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A Judge's Wife Donated to Menendez's Legal Defense, So We Filed a Complaint

Fix the Court today filed a complaint against Judge William Greenberg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims following the Jan. 31 release of IRS data (p. 5, donation 9) that shows his wife Betty donated $10,000 to Sen. Bob Menendez’s legal defense fund.

It was Sen. Menendez who recommended Judge Greenberg to the White House for nomination to the CAVC in 2012.

FTC believes that this is a case of “even Caesar’s wife” (must be above suspicion), and the donation should be returned with an apology and a promise from the Greenbergs not to donate to politicians so long as William Greenberg is a judge.

“The Greenbergs are still married, this is a not insignificant sum of money, and the Menendez scandal itself is based on allegations of quid pro quo,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said. “The sum of these facts makes filing a complaint the rational step, and I hope the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims takes this violation seriously.”

The CAVC is an Article I court but still follows the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges (per the Code’s introduction, p. 2). Canon 5A(3) of the Code states “a judge should not […] make a contribution to a political organization or candidate.” Many proscriptions in the Code include actions of close family members, and the fact that the donation went to a legal defense fund and not the campaign, per se, does not eliminate the obvious appearance issues.

Further, a federal law, 38 U.S.C. §7253(g)(1), makes the complaint process for CAVC judges nearly identical to that of Article III judges (28 U.S.C. §§351-364). “Any person” is permitted to file a complaint, which is followed by the possibility of dismissal, corrective action or investigation, and there are similar punishment options, like censure, reprimand, removal of cases and required ethics training.

Previously when the wife of a judge contributed to a politician, FTC worked through informal methods (e.g., emailing judiciary officials) to ask the judge to apologize, which he did, though it is unknown if the sum was returned, as we only learned about the donation several years after the fact. The Greenberg donation occurred on Dec. 6 and was reported on Jan. 31, so moving ahead with a formal complaint might prove to be more effective for corrective action.

This is the fourth formal complaint FTC has filed in its nine-plus years. The others can be found here (Judge Dawson), here (Judge Starr) and here (Judge Smith).

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