9th Circuit Court plans expensive retreat to Hawaii conference

Yoga classes, surfing lessons and a catamaran snorkel trip are some of the activities planned for a Maui, Hawaii work trip for judges and employees of the contentious Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later this summer.

Although government funds cannot pay for the recreational or sporting activities, the cost of a similar judicial gathering held two years ago in Hawaii cost taxpayers $1.5 million, say Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

“While the (judicial web) site makes clear that government funds are not to be used for any recreational or sporting activities, and that court-related matters will be substantively considered, the program reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The August conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, where attendees will have the choice of a standard room, partial or “deluxe” ocean view, at a cost of up to $250 a night.

“We are concerned about the overall cost of this conference and do not believe that discussions about the administration of justice would be less successful were they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Hawaii,” the lawmakers said.

The Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference will be held “for the purpose of considering the business of the courts and advising means of improving the administration of justice within the circuit,” said the court’s notice on the event.

Attendees are by invitation only and include judges from the federal district and bankruptcy courts in nine western states and two Pacific island territories; representatives of the federal bar practicing in these courts; court staff; and “special guests.”

The program will feature presentations on a variety of substantive issues involving “social media, mobile computing and data mining on the Internet, recent findings in sentencing policy, and anti-trust issues in the world of sports law.”

Other activities that will be available include stand-up paddleboard lessons, Zumba dance instruction, sport fishing, golf tournament, and an activity listed as “The Aloha Experience.”

Both lawmakers expressed concerns about the cost of the conference, and why the Hyatt resort was chosen for the conference.

“It’s especially tone-deaf to plan a pricey conference after the GSA debacle,” Grassley said in a statement. “The taxpayers can’t sustain this kind of spending, and they shouldn’t have to,” Grassley said.

Added Sessions: “How can anyone in Washington ask for more taxes when this culture of excess continues? Americans struggling to pay their bills are tired of watching the government throw lavish events on the taxpayer dime. They are tired of watching entire sectors of government behave in a fashion totally disconnected from the reality of our perilous financial state.”