The American Bar Association downgraded its rating Monday for one of President Bush's most hotly contested picks for the federal bench. The ABA committee that rates judicial nominees revoked its unanimous "well qualified" rating for Terrence W. Boyle, the longtime conservative judge from North Carolina awaiting confirmation by the Senate to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A majority of the ABA committee now rates Boyle "qualified," while a minority still calls him well qualified, with one abstention. The bump down comes after a Salon report on May 1, by Will Evans of the Center for Investigative Reporting, revealed that Boyle had issued orders in multiple cases involving companies in which Boyle owned stock -- a violation of federal ethics law. In a recent letter to top Republican senators, Boyle acknowledged several of the violations -- though as Salon reported last week, at least part of his explanation was directly at odds with publicly available records and the letter of federal ethics law.
The story line here may sound familiar. After Salon and CIR revealed in January that another Bush nominee, Judge James H. Payne of Oklahoma, had committed similar ethics violations, the ABA proceeded to lower Payne's rating. In that case, the ABA's Stephen Tober told Evans that his committee took the unusual step of reevaluating the judge's rating because of the violations. The ABA could not be reached for comment regarding the Boyle downgrade by the close of business Monday.
Meanwhile, a dubious defense of Boyle's ethics violations -- peddled in various forms by conservatives ranging from Sen. Elizabeth Dole to Boyle's former law clerks -- continues in earnest. One of the former clerks, Washington-based attorney Lars Liebeler, followed Dole's lead, attacking Salon in the Washington Times yesterday. No news here -- except one aside that further illuminated one of Boyle's multiple violations. In his 2001 financial disclosure, Boyle reported that he held stock in the pharmaceutical-services company Quintiles; at the time, Boyle was presiding over a case involving Quintiles. In his 2002 disclosure filing, Boyle reported that he sold Quintiles stock on June 30, 2002, for a gain of $1,000 or less. But Boyle has since claimed in his letter to Senate Republicans that he did not own Quintiles stock during the 2001 case. Liebeler says that "fact" was confirmed by Boyle in "a letter from his accountant," which was made available to the full Senate.
Though it would seem to require a true leap of legal imagination, perhaps Boyle simply made mistakes in his 2001 and 2002 disclosures with regard to owning and selling Quintiles stock. But if so, he didn't say so in his letter to the senators, nor has he corrected any error in his subsequent annual financial disclosures -- including one he filed after the Salon report was published.