Evaluating Moratorium-Blocking Judge's Oil Investments

Is it a conflict of interest?

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Martin Feldman, U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has blocked an offshore drilling moratorium issued by the Obama administration. But it turns out that Feldman holds significant personal investments in the oil and drilling industries. Is this a conflict of interest?


  • Feldman's Oil Investments  Yahoo News' John Cook reports, "The federal judge who overturned Barack Obama's offshore drilling moratorium appears to own stock in numerous companies involved in the offshore oil industry-including Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to BP prior to its April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico-according to 2008 financial disclosure reports."
  • Clear Conflict of Interest  The San Francisco Chronicle's Yobie Benjamin sighs, "If there was ever a classic example of conflict-of-interest, Feldman's picture would be right next to it."
  • Why Didn't He Recuse Himself?  Gawker's Jim Newell wonders, "Not that he obviously made his decision based on his personal portfolio, to be sure. But judges are allowed to recuse themselves when there are conflicts of interest. Many ethical experts would even go so far as to recommend judges do this! But Martin Feldman would probably be unable to divine or fathom why."
  • Administration Should Ask Him To  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker suggests, "The administration also has ample reason to ask Judge Martin Feldman to recuse himself. ... But the amounts really don’t matter. A journalist/law school friend sent me the following: The rules on judicial disqualifications are clear. Judge Margaret McKeown recently explained the issue to Congress. 'Even owning a single share of stock in a party mandates recusal,' McKeown told the House Judiciary Committee last year."
  • Gulf Justice System Too Close to Big Oil  Think Progress writes, "Like many judges presiding in the Gulf region, Feldman owns lots of energy stocks, including Transocean, Halliburton, and two of BP’s largest U.S. private shareholders — BlackRock (7.1%) and JP Morgan Chase (28.3%). ... In his opinion today, Feldman wrote, 'Oil and gas production is quite simply elemental to Gulf communities.' Indeed, it is so elemental that the justice system is invested in the oil and gas industry. As TP’s Ian Millhiser has written, 'Industry ties among federal judges are so widespread that they are beginning to endanger the courts’ ability to conduct routine business. Last month, so many members of the right-wing Fifth Circuit were forced to recuse themselves from an appeal against various energy and chemical companies that there weren’t enough untainted judges left to allow the court to hear the case.'"

He owned shares in a wide variety of energy firms, including some that have been affected by the drilling moratorium.  When asked about his stock holdings, WSJ reports, Feldman’s secretary referred to the “public record” of his filings, but the most recent filing was not available from the federal court.

Finally, we ask, who is Martin Feldman, the trial judge who’s on a fast track to prominence or notoriety, depending on your perspective? WSJ’s Dionne Searcey offers some interesting glimpses into the 76-year-old judge.

He is well read and has a literal take on the law, according to lawyers who know him. “It’s no secret he’s a conservative judge,” one plaintiffs’ attorney said. He’s also friends with one Antonin Scalia. And, Searcey reports, several years back he converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Several lawyers said they see Feldman walking down the street to attend a Catholic Church almost daily.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.