Bench Memos

Judge Boyce Martin’s Disgrace

Well, well.

Last summer, I noted in passing the welcome news that Sixth Circuit judge Boyce F. Martin Jr., a Carter appointee who had long been one of the nation’s zaniest judges, had decided to retire.

It’s now evident that Martin retired in order to forestall a Judicial Council investigation into $138,500 of* “questionable travel reimbursement requests” that Martin made over a period of 4-1/2 years. Martin submitted his retirement on May 14, 2013—three weeks after a special Judicial Council committee invited him to testify under oath on May 30 and one week after the committee sent him a notice of matters he’d be asked to testify about.

By his retirement, Martin succeeded in obtaining a dismissal of the complaint proceeding against him. But he didn’t succeed in his effort to bury news of the allegations against him. Misconduct proceedings are generally confidential, but commentary to the rules states that disclosure of the identity of the judge may be in the public interest, “particularly if a judicial officer resigns in the course of an investigation.” Applying this exception, the Judicial Council decided to disclose the charges against Martin.

Even worse for Martin, in an action that federal judicial expert Arthur Hellman calls “stunning,” the Judicial Council referred the matter to the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution of Martin.

Martin appealed both the Judicial Council’s decision to disclose the charges against him and its referral of the matter to the Justice Department, but in a decision last week the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct denied his appeal.

* A spokeswoman for Judge Martin tells me that the $138,500 amount that I initially cited ​“represents the total of all [of Martin’s reimbursed] travel expenses” during the period—and the amount he has agreed to repay—not the amount of reimbursement expenses that were the subject of the misconduct complaint. The spokeswoman contends that the amount in dispute was much smaller, but she has declined my requests to provide even a ballpark figure of that amount, so I don’t see why I should believe her. (I also don’t understand why Martin would repay more than the amount in dispute, unless he hoped that he was thereby purchasing a stay-out-of-jail card.)​


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