- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2012

Two senior Republican senators want to know why a group of federal judges and court employees plan to hold a convention this summer at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, an oceanfront hotel where the website invites prospective guests to “frolic,” “pamper” and “play.”

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Jeff Sessions of Alabama said the conference for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco could ultimately cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

“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 senators wrote Monday in a letter to Chief Judge Alex Kozinski in San Francisco.

The senators base their concerns on information found on the appeals court website describing the conference that will include judges from nine states and two Pacific island territories, as well as staff. The judicial website describes activities such as yoga, stand-up paddle-board lessons, tennis and dance lessons, but notes that no government funds would be used for any recreational or sporting activities.

Still, the program “reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice,” the letter said.

A spokeswoman for the 9th Circuit did not respond to messages by deadline Monday.

The letter comes amid an ongoing travel scandal at the General Services Administration (GSA), which came under scrutiny after a newly released audit revealed wasteful spending and frivolity at a 2010 conference in Las Vegas.

The GSA conference cost more than $800,000 while Mr. Sessions and Mr. Grassley estimated the price tag of the planned judicial gathering in Hawaii to be at least $1 million. Previous gatherings in Monterey, Calif., and Sun Valley, Idaho, cost a combined $860,000.

The senators requested a host of information from Judge Kozinski about past conferences dating back to 2008, including the names of attendees and a breakdown of expenses including but not limited to hotel, transportation, meals and any gifts attendees received.

The letter also requests details about the planned Hawaii gathering, including how officials came to pick the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in the first place.