Jane Sullivan Roberts, the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts, could face an ethics inquiry by the Justice Department.
A former colleague of Jane Roberts is asking for an inquiry after claiming that the chief justice’s wife had been paid millions in commissions to place lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by the New York Times.
Jane Roberts had given up her career as a law firm partner to become a high-end legal recruiter to avoid conflicts of interest after her husband joined the Supreme Court.
The colleague, Kendal Price, 66, a lawyer in Boston, argued that justices should be required to disclose more information relating to their spouses’ work. While he did not cite any specific Supreme Court decisions, he expressed concern that having a financial relationship with law firms that argue before the court could affect or appear to affect the justices’ impartiality.
“I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges’ households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms,” Price wrote.
Price and Jane Roberts previously worked as legal recruiters for Major, Lindsey & Africa, a global firm based in Maryland. Price was fired in 2013 and sued the firm, Jane Roberts, and another executive over his dismissal, per the New York Times.
He lost the case, but documents from the case show commissions to Jane Roberts between 2007 to 2014. Six-figure fees are credited to Jane Roberts for placing law partners at firms, including $690,000 in 2012 from one match.
Jane Roberts, who now works at Macrae out of Washington, D.C., previously said that she handled conflicts on a case-by-case basis, taking care to avoid matters with any connections to the chief justice’s work and refraining from working with lawyers that had active Supreme Court cases.
Patricia McCabe, spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, said in a statement to the New York Times that all justices were “attentive to ethical constraints” and complied with financial disclosure laws.
McCabe said the chief justice and his wife consulted the code of conduct for federal judges and an advisory opinion from 2009. The opinion said a judge “need not recuse merely because” their spouse had worked as a recruiter for a law firm with issues before the court.
In annual disclosures, Chief Justice Roberts listed his wife’s employers but not her clients or earnings. He provided a brief description of “attorney search consultants — salary.” However, in his letter, Price wrote that this description can be misleading because salaries are “guaranteed and steady” but commissions “depend on cultivating and capitalizing on relationships in order to consummate particular deals.”
Chief Justice Roberts has never recused himself from a case during his time on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Price’s letter raised “troubling issues that once again demonstrate the need” for ethics reforms to “begin the process of restoring faith in the Supreme Court.”
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