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Ninth Circuit Judge Who Co-Authored “Torture Memos” Discloses Receipt of $3.4 Million in Legal and Consulting Help

In October 2011, the National Law Journal reported that Jay Bybee, a conservative federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, had accepted $3.4 million in legal and consulting help from 2007 to 2010 as he defended himself against allegations that he violated ethics rules when, as head of the Office of Legal Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Bush administration, he co-authored memos that justified the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques against suspected terrorists.

To critics, the so-called “torture memos” contravened the Geneva Conventions as well as long-standing U.S. policy regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. They became a lightning rod for opponents of the war in Iraq, who argued that the memos not only lowered the moral standing of the U.S. among other nations, but acted as a powerful recruiting tool for the very terrorists the United States was fighting.

Bybee’s financial disclosures indicated that he received more than $3.25 million in assistance from the Los Angeles-based powerhouse law firm of Latham & Watkins. Several other law firms contributed about $150,000 worth of services. When lawyers from the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility argued that Bybee and former DOJ attorney John Yoo – now a professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law – had acted improperly in authoring the torture memos, Latham lawyers Maureen Mahoney and Everett Johnson, Jr. responded with a spirited 157-page rebuttal. They also accompanied Bybee when he appeared for an interview before House Judiciary Committee investigators. A call for Bybee’s impeachment was successfully rebuffed.

There is nothing wrong with Bybee accepting pro bono legal services, according to Charles Geyh, an Indiana University professor who specializes in legal ethics, so long as he does not trade on his judicial position. By publicly disclosing the value of the services he received, Geyh said, “Bybee is trying to do the right thing.” Bybee is also avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest by disqualifying himself from cases involving attorneys from Latham & Watkins.

Source: National Law Journal

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