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Hawaii at a time like this? Judges' trip to Maui raises eyebrows

August 10, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • The Hyatt Regency in Maui. A federal judges' conference in Hawaii may ring up a $1-million tab.
The Hyatt Regency in Maui. A federal judges' conference in Hawaii… (Alan Light / Flickr )

WASHINGTON -- Aloha! Sort of.

As federal judges prepare to gather for a conference in Maui, a pair of Republican senators are still complaining about the potential $1-million tab.

Lawmakers have been sensitive about conference spending ever since employees of the federal General Services Administration ran up an $823,000 bill for a Las Vegas-area conference in 2010 featuring a mind reader.

Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking members of the Budget and Judiciary committees, respectively, have complained for months about the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference at the Hyatt Regency Maui, which gets underway Monday.

Government funds are "not to be used for any recreational or sporting activities," but the conference program "reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice," the senators wrote the court’s chief judge earlier this year. 

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, noting the court entered into a contract for the 2012 conference in 2010, said in a recent letter to the senators that, "had we foreseen the nation’s current fiscal problems, we may have chosen a different site." But he said that canceling the conference "at this late date would result in enormous penalties being paid to the hotel for lost business."

The court announced last month that it was postponing a conference scheduled for Monterey, Calif., next year.

“It's hard to understand the late recognition of the country’s fiscal state, since record deficits are well-known, but better late than never," Grassley said in a statement. "The cancellation of next year’s conference is a good test of whether expensive annual conferences are necessary and whether the ‘administration of justice’ suffers in the absence.” 

A Sessions spokesman said Friday: "The 9thCircuit has now all but conceded that this posh assembly cannot be justified. As Sen. Sessions has said, what we need is not to take more money from taxpayers but to stop the government from wasting it."  

But not all Republicans are upset about the conference.

Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, hoping to join Grassley and Sessions in the Senate next year, took issue with her fellow Republicans for suggesting that serious business cannot be conducted in Hawaii.

"We are both the world's best place to vacation as well as a place where serious business is conducted," she wrote the senators last month.

She also noted that Hawaii falls into the court’s jurisdiction and expressed concern that the workers in Maui’s visitor industry would suffer if the conference was canceled.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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