Just over two years ago, the oldest country club in Phoenix, Arizona settled a discrimination suit brought by the state attorney general over separate but unequal-by-gender dining facilities for its well-heeled,well-connected members. And while vestiges of that ‘boys will be stupid boys’ attitude has lingered in allegedly preferential male preferences with respect to the golf course ( see “Sr. Reporter: New sex-bias complaint hits Phoenix Country Club“ ), the gals can at least now dine out of the same trough right next to the boys as the “Phoenix Country Club Will Open Men’s Grill to All Members As Lawsuit Settles.”
But just last week, taking two steps backward while supposedly walking forward, a 6th Circuit Judicial Council panel ruled 10-8 in favor of Bankruptcy Judge George Paine II who was under possible ethical misconduct review after an anonymous woman complained about his 15-year membership in a tony “Whites Only” and “Men Only” Nashville, Tennessee country club.
Canon 2 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, “A JUDGE SHOULD AVOID IMPROPRIETY AND THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY IN ALL ACTIVITIES” says at (C) “Nondiscriminatory Membership” that “A judge should not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin.”
The appeals panel had reviewed Judge Paine II’s membership in the Belle Meade Country Club where after 110 years, still distinguishes itself by barring women and non-whites from the full membership embrace of its hallowed columned portico. The Judicial Council decided that his membership didn’t violate the judicial ethical conduct canons. The decision, however, was not made on the merits but on the majority’s rationale that the judge deserved some kind of an ‘atta-boy’ for having previously albeit unsuccessfully tried to get an African-American admitted to Belle Meade.
Such thinking suggests there’s impropriety and then there’s apparently excusable good conduct impropriety. “The record clearly supports (the) finding that the judge complained of engaged in long and sincere efforts to integrate the club in question. In the majority’s view, those efforts preclude a finding that he has engaged in misconduct,” wrote Judge Alice Batchelder giving a nod to Judge Paine II’s good diversity intentions. See “Fed judge keeps segregated country club membership.”
That nothing adverse resulted from the disciplinary inquiry seems hardly new. After all, as I blogged previously at “Does getting older really mean you’re getting better? Revisiting the challenges posed by lifetime tenured federal judges,” short of self-policing and the extremely rare remedy of impeachment, not much happens to undermine the sacrosanct principle of judicial independence.
Indeed, news reports about the decision mentioned statistics kept by the U.S. Courts revealing that during the 12 months ending September 30, 2010, there wasn’t a single disciplinary or corrective action taken out of 1,159 complaints received.
Think, for example, of diamond mines in Zimbabwe and how insurer Old Mutual defends investments after finding itself in controversy over blood diamonds. Or how about the negative fallout after Google went into China and then had to spin China’s internet freedom restrictions to justify its presence there? See “Google Defends its China Policy.”
I’m also reminded of one oil company that unsuccessfully tried defending itself from heavy public criticism after getting in bed with the Human Rights abusing poster-boy Burma. Then CEO Roger Beach said Unocal had improved the lives of Burmese through schools, jobs, and health centers and that “Every Unocal stockholder should be proud of our investment in (Burma).” See “UNOCAL DEFENDS BURMA INVESTMENTS.” That self-serving justification, though, failed to mollify the critics.
But back to Judge Paine II, who miffed over the uproar caused by his membership in segregated Belle Meade Country Club and especially by the tenor and content of the dissents, announced his retirement at year-end. But happily for the jurist, some good will come out of all this. Retirement should free up his time to continue enjoying Belle Meade while promoting diversity.