the left, and to a lesser extent the right, seek to prevent publication of opinions they disagree with. We now have two fellow Santa Claritans, Mr. Thomas Oatway and Mr. Lynn Wright, who are seeking to prevent the airing of opinions by fellow Santa Claritans, with which they disagree. I think we all owe The Signal editors and staff a thank you for its policy of providing a forum for all of us to express our opinions.

We also have Mr. Jim d e Bree joining in the discussion on the Supreme Court “ethics issues.” While I am sure Mr. de Bree’s comments are well-intended, they compare apples to oranges. An auditor is hired by an entity to provide the public and governments with a report of its examination of the operations of the entity they are being paid by, and to provide an audit letter as to whether the financial statements fairly present the financial position of the company. Thus, the auditor is paid by the entity being audited, to provide a report/analysis of that entity’s financial condition to other persons (e.g. banks, owners/investors, etc). As such there is an inherent conflict of interest, and so important that the auditors do everything they can to give the appearance of impartiality. Another critical difference is that there is not an organized effort to smear auditors, or any particular auditors, by some members of the “press.”

As for the court, I would suggest that Mr. de Bree and The Signal readers read Justice Samuel Alito’s comments in the Wall Street Journal concerning the ProPublica article. We should be able to agree that there is little the court or any individual justice can do to prevent baseless charges by outlets such as ProPublica, or the Associated Press, which mindlessly repeated the charges. 

Against that backdrop, let’s look at the charge. It is asserted that, in 2008, Justice Alito was given a free ride on a private plane owned by Paul Singer, a hedge fund manager and founder of Elliott Management, in connection with an Alaskan fishing trip, not funded by Singer as far as the “charges” go. The ProPublica article then asserts that Singer subsequently had “several cases” before the court. In fact, the case it bases this allegation on was brought by NML Capital, not Singer, which was attempting to collect debts owed it by the Argentinian government. The article (and the Associated Press repeating it) did not note that these were petitions for certiorari (a request for a hearing), all of which were denied by the court. The one and only instance in which the court decided an actual issue in the case was in 2014, when it held that commercial banks could not refuse to honor subpoenas issued by lower federal courts, which decision was joined in by all of the justices, with the exception of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who dissented, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who recused herself ostensibly because she had been a member of the lower courts whose rulings the Supreme Court affirmed. In short, it was a 7-1 decision affirming the ruling of the District Court and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. 

There was no issue but that Justice Alito under the existing laws and regulations at that time was not required to report this plane trip. If you are interested in this, I would refer you to my earlier letter (June 15) and the WSJ article written by Justice Alito, wherein he noted that a federal circuit court judge had inquired about reporting requirements and was told the trip was not required to be reported. 

The article also presents the issue of how a judge is to know if there is a possible conflict, an issue it simply assumes. It is easy for an auditor: They have a built-in conflict and they are intimately familiar with the entity they are auditing, but even they would be hard-pressed to know all of the shareholders or other parties with an interest in a publicly traded company. And it would beg credulity to require them to interrogate everyone who might do them a favor or offer them a gift, to determine if any of them have any connection with any of the companies they audit. It is equally difficult for a judge or justice to know all of the persons interested in the entities appearing before them. As a result, all appellate courts require that the “corporate” parties file a disclosure statement, from which the court can glean information about these “corporate” entities and make decisions about recusal. Not surprisingly, the disclosures do not require a list of all shareholders, employees, creditors, etc. 

The case on which ProPublica bases its article involved several commercial banks, all of which were publicly traded entities, the government of Argentina, and NML Capital, which ProPublica asserts was “founded” by Singer. It does not tell us whether Singer had any interest in the company at the time of the litigation, nor, if so, what that interest was. Without that information no one can know if there was a conflict or not, much less assert misconduct, whether by the various judges, in the district court, the circuit court or the Supreme Court who ruled on the case, each of whom had consistently held that the banks involved had to respond to the subpoenas. 

To say the least, it seems quite a stretch to think that Justice Alito joined a decision (in which six of his fellow justices, at least three circuit court judges, and at least one district court judge concurred), because of a free plane ride five years before the decision, by a company in which the owner of the plane my or may not have been involved at the time. 

ProPublico is engaging in character assassination, just as it has done with Justice Clarence Thomas. 

Stephen Maseda

Santa Clarita

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