OTR Interviews

Aloha taxpayers! You're paying for federal judges' Hawaii holiday

Federal judges' Maui conference could cost taxpayers millions and rival the GSA scandal


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 21, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And here we go again! How would you like to go to Hawaii and stay at a fancy resort and spa? Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, you're about to foot the $1 million bill for that lavish trip to Maui. But here -- the bad news. You're not invited to go! Federal judges in the western circuit planning a so-called conference, a really comfy one, in Hawaii on your dime. Some Senate Republicans are tonight warning the judges to nix those plans.

We spoke with Senator Jeff Sessions earlier tonight.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: Good to be with you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: I have to admit that you and Senator Grassley far more gentleman-like in your letter to the head of -- the chief justice of the United States court of appeals for the 9th circuit than I ever would be. They're going to spend, the plan is, almost $900,000 to go to a business meeting in Hawaii at a spa.

SESSIONS: It's a huge expense, and it seems to me not justified. Other circuits are not doing it. Some of them have even canceled those conferences over the last year or two. And by the way, it's the second time they've gone to Maui in two years. They were there in 2010.

Most Americans will live their entire life and never get to Hawaii. So it's on their dime that they're making this trip.

VAN SUSTEREN: Our dime! Our dime!

SESSIONS: Our dime.


SESSIONS: And so I do believe that this is symptomatic of the problem throughout our government. Every agency, department of this government is spending money in ways that are not properly justified. Business as usual -- you just go through the same motions you've done year after year, not reaching the level of productivity and efficiencies that our private businesses reach.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think the response -- and I don't know if you've seen this statement from the circuit executive, which I think is absolutely appalling because what she says -- `As part of the third branch of government" -- meaning the judiciary -- "the 9th circuit is fully aware of its responsibilities as a steward of public funds." That's questionable. That's my editorializing.

"The conference is authorized by law for the purpose of considering the business of the courts and advising means of improving the administration of justice within the circuit." No place does the law say that you go off on these lavish boondoggles to these fancy resorts on the taxpayers' dime. They can rent a -- they can go down to a high school gym and meet, if they wanted to, and it won't cost us a dime.

SESSIONS: Well, this country has never been in a more dangerous financial condition than we are today. Forty cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed. And the way the demographics are shaping up, that's not easily going to get better without us taking action.

So when you have a prominent part of our government, the ninth circuit court of appeals, repeatedly going off on these kind of expensive trips, I think it indicates they're not in touch with the danger our country faces.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can the Senate Judiciary Committee do anything, just say no, I mean, as oversight, just tell them, Stop it. Don't spend our money. Don't go to these Hawaii spas. The American people don't want to. If you have business to do, do it in a courtroom someplace.

SESSIONS: I think maybe that needs to be done.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why wouldn't it be done, though? What -- what's -- what would be the answer not to do it?

SESSIONS: Well, you could -- really, through the appropriations process. The appropriating process when the courts are funded, you can deny funding for these conferences. They've been done every year for decades. The conferences seem to probably have grown larger and larger and more expensive each year. And this one seems to be one of the most egregious that I have had the pleasure to read about.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are they even doing at these conferences? It says for education. What kind of education? Most lawyers go to the law library and study or go to the computer terminal, or it's a business meeting. I mean, what business and education does it take? And I mean, it's extraordinary that they even need this!

SESSIONS: Well, Greta, I'm surprised. Have you ever spoken to one?

VAN SUSTEREN: I doubt they're going to want to speak to me!

SESSIONS: They should invite you...

VAN SUSTEREN: Actually, though...

SESSIONS: But I mean, seriously, I mean, you're a commentator on the law and the issues dealing with the law. You're a lawyer. So sometimes they have good speakers. They have conferences. They have roundtables. They have panel discussions. It's not all worthless. But at this point...

VAN SUSTEREN: But when you decide -- but when you decide a case, you hear the facts in the courtroom and you study the law! You don't need to go to a conference and find out what some motivational speaker or anybody else is talking about! You look at the facts and the law. You don't need to talk to other people! In fact, you shouldn't!

SESSIONS: You're exactly right. I mean, this -- we don't have the money for these trips. We've got to cut, tighten our belts throughout the entire federal government. And the last place -- the first place you should look for are these kind of expenditures that cannot be directly tied to the mission of the courts.

VAN SUSTEREN: Your letter to -- yours and Chuck -- and Senator Grassley's letter is just stunning. The conference doesn't officially open until Monday, but the registration desk opens two days earlier, Saturday and Sunday.

And if they want, on their own dime, they can go to yoga, surfing lessons, stand-up paddleboard lessons, zumba -- which I didn't even know hat that was, but the letter says it's a Latin-inspired dance program -- a tennis tournament, a day tour, a tour of up-country Maui, a Gemini catamaran snorkel trip and the activity -- and an activity which I -- you haven't fully defined in your letter. It was the "Aloha experience."

SESSIONS: It's just unacceptable. And it's the kind of thing that I think demonstrates that throughout the government, we're not focusing on efficiency and productivity. And I think all of us in Congress need to step up to the plate. We're reducing our spending in this office by 15 percent this year. Other agencies and departments have to do the same thing. We will surprise ourselves how much of an impact we can make in our deficit if we all do that. There's just no doubt in my mind.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I appreciate the fact that the only way that you can do it is through appropriations. And I certainly -- you know, I'm delighted they're getting this letter from you, where you're requiring them to provide the information by June 15th.

But I'm curious if you think that. Chief Justice -- Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts -- does he have the authority to call the U.S. court of appeals for the 9th circuit and say, No, don't do this, go find yourself a gym and some folding chairs and meet there, if you have to?

SESSIONS: I think he has a great deal of clout in terms of moral leadership throughout the court system. I think it's interesting that some of the circuits are already cutting back or canceling conferences. So I think this circuit is the one that's stepping out too far with these kind of things and needs to be brought back into line. Maybe the Chief Justice could do that.

I think Congress can absolutely deal with it through the budgetary appropriations process, and all of which could bring this under control. I hope that the American people will understand that they need to watch what we're doing with their money.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I appreciate -- once again, I appreciate your letter, you and Senator Grassley. And I hope this works. So thank you, sir.

SESSIONS: Thank you.