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Judge Bybee Received $3.2 Million in Services from L.A. Firm

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 25, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Should a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge receive millions of dollars in free services from a Los Angeles-based law firm?

According to his latest financial disclosures, George W. Bush-appointee Judge Jay Bybee has accepted more than $3.2 million in free legal services from global super-firm Latham & Watkins, reports The Wall Street Journal. The firm provided Judge Bybee legal assistance as he fought a five-year ethics inquiry by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

Judge Bybee headed the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from November 2001 through March 2003. The OLC, sometimes referred to as the Attorney General's law firm, advises the executive branch on the legality of proposed actions.

While at the OLC, Bybee and his former deputy, John Yoo, wrote the infamous "torture memos," advising the administration on enhanced interrogation tactics like waterboarding. Though the memos were later withdrawn, critics were outraged and called for the ethics inquiry.

OPR concluded that Bybee demonstrated "poor judgment" but did not violate professional standards, reports Main Justice.

How can Judge Bybee accept such a substantial gift from a law firm that argues regularly before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals without encountering ethics violations? Bybee simply disqualifies himself from cases involving Latham lawyers, according the ABA Journal.

Considering that the firm boasts more than 2,000 attorneys in 13 countries, that can be a lot of cases. So far, Judge Bybee's recusals have not created a problem for the well-staffed Ninth Circuit, which has 43 active and senior judges, reports The Los Angeles Times.

Do you think that it's sufficient that Judge Jay Bybee has disqualified himself from Latham & Watkins cases before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for the duration of the Office of Professional Responsibility's ethics inquiry, or should he self-impose a lifetime recusal in Latham litigation? Is there ever a point at which a judge wouldn't be influenced by a what is essentially a $3.2 million gift?

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