• Investigation: Taxpayer money spent on judicial conference for basketball party, musical theater

    By: Scott MacFarlane


    ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation has uncovered that your tax money has been spent to fly federal judges and staff to Kansas City for a conference event that included a basketball-themed party.

    Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane found out the College Basketball Experience in Kansas City is where federal judges in the 8th Circuit Court system in the Midwest were invited for the first night of a 2012 judicial conference that your tax dollars helped pay for.

    "Come join us Center Court for hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, and experience the many hands-on basketball exhibits," the invitation read.

    Among the many things listed at the event were the "Beat the Clock" competitions where participants must hit "a game-winning shot before the buzzer sounds," along with Slam Dunk courts with rims at six different heights.

    The bulk of the three-day conference featured meetings between judges, plus seminars with two of the attorneys who'd soon argue the landmark same-sex marriage case at the Supreme Court.

    MacFarlane learned Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was scheduled too, but canceled.

    Another night, there was a special judges' excursion to see the Elton John presentation of "Aida."

    A federal court spokesman told MacFarlane the judges traveled to the conference for the substantive events, the seminars; not the social gatherings.

    The spokesman said the judges would've had to pay their own way for the basketball and the music.

    But taxpayer advocates said tax money was spent to fly the judges into town and pay for their hotel accommodations too.

    Federal judges in the 9th Circuit took heat last summer for their conference too, which took place in Maui.

    One senator said it cost $1 million tax dollars

    "These dollars don't belong to us. They belong to the American people," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

    "All levels of the federal government should be looking at cost saving measures.  Constant vigilance to keep spending in check is tough, but necessary, and conference expenditures can be a good place to save taxpayer dollars,” said a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

    A spokesman said the cost to taxpayers for the Kansas City conference is still unknown, but a similar court event in 2011 in South Dakota cost more than $100,000 in taxpayer money.

    A federal court spokesman told MacFarlane 92 federal judges attended the basketball event and the hotel rooms were provided at the Kansas City Marriott.

    MacFarlane learned some of the judges involved in the conference were able to drive to the event and didn't need airplane tickets.

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