How About NO Judges Attending?

When a judicial branch has a monopoly on hearing a certain type of case, one would think that judges in that branch would be meticulous in steering clear of anything which might make them look like they favored one side or the other.

Why then do some Federal District Court judges continue to attend a luxurious “forum” on Defending and Managing ERISA Litigation, a conference which “…is devoted entirely to the defense of claims…”? There has been an improvement, though. Last year 21 Federal judges attended this meeting (see Lest Ye Be Judged). This year only 9 Federal judges are scheduled to speak.

That’s progress, but what about ERISA disability income claimants who may be litigants in the district courts of these judges? How comfortable can they be?

We would guess the claimants would not be too comfortable if they knew the flier announcing the conference proclaims that the attending judges will discuss for the attending ERISA defense lawyers: "View from The Bench: Federal District & Magistrate Judges Speak out on How to Convey Complexities to the Court (including plan documents and the ERISA Statute), Effective Theories/Defenses, Evidentiary Approaches, Statute of Limitations, Deciding Cases Early, Discovery, Forum Shopping and More."

The brochure follows this synopsis of judicial topics with more of an explanation: “You cannot afford to miss this unique opportunity to hear (from the judges): “…the theories and defenses that are most effective; which arguments are most effective on a motion to dismiss; the best ways to limit discovery in a conflict of interest situation; and judicial pet peeves that could turn a case in your favor”.

These judicial insights are being revealed to a conference which strictly appeals to one side of bar - the ERISA litigation defense bar. If you figure that the judge’s trip to the posh Helsmsley Hotel in New York and other seminar goodies were paid for by the conference sponsors and that the judges were surrounded for a couple of days by attendees whose sole occupation is to beat ERISA claimants in courts presided over by Federal District Court judges, you have to wonder why any judges participate.

How “comforting” to a disabled ERISA worker trying to battle an insurance company for disability benefits, especially if the claimant’s case is being heard by one of the judges on the panel giving insights to insurance defense lawyers.

We know that some judges are able to overcome the effects of being treated well and being exposed to a one-sided view of a legal issue, but why should an ERISA litigant have to wonder if his or her judge is one who can really shuck off all that one-sided baggage?

Wouldn’t it be better for judges to avoid attending and lecturing at highly partisan convocations which take a single-minded, biased view of a legal issue when that legal issue might well come before that judge in future?

Like Caesar’s wife, these arbiters of ERISA claims should be above any suspicion.