A federal judge has issued three key rulings over a four-year period that favored companies in which he owned stock, a California Watch analysis has found.
Measures are in place to prevent judges from violating federal conflict-of-interest laws. But Judge Manuel Real, a 46-year veteran of the bench appointed by President Lyndon Johnson, appears to have skirted those safeguards, records and interviews show.
Judges are supposed to disclose everything from their investments to their attendance at expenses-paid seminars. When a financial conflict arises, no matter how small, they are required to step aside, by federal law and the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.
"This is what we call a 'bright line' rule, meaning that it gives clear and unambiguous guidance to judges and the public," said Steven Lubet, a Northwestern University law professor who specializes in judicial ethics.
But in at least three cases before the federal District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, Real did not recuse himself:
-- In 2008, he awarded $746,027 in damages and fees to Microsoft Corp. in a copyright infringement case against a computer sales and repair company. At the time, Real held Microsoft stock worth between $15,001 and $50,000, according to his financial disclosures.
Real faced a potential impeachment inquiry by Congress in 2006 over misconduct allegations, congressional documents show. He was accused of showing favoritism in a bankruptcy case toward a woman whose probation he supervised. In the end, Congress did not pursue the impeachment.