FOIA Advisor

Q&A: bankruptcy judges

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  I submitted a FOIA request to the DOJ to obtain the credentials of two federal bankruptcy judges.  I received an answer from the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) claiming that such records are kept at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts -- and under their policy the records cannot be disclosed to the public.  I believe these records are not exempt, but may not exist.  If the records exist, who has custody and how can I obtain a copy?

A.  I am inclined to agree with OLP's response.  OLP works with the Attorney General in advising the President on nominations for Article III judgeships.  Bankruptcy judges, however, are not nominated by the President and confirmed by Senate as set forth in Article III of the U.S. Constitution.  Rather, they are appointed to renewable fourteen-years terms by U.S. court of appeals for each circuit pursuant to Article I of the Constitution.  Therefore, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, not OLP, is the most likely custodian of the judicial records you seek.  Unfortunately, the judiciary branch is not subject to Freedom of Information Act.  See Banks v. DOJ, 538 F. Supp. 2d 228, 231-32 (D.D.C.  Mar. 16, 2008) (U.S. Probation Office and Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts); Wayne Seminoff Co. v. Mecham, No. 02-2445, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5829, at *20 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 10, 2003) ("[T]he Administrative Office of the United States Courts is not an agency for purposes of FOIA."), aff'd, 82 F. App'x 740 (2d Cir. 2003).  

By statute, bankruptcy judges must be lawyers. Thus, if a judge's biography is not posted on the court's website, you can at least find his or her educational background in publicly available attorney directories, e.g., a State bar directory or Martindale Hubbell.  If you are interested in further information about the selection process for bankruptcy judges, you might wish to read the following report on the subject from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.