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This whole damn court system's out of order.
October 22, 2010 12:55 PM   Subscribe

"Retiring Judge Accuses Colleague Of Corruptly Siding With Major Financial Firms Over 20 Years." As also reported by Washington Post and elsewhere, retiring Judge George Painter recently leveled the explosive claim that a colleague, Judge Bruce Levine, had privately admitted to entering into a secret agreement with Wendy Gramm, former Republican chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to rule against investors in every case brought before his court. "On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor," Painter wrote. "A review of his rulings will confirm that he fulfilled his vow," Painter wrote. Murdoch's Wall Street Journal meanwhile runs with a slightly different take on the story (behind pay-wall).
posted by saulgoodman (55 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just curious, how does WSJ's story compare with WaPo?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am stunned just stunned!
posted by robbyrobs at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


If this is true, Painter was no less corrupt than Levine. He didn't swear an oath to protect his colleagues.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:59 PM on October 22, 2010 [30 favorites]


Edmund Burke would be proud of the twenty years it took him to air this complaint.
posted by djgh at 12:59 PM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


The WSJ claims that he is suffering from dementia.
posted by empath at 1:00 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


What makes Painter's claim interesting to me is the fact that Levine's record backs up the charge. Except in a handful of cases in which the firms on the other side had already gone defunct and simply didn't oppose the charges against them, Levine actually never ruled in favor of an investor, and that never even raised any eyebrows.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:08 PM on October 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


What, did this guy stumble upon a post-it while he was cleaning out his office, reminding him to report Levine?
posted by orme at 1:09 PM on October 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


So, wait 20 years to retire, and then blow the whistle? WTF? I guess all the companies that you let GET SCREWED OVER are just happy to wait around for this.
Also, other than the WSJ saying he's a looney, is there anything else to that paywall story?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 1:11 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Makes me curious: What professional ethical standards are Judges expected to hold themselves and their colleagues to? Is it considered good professional ethics among Judges to look the other way when one suspects or knows that a colleague is corrupt?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:11 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


@empath

ugh. the fucking nerve of calling him demented! if anything, my experience around people with dementia is that their filters for withholding the truth (aka lying) crumble to the point of becoming brutally honest. so calling him demented to discredit him actually could backfire.

btw people, dont wait to be over 70 to get a divorce. almost invariably the other party will claim the suing party is metally incompetent. seen this more than a few times now to suspect a pattern of lawyerly behaviour :P
posted by liza at 1:12 PM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is my shocked face. It's becoming harder not to just completely check out.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2010


And don't wait to be over 70 to blow the whistle, lest the WSJ call you senile.
posted by No Robots at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


If this is true, Painter was no less corrupt than Levine. He didn't swear an oath to protect his colleagues.

It sounds like...

he painted himself into a corner.

*sunglasses*

Yeeeeaaaahh.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2010 [15 favorites]


The WSJ claims that he is suffering from dementia.

No, his wife, who works for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the group he is calling out and whom he is in the process of divorcing (he left her), claims he's suffering from dementia. His son disputes that view, and the judge apparently passed a 30-question assessment by a geriatric caseworker not too long ago.

Alternately, he could be suffering from dementia and his colleague could have been bought off by the CFTC.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


Forty years of fiddling, and I still smell smoke.

Fear not the military/industrial complex - at least they spend most of their time fucking over other people. We need to worry about the judicial/corporate overlord complex.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:18 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Let's hope he isn't banging any prostitutes.
posted by Artw at 1:21 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wendy Gramm? Any relation to Phil "Nation of Whiners" Gramm?

Oh, they're married.
posted by theodolite at 1:22 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


shortest story ever: judge for sale
posted by victors at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2010


Surely no one associated with Enron would do such a thing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:27 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Judges are I believe held to the highest standards of ethics the law provides. I think I remember from my law school days that they are to avoid even the "appearance of impropriety".

Both Painter and Levine should be disbarred permanently if these allegations are true.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


So, wait 20 years to retire, and then blow the whistle? WTF? I guess all the companies that you let GET SCREWED OVER are just happy to wait around for this.

Have you seen what happens to most whistle blowers? I agree that trying to enforce professional ethics is important, but not everyone is obligated to sabotage their own careers and burn down bridges by being the ethics police. I wish it was easier for people to call others out on this kind of stuff, but the reality is that in a lot of situations you can't go public with serious accusations like this without taking a lot of personal risk in the process.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:39 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have you seen what happens to most whistle blowers?

But most whistle-blowers aren't federal judges. Not only was he in a bulletproof position, it was his job to see justice served.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:43 PM on October 22, 2010 [15 favorites]


"On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor," Painter wrote in an order. "A review of his rulings will confirm that he fulfilled his vow."

Why the hell, if that's the case, wasn't his second week spent being fired?

Oh, because you kept it to yourself.

I respect the whistle blower spirit, but think of all the people who suffered because he didn't choose to speak up. Hell, even an anonymous letter to the press suggesting that they review Levine's case history for evidence of partiality (which they obviously would have found) would have been a start.
posted by quin at 1:45 PM on October 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Makes me curious: What professional ethical standards are Judges expected to hold themselves and their colleagues to? Is it considered good professional ethics among Judges to look the other way when one suspects or knows that a colleague is corrupt?

The ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct [pdf] has been adopted by most (all?) jurisdictions in one form or another.

And further to East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94's point:

"A judge having knowledge that another judge has committed a violation of this Code that raises a substantial question regarding the judge’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a judge in other respects shall inform the appropriate authority."

"A judge who receives information indicating a substantial likelihood that another judge has committed a violation of this Code shall take appropriate action."

NB: These were not Article III federal judges, but rather federal administrative law judges, who have their own slightly different version of the Model Code. I doubt it differs in many material respects, however.
posted by jedicus at 1:51 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have you seen what happens to most whistle blowers?

Fine. Fuck-all to ethics and decency then. I guess we'll just come over and take take your house from you, and get someone to sign off on it, because, hey, blowing the whistle is a such a pisser. Can I bang your wife while we're at it?
(no, not at all pissed at the attitude shown)
posted by Old'n'Busted at 2:21 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


even an anonymous letter to the press suggesting that they review Levine's case history for evidence of partiality (which they obviously would have found) would have been a start.

No shit, that's pretty much what I thought. Wouldn't take much effort on anyone's part, let alone his, a clerk or secretary would do.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 2:23 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can't get much more ridiculous than turning on a whistle blower for not blowing the whistle fast enough.
posted by srboisvert at 2:25 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


"On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor," Painter wrote in an order. "A review of his rulings will confirm that he fulfilled his vow."

quin: Why the hell, if that's the case, wasn't his second week spent being fired?

Because Judge Levine was also ... A WARLOCK! He came into Judge Painter's chambers, was mumbling to himself and tossing pinches of dust before him. Judge Painter didn't notice, as he was reading in preparation for his next case.

But Levine's voice rose, and Judge Painter looked up at the new judge. "What I am about to tell you will stay with you, but your mind shall be frozen, your hands made useless and your tongue locked, so that you may not share this next utterance with another soul, until the day you retire."

His voice came to a peak as he pronounced the last line, "I, Judge Bruce Sugadintas Levine, shall rule against every investor in every case brought before my court!"

And with that, he threw the rest of the powder in the air, and the dust exploded in a flash. The room appeared as it was, and Judge Painter shook himself off. Judge Levine said "Thank you, again, for your warm welcome, and I look forward to working alongside you in the years to come." They shook hands, and Levine left the room.

At least, that's what I like to imagine happened. It's fanciful, but it distracts me from other possibilities.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:31 PM on October 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


not everyone is obligated to sabotage their own careers and burn down bridges by being the ethics police. I wish it was easier for people to call others out on this kind of stuff, but the reality is that in a lot of situations you can't go public with serious accusations like this without taking a lot of personal risk in the process.


“If half you lawyers had the balls to follow through, if you didn’t want some nice career with some hotshot Downtown firm, then all those bastards like him would be immediately indicted. But no, everyone stays friends, and everyone gets paid, and everyone has a fucking future.” -- Jimmy McNulty, The Wire
posted by newmoistness at 2:37 PM on October 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Fine. Fuck-all to ethics and decency then. I guess we'll just come over and take take your house from you, and get someone to sign off on it, because, hey, blowing the whistle is a such a pisser. Can I bang your wife while we're at it?
(no, not at all pissed at the attitude shown)


Well to take your adultery example, if someone I knew was cheating on his wife, I would think he was a piece of shit but I would not take it upon myself to tell his wife and get myself involved with their drama. As EMRJKC'94 pointed out, the judge in this case probably explicitly agreed to report these kinds of things which makes the situation different, but I stand by my original statement that it monumentally sucks to be a whistle blower most of the time and I would not criticize anyone for deciding not to stick their neck out to report something. Because honestly I know I would not do it myself in most cases, if that makes me a bad person so be it.

Both Painter and Levine should be disbarred permanently if these allegations are true.

Punishing the whistle blower seems deeply counter-productive in terms of encouraging people to report these sorts of things, in my opinion.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:38 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fucking warlocks...
posted by quin at 2:40 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Judges are I believe held to the highest standards of ethics the law provides. I think I remember from my law school days that they are to avoid even the "appearance of impropriety".

Both Painter and Levine should be disbarred permanently if these allegations are true.


What you read as "ethics", lawyers read as "covering our asses", and judges read as "HAHAHA, good one!"
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:42 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Punishing the whistle blower seems deeply counter-productive in terms of encouraging people to report these sorts of things, in my opinion.

On the contrary -- it's not punishing the whistle-blowing, it's punishing the silence and the complicity. Had Painter blown the whistle when it really mattered, instead of sitting on what he knew and watching quietly while justice was perverted for decades, it would be a different story.
posted by newmoistness at 2:44 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Both Painter and Levine should be disbarred permanently if these allegations are true.

x 100. Everything about this story is reprehensible.
posted by seventyfour at 2:49 PM on October 22, 2010


On the contrary -- it's not punishing the whistle-blowing, it's punishing the silence and the complicity. Had Painter blown the whistle when it really mattered, instead of sitting on what he knew and watching quietly while justice was perverted for decades, it would be a different story.

All I know is that with this proposed system Painter, who does eventually blow the whistle, gets punished while a judge in a similar situation who never tells anyone is impossible to punish because no one has any proof that he was told something verbally 20 years ago. That system is not going to result in a lot of people in Painter's position coming forward with anything, regardless of whether it was wrong of them to sit on the information for so long in the first place. There's a reason why prosecutors offer immunity or reduced sentencing for criminals who testify against other criminals: because otherwise no one in their right mind would ever offer incriminating information about themselves to help put someone in jail.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:59 PM on October 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wonder what promises Roberts and Alito made behind closed doors?
posted by Xurando at 3:34 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Twenty years ago there was nothing to report.

Judge Levine could simply have denied saying anything of the kind, or he could have admitted it and claimed it was a joke and that he couldn't understand why Judge Painter didn't laugh, or that he suspected Painter of being corrupt and was trying to draw him out, or a million other things which would have left people wondering about both of them, but mainly about Painter for being stupid enough to make such an allegation with nothing to back it up.

Then Levine would have proceeded to be just as corrupt as he wanted to be, but without leaving such obvious tracks as we have now, and by which we can test Painter's veracity.

He might have been able to come forward sooner than he has, but it's far better for Painter to have said it now rather than then.

To fail to grasp this is to deserve the servitude we're all about to consign ourselves to.
posted by jamjam at 4:02 PM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Both Painter and Levine should be disbarred permanently if these allegations are true.

Painter should be disbarred, but he's already retired.

Levine should be disbarred and thrown in jail.
posted by tommyD at 5:25 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's stretching things a bit to call this guy a whistleblower. He's not some junior file clerk or assistant to the undersecretary who's jeopardizing his career to expose the shenanigans of his masters; he's a judge, who covered for his colleague's dishonesty for twenty years and is now coming forward because he's retiring, and won't suffer even mild inconvenience.

Look at it this way: what if these guys served together on an appellate court, and Levine had told Painter that he was a secret member of the Ku Klux Klan, and planned to vote down every death penalty appeal with a black defendent; and Painter had kept THAT secret for twenty years. Would anybody still be making excuses for him?

And jamjam, I get your point; spilling the beans with nothing but an offhand remark for proof might have been counter-productive. But twenty years?

All that said, I do think it might be wiser to let Painter skate. Sadly, it's probably more important to avoid discouraging others than to make sure perfect justice is done in this case.
posted by steambadger at 5:37 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


What makes Painter's claim interesting to me is the fact that Levine's record backs up the charge. Except in a handful of cases in which the firms on the other side had already gone defunct and simply didn't oppose the charges against them, Levine actually never ruled in favor of an investor, and that never even raised any eyebrows.
It raised eyebrows. There was apparently an article written about this judges record 10 years ago.

Nonetheless, it's pretty fucking crazy. I doubt they'll prosecute the guy, though. There is no way they'll go after Phil Gramm's wife. Although it appears to me that this is pretty terrible.

Also in the news is Clarence Thomas' ex-girlfriend talking about how he was a horn-dog who bragged about harassing women and talked about porn all the time.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


All this complaining about Painter and almost no comments on what Levine is supposed to have done. Yeah, it merits discussion, but not all the discussion.

What I'm wondering is how many other Judges have made agreements like this. Can we tell from their records? Can Wendy Gramm be thrown in jail?
posted by eye of newt at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2010


Can Wendy Gramm be thrown in jail?

Wendy Gramm damn well ought to be thrown in jail. But then, she and her husband have both been doing shit like this more or less openly, for decades. They should have been thrown in jail a long time ago. They haven't been, and they won't be now. I'm sure they'll be happy to let Levine flap in the wind, though. So there's that.
posted by steambadger at 6:50 PM on October 22, 2010


Back in 2008 or so I wrote up a 30 page pitch for a documentary mainly about the CFTC, examining why the price of oil shot into the stratosphere. A producer friend was quite interested, but then the financial crisis came along and was too big for one person to try breaking down, never mind someone who had not made a documentary before. Maybe I should dust it off and take another look...
posted by anigbrowl at 8:09 PM on October 22, 2010


What was the payoff?

Did Levine do it just because Wendy asked nicely?
posted by ryanrs at 9:00 PM on October 22, 2010


Because Judge Levine was also ... A WARLOCK!

He's not a warlock. He's nothing you've heard. He's you.
posted by erniepan at 9:05 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Had he blown the whistle when it counted, not only would he have suffered repercussions, nobody would have believed him.

Twenty years, the record clearly agrees with him, and still they want to take him down.

Think of the repercussions had he said nothing. There would have been none, and all our outrage would be over something else.
posted by Xoebe at 10:43 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Every time Stewart and Colbert are on break, every time, something like this happens.
posted by JHarris at 5:42 AM on October 23, 2010


Here is a question for you: is this an isolated occurance or a cockroach event, where for every one you see a hundred more scurry around unseen in the walls?
posted by JHarris at 5:46 AM on October 23, 2010


Every time Stewart and Colbert are on break, every time, something like this happens.
posted by JHarris


It's sad that they are our only hope for getting this sort of story out into the mainstream. Meanwhile, Drudge is updated continuously...
Hmm, let's see what on there:

REPORT: First lady 'likely' to meet 'commercial sex workers' in India!
posted by 445supermag at 6:54 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Further to steambadger's point that this isn't a case of whistleblowing since the two judges were colleagues (Painter being the more senior, in fact): had Painter told their supervisor in the CFTC early on before there was Levine's record as corroborating evidence, then Levine would not likely have gotten fired, true, but he would have known that he had people looking over his shoulder and keeping an eye out for bias and impropriety in his rulings, which might have kept him more honest.
posted by eviemath at 7:21 AM on October 23, 2010


Xoebe: "Had he blown the whistle when it counted, not only would he have suffered repercussions, nobody would have believed him."

Okay, but...

WaPo: "Levine was the subject of a story 10 years ago in the Wall Street Journal, which said that except in a handful of cases in which defunct firms failed to defend themselves, Levine had never ruled in favor of an investor."

Doesn't it seem like, at the very least, he could have spoken up when Levine's actions were actually being investigated?

I honestly don't understand this "nobody would have believed him" thing. This went on for twenty years.
posted by steambadger at 7:24 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Had he blown the whistle when it counted, not only would he have suffered repercussions, nobody would have believed him.

You can't "blow the whistle" on an Administrative Judge. The judge's power of decision is unassailable. He can get reversed, but it his his right to decide that way.

This is the only way a legal system can work. If a judge took bribes, then he can be removed. But a judge that always ruled against the companies and for the investor could not be removed either.

However, they can decide to get new judges and give no work to this guy, which is the way to do it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2010


Also, the judge is not "corrupt." To be corrupt, he would have to take something of value in exchange for the rulings. Have only read the WaPo article, but there is no quid pro quo mentioned. He's just an asshole conservative--a hanging judge.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:11 AM on October 23, 2010


Ironmouth, you obviously know a lot more about this than I do -- but can't an ALJ be removed for engaging in ex parte communication with parties before their court?
posted by steambadger at 8:19 AM on October 23, 2010


This is the only way a legal system can work.

Oh yeah, you need to explain that one. Making it impossible to remove a judge vs. making it very hard but possible in extraordinary circumstances to remove a judge. Because this is extraordinary circumstances.
posted by JHarris at 1:24 PM on October 23, 2010


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