Details around the income of Chief Justice Roberts' wife raise more ethical red flags at the Supreme Court

Imagine being a Partner at a law firm that argues cases before the Supreme Court and getting a call from the Chief Justice's wife asking for business as a recruiter. You would likely hire her immediately on the hope that it helps any case you might have before her husband's court, and if the lawyers she recruits for you are any good, that is just a bonus! This is a severe problem, and it is well beyond time for ethics reform in the judicial branch. Sadly the Republican majority in the House of Representatives makes that impossible for now.

A whistleblower is reporting that in the seven years from 2007 to 2014, Jane Roberts earned 10.3 million dollars in commission recruiting lawyers for big-name firms that had cases before her husband's court. The documents the whistleblower share are discovery from a 2014 lawsuit he filed against Roberts and her employer, Major, Lindsey & Africa, for discrimination, and it sounds like theft.


"She restructured her career to benefit from his [John Roberts'] position," Price wrote in an affidavit accompanying his complaint. "I believe that at least some of her remarkable success as a recruiter has come because of her spouse's position."

A cover letter from Price's lawyer, Joshua Dratel, which summarizes his claims, was previously published by Politico and reported on by the New York Times, along with some details from the underlying documents, which Insider is publishing today for the first time. While the Times reported that Roberts "has been paid millions of dollars in commissions," the total figure has not been previously reported.

It also sounds like Roberts might have a reporting issue around this income, a problem that seems to plague many members of the highest court in the land. I will be interested, should Congress ever pass some laws about this, to see how the court takes it.

The balance of Roberts' income did not come at a steady rate from a single employer, as "salary" suggests. It was paid by the deal and based on a sizable cut of her clients' salaries — a compensation model which varies from year to year depending on her ability to capitalize on her network. The ultimate sources of her income were the firms hiring Major, Lindsey & Africa-backed candidates. Their identities and the specific amounts that they paid Roberts for her services remain unknown. 

Price's affidavit says that  John Roberts' characterization of his wife's income as "salary" is "misleading." A memo written in support of Price's complaint by Bennett Gershman, professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University who has written books on legal ethics, goes further. "Characterizing Mrs. Roberts' commissions as 'salary' is not merely factually incorrect; it is incorrect as a matter of law," Gershman wrote. "The legal distinction between these terms is clear, undisputed, and legally material. If the Chief Justice's inaccurate financial disclosures were inadvertent, presumably he should file corrected and amended disclosures."