Federal judges defend Maui conference as cost-effective

Hawaii, here they come.

Federal judges in the 9th Circuit appear to be going ahead with plans to host their annual conference in Maui, defending the sunny location as cost-effective despite concerns from lawmakers.

Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa -- who had complained about the scheduled August conference several weeks ago and estimated it could cost more than $1 million -- have demanded details about the trip, on the heels of the scandal surrounding one agency's lavish Las Vegas conference.

But in a lengthy response, 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski defended the choice to host the affair at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, where the group also stayed in 2010.

He said planners looked at other sites in the western circuit area -- including Alaska and Idaho -- but found a good deal on Maui.

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"The decision to return to Maui was based on a very competitive room rate and lesser travel costs due to the greater number of air carriers competing in the Hawaii travel market," he wrote.

The rate is $230 a night.

Kozinski also defended the conferences themselves, saying they are "renowned for the quality and depth of their educational programs." He said 27 business meetings will be held at the upcoming conference, claiming that saves money since those meetings would otherwise be held in several different places at different times. Attorneys and other judiciary staff members also attend the conferences.

The court's response did little to satisfy lawmakers concerns.

"We remain deeply concerned about the conference’s overall costs, as well as the lavish recreational schedule, given that the event is subsidized by taxpayers," Sessions said Monday in a written statement. "It appears Circuit officials remain defiantly unapologetic about the conference’s scale, location, and itinerary in our current hour of financial crisis. They show no indication of changing their financial behavior in the future.

Grassley had suggested "using technology to share information without requiring a trip to an island paradise."

Sessions and Grassley also had voiced concern about the itinerary for the conference, which advertises an array of recreational activities, including sport fishing, golf, paddle-board lessons, yoga and Zumba.

"The programs read more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice," they wrote. "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 official website for the conference stresses that "government funds are not used for any recreational or sporting activities."