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— U.S. District Court judge John S. Rhoades, who last year sealed the criminal files of wealthy Metabolife honcho Michael Ellis and his partner Michael Blevins, is back on the hot seat, this time as a result of undisclosed junkets he took to luxury resorts courtesy of a conservative business group. According to the Washington Post, which broke the story two weeks ago, Rhoades, along with 21 other federal judges from around the nation, were participants in various "educational seminars" -- featuring golf, tennis, horseback riding, and plenty of free food and drink. The trips were sponsored by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment in Bozeman, Montana, and the Law and Economics Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The seminars, some costing thousands of dollars, came to light after the Washington, D.C.-based Community Rights Council got ahold of a list of the junkets and began comparing it to the financial-disclosure forms filed by the judges as required by law. None of the judges, it turned out, had reported the freebies. The CRC alleged that the trips were anti-environmental and intended to improperly influence the judges who participated. "Judges are taking gifts worth thousands of dollars from corporate special interests, and it is almost impossible for litigants and the general public to uncover any details about these gifts," Doug Kendall, executive director of the CRC, told the Post. Rhoades, who reportedly attended two seminars put on by the Law and Economics Center and failed to disclose either, said he had "goofed" by not disclosing but had no qualms about the junkets. "They're in nice places," the Post quoted Rhoades as saying. "I learned a lot. Like, if you build a car and make it absolutely safe, can anybody afford to buy it? Stuff like that." One of the environmental groups that blew the whistle on the trips has petitioned Supreme Court chief justice William Rehnquist to ban future junkets. Last year Metabolife co-founders Ellis and Blevins convinced Rhoades to seal the criminal files documenting their convictions a decade ago on methamphetamine-related drug charges. After ABC News took an interest in the matter and filed a motion to unseal the case, Rhoades relented and re-opened a portion of the files to public view.

Let them eat kilowatts

Having opened a political Pandora's box by authoring the legislation that deregulated the state's electrical utilities, Democratic state senator Steve Peace, who has said he wants to run for California secretary of state, is scrambling for cover. With San Diego utility rates heading for the sky, Peace has begun pushing for what some in the utility business say is a dirty word: "re-regulation." In a Monday editorial, the industry trade journal Electricity Daily castigated Peace for having the temerity to tamper with deregulation by proposing to beef up the California Energy Commission, "a totally useless institution created during the crazy days of the putative energy crisis." Added the editorial: "Peace is also talking about a rate freeze for customers of San Diego Gas & Electric because the utility failed to hedge against high prices and, as a result, electric rates are going up. That's precisely the wrong way to go. SDG&E customers can conserve and can switch."

Bucks up broadcasting

KPBS, the public radio and TV powerhouse owned and controlled by the state university system, is raking in the grant money. Latest bequest from the taxpayer-supported Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to Public Broadcasting Report, "$141,500 for Partnership for Voter Education to test feasibility and impact of partnering with League of Women Voters to provide access to information on local races and ballot initiatives. Links between League's website, www.smartvoter.org, and KPBS's, www.kpbs.org, are designed to facilitate sharing of information." ... Women looking for radio jobs shouldn't bother to apply in San Diego. "In San Diego, the top ten stations employ just 12 women in regular air shifts, a number comparable to Phoenix," according to the Arizona Republic's Michael Clancy. Many blame the consolidation of station ownership here under Clear Channel Communications.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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