9th Circuit Produces Maui Conference Financial Contracts Requested By Sessions, Grassley
from Stephen Miller, Communications Director Sen Jeff Sessions US Senate Budget Committee
As you may be aware, Ranking Members Sessions and Grassley have criticized the 9th circuit for its million-dollar taxpayer-funded conference in Maui beginning this August 13th – the Circuit’s fourth Hawaiian getaway in 9 years – which includes a wide array of recreational activities. Attendance at official events, as the Senators point out, is not evidently required. The Senators’ oversight effort includes a request that the 9th Circuit produce contracts and receipts connected with the conference, particularly since the 9th Circuit claimed the conference as ‘cost-effective’ and indicated that it was too late to cancel or significantly alter their plans anyhow.
We have received the contracts (linked here) along with another explanatory letter (linked here). Receipts have not yet been provided. The contracts and the letter provide several noteworthy findings, including this statement from the Chief Judge Kozinski: ‘had we foreseen the nation’s current fiscal problems, we may have chosen a different site for this year’s conference.’
After Sessions and Grassley raised their concerns publicly, the 9th Circuit did ultimately agree to postpone next year’s conference in coastal Monterrey, CA, which Sessions described as progress. The documents provided in this production do seem to suggest, however, that the conference that the 2012 conference that begins in matter of days could have been cancelled or at least scaled-back while incurring comparatively minor costs in terms of lost deposits / penalty.
PDF: 13 page Contract with Maui Hyatt
1. On May 18, Sessions and Grassley sent the initial letter to Judge Kozinski regarding the 2012 Maui Conference. In that letter, they requested historical information about conference attendance, including a comprehensive explanation of conference spending (hotel rooms, transportation, meals, and incidentals).
2. The stated concern was not only the cost of the conference but that the itinerary was full of vacation activities (i.e. Zumba dancing), not plans to improve the administration of justice
3. The Chief Judge responded on June 15, but his response included only brochures and none of the spending items we requested
4. We eventually received some receipts for the planning trip, showing cost of approximately $5000 for two Court employees doing preconference work.
5. On July 13, the Senators sent a follow-up letter, making clear that we expected to see the contracts the Court had entered into for the conferences.
6. The Court canceled the 2013 conference after receiving our second letter.
7. On August 3, 2012 the Court responded to our inquiry and provided contracts for the previous 5 years. That material is attached.
Findings from 9th Circuit Document Production:
1. The maximum per diem for judges is $397 per day. Notwithstanding, there are rooms reserved at the resort which cost $650, $950 and $1500 per day. This does not mean the per diem is exceeded, as they are likely part of a larger price agreement, but it does indicate a lower average room cost for the taxpayer could be achieved at a less posh destination.
2. The conference schedule is August 13-16, but there are room reservations at the conference rate from August 10-17. We know that a golf tournament is scheduled for the weekend before the conference commences.
3. One way to reduce cost is presumably to reserve rooms with the resort view, instead of ocean view. For instance, we know there are at least 123 resort view rooms, but there are nights where those rooms are not at capacity.
4. It appears the 9th Circuit may have a long standing contract with Hyatt Resorts Hawaii. We need to understand the parameters of the contract.
5. It appears that the only nonrefundable fee would be $2500 according to the contract (p. 2). Thus, if Court had canceled the event after the Senators’ initial inquiry in May, the hotel might have been able to rent the rooms to other occupants.
6. The Circuit receives complimentary units/rooms based on a certain number of rentals. (p. 3). We need to know how those complimentary units/rooms are used.
7. In previous contracts, the Circuit included a financial out as part of the agreement – 2008 for example. That was not included in the 2012 contract. We need to know why that was the case.
8. The Circuit did not provide any receipts or contract bids from other companies who initiate contract offers with the Court, so that we could determine whether a fair rate is being paid.
AJC: Ninth Circuit releases Maui conference details
WT: Judges admit they goofed on taxpayer-funded Hawaii conference
Related: Lingle Responds to Criticism of Maui Judicial Conference
July 16: Sessions, Grassley Heighten Criticism Of Ninth Circuit’s Lavish Retreat
WaPo: Judicial Zumba in Maui is a go!
The Hill: 9th Circuit to go through with costly Hawaii conference