Outrage mounts over Judge Feldman’s conflict of interest

Calls for the impeachment of Federal Judge Martin Feldman are growing louder as outrage mounts over his June 22 decision to overturn President Obama’s moratorium on deep-ocean oil well drilling.

The president imposed the moratorium in response to BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster that continues to gush millions of barrels of crude oil daily into the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, Judge Feldman ruled, “If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? … That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed and rather overbearing.”

Feldman, appointed by President Reagan to the U.S. District Court for Louisiana in 1983, owns extensive stocks in oil companies and oil drilling corporations including Halliburton, whose hasty, slipshod, cementing of the well failed leading to the BP disaster.

In a clumsy attempt to cover up his conflict of interest, Feldman contacted his stockbroker on June 21, the day of the hearing on the moratorium, ordering him to sell his stocks in Exxon-Mobil the next day.

As the firestorm got hotter, Feldman sent a letter to the court’s administrative office claiming he unloaded his Exxon-Mobil “prior to the opening of a court hearing on the spill moratorium case.”

However, the Wall Street Journal caught the judge in his lie: “Feldman still owned the Exxon-Mobil stock on the day he heard the appeal. He benefited directly from his decision, announced the next day, to overturn the drilling moratorium, a classic conflict of interest.”

A coalition of environmental organizations went back to the court July 2 and asked Judge Feldman to reverse his decision.

“The court’s financial holdings in various companies involved in oil  and gas drilling raise in an objective mind a reasonable question concerning the court’s impartiality in these proceedings,” their legal motion declared.

Among those asking Feldman to recuse himself were the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife.

Their brief cites Feldman’s 2009 financial disclosure statement that he owned stocks in Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Ocean Energy, Quicksilver Resources, Prospect Energy, Peabody Energy, Pengrowth Energy Trust, Atlas Energy Resources, Parker Drilling, and others.

Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy put it more bluntly. “The initiation of an impeachment effort is the only democratic remedy for such disregard for the interests of justice.”

She added, “Initiating impeachment against Judge Feldman would draw an important line in the sand for other judges who might rule in favor of the industries they invest in….This marker is essential given recent federal decisions like ‘Citizens United’ and other cases that have sought to expand ‘corporate rights’ at the expense of the people.”

Feldman earlier ignited outrage when he dismissed a lawsuit by 50 people who live in the Clipper Estates in suburban New Orleans, who complained that the owner of Clipper Estates who was also president of the New Orleans Home Builders Association had swindled them out money allocated to them for reconstruction of their homes after Hurricane Katrina.

The homeowners charged that the defendant pocketed the money in violation of RICO (The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act).

Judge Feldman ruled that the plaintiffs had no standing under RICO.

Photo: A controlled burn of some of the oil spilling in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon explosion. (Deepwater Horizon Response/CC)


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.