Judge Blocking Obama Drilling Halt Hit On Oil Investments

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman has come under scrutiny after he granted the oil industry's request for a preliminary injunction against the Obama Administration's six-month moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling, a response to the BP oil spill.

Many critics of the decision have accused the judge of being predisposed to the energy industry because of investments he's had in oil and gas stocks.

For instance, his 2008 financial disclosure form indicated he had shares in Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig involved in the BP disaster.

It's unclear if the judge still has those shares. And if every federal judge with some investment in the energy industry recused himself from these cases it could be difficult to find judges to hear these cases.

If you think that's just a hypothetical problem, perhaps a recent story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune may change your mind.

An excerpt:

So many members of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals have recused themselves from a rehearing of a lawsuit that charges energy companies with contributing to the effects of Hurricane Katrina by emitting greenhouse gases that the court cannot conduct the rehearing.

The Fifth Circuit is the court that would hear the Obama Administration's appeal of the preliminary injunction.

Still, questions are being raised as NPR's Robert Smith reported for All Things Considered.

An excerpt of his report:

Judge Feldman gave the oil industry everything it wanted in its lawsuit.

He slapped down and ridiculed the Obama administration arguments.

He argued that an accident on one rig, the Deepwater Horizon, did not mean that all rigs are dangerous.

What Feldman didn't mention in court was that as recently as 2008, he held stock in the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon.

Feldman had between one and $15,000 dollars in Transocean Ltd.

But some environmental groups say no matter how little the amount, the judge should have stepped aside.

Kate Gordon studies energy with the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress.

GORDON: "It would be one thing if it were two steps removed from the dividend process.  But we are talking about a dividend check to this judge for a company that has two contracts that are being canceled for the moratorium. That's pretty direct."

Now, I should make this clear. We don't know if Judge Feldman still owns stock in Transocean.  He hasn't reported yet for this year. And Transocean was not a plaintiff in the case.

But as of 2008 Judge Feldman did have a whole bunch of small investments in energy stocks. Parker Drilling. Hercules Offshore. Halliburton. Most of them below a thousand dollars.

Ed Sherman, a law professor at Tulane Unversity, says that's not surprising.  Anyone with a diversified portfolio is going to have oil. And Sherman says that owning stocks in a broad industry doesn't mean you can't rule on cases in that industry.

SHERMAN: "Judge Feldman is a respected judge and he did make a careful opinion if that ownership of stock would affect him in any way."

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