New federal travel flap has Maui connection

HONOLULU and WASHINGTON (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two Republican senators have taken aim at federal judges who plan an August conference in Hawaii, accusing them of being "tone-deaf" in the wakes of the GSA scandal.

"This conference is further evidence the federal government is in a state of financial chaos," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.

"It's especially tone-deaf to plan a pricey conference after the GSA debacle," said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley and Sessions jointly wrote to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, asking that the Aug. 13-16 conference at the Hyatt Regency Maui be reconsidered, and guessing it could cost taxpayers more than $1 million, as a 2010 judicial conference on Maui did. They requested a detailed accounting of expenses by June 15.

"The program reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice," the senators wrote, referring to pages on the conference Web site detailing things to do on Maui, including some social events and tours arranged especially for the conference. "The court should re-examine whether this is the best use of tax dollars."

The Ninth Circuit's initial response was to posted a statement on the conference Web site.

"Judges and other attendees take seriously their obligation to participate fully in the conference," it says. "Costs for lodging and air travel to attend the conference are comparative to those found at mainland venues. Any sporting and recreational activities are paid for by individuals and are not reimbursable."

The conference was organized under the supervision of Laura Taylor, a federal bankruptcy judge based in San Diego, and Richard Jones, a district judge based in Seattle. The conference schedule has a variety of business meetings and briefings, including breakout sessions on appellate, bankruptcy, civil and criminal law, as well as an Aug. 15 briefing on the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act called, "How Not to Get Your Habeas Handed to You."

"Important note," the Web site says, "Government funds are not used for any recreational or sporting activities."

The Ninth Circuit is the largest federal appellate circuit and its territory includes Hawaii. Based in San Francisco, where it usually hears Hawaii cases, it also regularly meets in Seattle, Portland, and Pasadena, Calif.

The conference site has a great deal of mostly accurate information about Maui, although a map of the land shows the unpaved, railing-less road across the north end of West Maui without showing the main road around the southern end. The Hyatt Regency Maui is located on the Kaanapali coast of West Maui.

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