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Vicente Fernández, a Mexican Musical Icon for Generations, Dies at 81

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Vicente Fernández, the debonair Mexican crooner with the buttery baritone whose romantic rancheras and timeless folk anthems defined the grit and romance of his turbulent homeland and elevated him to a cultural icon for generations of fans throughout Latin America and beyond, has died. The announcement was made on his Instagram page. A cause of death was not made available. He was 81 years old.

Fernández, who performed his final live show at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium in 2016, had a variety of health ailments in recent years, including cancer of the liver and prostate. In 2013, he was forced to cut short his farewell tour after being hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. On numerous occasions, fictional reports of his death surfaced on the internet, leading the singer at one point to release a video in which he humorously declared, “When I die, I’ll let you know.”

But time finally caught up to a performer who seemed eternal.

A fall at his ranch in August led to emergency spinal surgery at a hospital in Guadalajara, followed by a months-long stay in the intensive care unit that required periods on a ventilator. His condition improved and Fernández was transferred to a regular hospital ward by mid-November. But, by the end of the month, he was back in the ICU with respiratory inflammation, according to a statement issued by the singer’s medical team and posted to his official Instagram account.

During a career that began on the street corners of Guadalajara, the self-taught troubadour recorded more than 50 albums, all in Spanish, and sold tens of millions of copies, nearly half in the United States. He toured relentlessly, created the themes for wildly popular telenovelas and starred in more than two dozen movies throughout the ’70s and ’80s — often depicted in his iconic traje de charro, the ensemble typical of the Mexican gentleman rancher, featuring ornate sombreros, embroidered jackets and slim trousers.

In 1998, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — his greatest prize, he once said, because he considered it a gift from his fans. But as late as 2016, the inveterate performer was still drawing accolades: Fernández took home the Grammy Award for regional Mexican album for the live recording of his final show, titled “Un Azteca en el Azteca” (An Aztec at the Aztec).

Blessed with an operatic voice and a stately sense of showmanship, Fernández was renowned for blending musical virtuosity with heartthrob theatrics, folkloric traditions with mass-market appeal. He was widely viewed as the last of a breed, the final entry in Mexico’s pantheon of crooning matinee idols. His nicknames were appropriately epic: El Número Uno, the People’s Son, the King of Mexican Song. But to his legions of fans, he was “Chente” — short for Vicente — a presence so ubiquitous and long-running, he could, like a member of the family, be invoked with a simple nickname.

In fact, Fernández, decked out in his embroidered ensembles, complete with engraved, gold-plated pistol, served as the embodiment of Mexico itself — at least an older, idealized Mexico. Backed by a full mariachi band, he sang of love and heartbreak, ranches and cantinas, honor and patriotism, saluting working-class heroes who were penniless but happy, heartbroken yet proud.

As Fernández approached his prime, however, the Mexico he represented began to unravel. The 1990s brought the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Zapatistas and a parade of horrors beginning with the narco wars. Globalization was reshaping the music industry; Mexican radio came to feature more American top 40 than ranchera, the rural ballads that were Fernández’s bread and butter.

Rather than embrace contemporary styles, Fernández dug in his heels.

“When you’re a ranchera singer, you represent your country,” he once told The Times. “It’s a God-given gift.”

Vicente Fernández, holding a Latin Grammy for best ranchero album.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Fernández’s most significant feat may be that he managed to stay relevant, preserving a vernacular genre without being reduced to a novelty act. He seemed to reintroduce himself to a new generation every decade while never straying from the fans who made him a titan.

“The way people look at Vicente, he’s part of their identity: As long as he’s OK, they’re OK,” his record promoter, Sony Discos Vice President Jose Rosario, said at the time.

That role would get its greatest test in 1998, when kidnappers ambushed Fernández’s eldest son and namesake, 33-year-old Vicente Jr., as he left his father’s ranch on the outskirts of Guadalajara. For nearly four months, they held him hostage. Their demands spiraled into the millions. To pressure Fernández, they chopped off two of Vicente Jr.’s fingers.

Although he was distraught, Fernández kept the ordeal secret. He refused to file a police report or cancel any concerts. In part, it was a pragmatic move; the kidnappers had warned him not to make trouble. But Fernández had his own reasons for wanting the show to go on. He was the quintessential old-school performer, an entertainer who lived to sing and sang to live.

Only after Vicente Jr. was freed — unharmed but for his fingers — did Fernández publicly reveal what had happened. Despite the tragedy, he remained fiercely devoted to his native land. “I will not leave Mexico,” he told the Televisa network at the time. “From my country, they will only take me out feet first.”

The story propelled Fernández into U.S. headlines, marking his introduction to many in the English-speaking world. But for millions of Latin Americans — including those living in the United States — Fernández was already a legend on par with the likes of those other mononymous crooners Elvis and Sinatra.

Vicente Fernández circa 1970.

(Los Angeles Times)

Born Feb. 14, 1940, Vicente Fernández Gomez spent his earliest years in Huentitán El Alto, a rural settlement on the fringes of Guadalajara, where his parents raised cattle. A fifth-grade dropout, the young singer grew up milking cows and birthing calves; as a teenager in Tijuana, he washed dishes, shined shoes, tended bar and laid bricks.

Although he would later become a multimillionaire — with his own Learjet and a swimming pool in the shape of a guitar — Fernández clung to his salt-of-the-earth bona fides. “There are two kinds of people in the world,” he would tell audiences, “the poor rich ones and the rich poor ones.”

The song he considered his most autobiographical — “El Hijo Del Pueblo” (The People’s Son), written by legendary singer-songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez — echoed those themes:

It is my pride to have been born in the most humble of neighborhoods,
Far from the bustle and false society.…
I go through life very happy with my poverty
Because I don’t have money, I have a lot of heart.

Fernández’s musical career began just as humbly, without the benefit of voice lessons or star-making machinery. At 21, he returned to Guadalajara and joined the throng of mariachis in the plaza at San Juan de Dios Church, where he spent two years singing for tips. Later, he graduated to the restaurant circuit, then a slot on a live Opry-like radio show. But when he auditioned for his first record contract, the big Mexico City labels treated him like a rube. “They told me that I should go sell peanuts,” Fernández recalled.

Mexican music, up to that point, had been dominated by a succession of mustachioed cowboys, their roguish charms and silken voices marketed as symbols of national identity: Jiménez, Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, Javier Solis. Each died at the height of their careers, and before hitting middle age. It was the loss of Solis — during gallbladder surgery, in 1966 — that opened the door for Fernández; within a week, he got a call from CBS Records. Fernández signed with the label, which later became Sony, the company he remained with his entire career.

He soon gained fame for his dexterous baritone, as thick and pliable as putty. He could wail and whimper, chortle and coo, often dropping his microphone midsong and finishing the verse in a naked roar. Whether performing in a Mexican cockfighting pit or a pricey Vegas lounge, he always began with the same promise: to keep singing as long as his audience kept applauding. Frequently, that would mean a marathon of three or four hours, leaving him bathed in sweat, soaked by kisses and showered with booze.

It was the romantic “Volver, Volver” (Return, Return), which he first released in 1972, that launched him to international stardom — a searing ballad of a man who longs to returns to the arms of the woman he loves. The song is now a staple of Latin American song (and drunken late-night revelry), reimagined by myriad mariachi acts, European vocalists and the L.A. band Los Lobos, who included a rocked-out version of the tune on albums and concerts.

Unlike the other ranchera kings — none of whom lived past their 40s — Fernández spent a lifetime atop the throne. Over the course of his career, he won three Grammy Awards and eight Latin Grammys, along with innumerable Mexican and other Latin American honors. In 2002, he was honored as person of the year by the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, organizer of the Latin Grammys.

For decades, he reigned as one of the most bankable acts in Los Angeles, selling out a string of shows every year at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena and the Universal Amphitheatre. When his Hollywood star was unveiled, a record 4,500 people turned out.

“He represents the maintenance of a culture, the heart and soul of the masses,” said Steve Loza, a professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA. “You want to feel proud of who you are? You want to tell your kids what it is to be Mexican and never lose it? All you have to do is listen to Vicente.”

His most important partner throughout his life was his wife, María del Refugio Abarca Villaseñor, known as Cuquita, the Guadalajaran neighbor whom he married in 1963, and with whom he had four children: Gerardo, Alejandra, Vicente Jr. and Alejandro. The latter two, like their father, became singers — with the handsome, baritone-voiced Alejandro, whose music straddles pop and Mexican traditional styles, achieving a large measure of international stardom. Alejandro, dubbed “El Potrillo,” or the Colt, would often join his father onstage for duets, with the mournful “Perdón,” whose lyrics begged the forgiveness of a beloved, becoming a staple.

Vicente Fernández sings with son Alejandro at the Universal Amphitheatre.

(George Wilhelm / Los Angeles Times)

To his fans, Fernández sometimes seemed ageless — his thin mustache and long sideburns remaining preternaturally black — but he was keenly aware of time. He retired from the movie business in 1991, mindful that his on-screen magnetism had begun to fade. But he remained a magnetic stage presence until the end, even when his movements were slowed by age, his voice hollowed by time. At his final concert at Azteca Stadium, as was his custom, he held aloft a glass of tequila while belting out “Volver, Volver,” blowing kisses to the ebullient crowd.

Fernández often spoke of wanting his life to end onstage, a sentiment that inspired one of his favorite songs, “Una Noche Como Esta” (A Night Like This One):

If singing like this
I have earned your affection,
I would be happy if, singing like this,
One day, I die.

Times columnists Carolina A. Miranda and Gustavo Arellano contributed to this article.

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Original Article: latimes.com

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News Analysis: Biden, in Blasting Trump, Concedes the Nation Has yet to Heal

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WASHINGTON — 

For the better part of the last year, President Biden has sought to ignore his predecessor as he has tried to deliver on a campaign promise to return the country to some semblance of political normalcy.

But in a passionate speech at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of the bloody insurrection, Biden essentially conceded he could not reconstruct a world before Donald Trump’s tenure, nor could he deliver on his promise of protecting democracy without calling out the former president’srole in lying about the 2020 election results and inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol.

“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol,” Biden said from Statutory Hall, a historic chamber in a Capitol building that Biden, a former senator, reveres.

Biden avoided using Trump’s name, following a practice he has tried to abide since taking office on Jan. 20. But it hardly mattered. Like a prosecutor delivering a closing argument, the president methodically detailed Trump’s conduct as the slow-motion riot accelerated. He described how Trump lit the fuse and watched it on television from the White House, “doing nothing, for hours” to stop it.

In concluding his case, Biden hit hard at Trump’s motive:

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said. “He can’t accept he lost.”

Visual coverage from remembrance events throughout the day marking the anniversary

This was not a commemoration filled with calls for unity or a return to normalcy as much as it was a plea for Americans to accept the truth of what happened a year ago. There was no attempt to say the nation had healed and has come together with common purpose or belief.

On the contrary, Biden spent much of the address debunking Trump’s claims of a rigged election, point-by-point, asking why many of the Republicans who have supported the former president’s fraud claims have not disputed their own victories, on the same ballots.

Few thought such a speech would be necessary a year after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, inflicted injuries on more than 100 police officers, contributed to the deaths of five people and forced the evacuation of lawmakers from the complex. Biden certainly hadn’t anticipated needing to make such an address. He pitched his candidacy on the idea that he was a seasoned hand who had worked across the aisle, one of the grown-ups in the room. The nation, he believed, could snap back from a twice-impeached president who smashed norms and challenged bedrock institutions.

“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House,” Biden said in his first 2019 campaign visit to New Hampshire. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

On the night he was declared winner of the election, Biden still believed healing would come.

“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” he said.

But many elected Republicans and conservative media figures — even those who once agreed Biden had won the election or who texted Trump begging him to stop the insurrection — have since paid Trump homage at his Florida home. They have amplified his false rhetoric. The lies have taken hold on the rank-and-file in the party: 3 in 4Republican voters in a recent National Public Radio poll agree with Trump that there were “real cases of fraud that changed the results.”

The closest Biden came to reaching across the aisle on Thursday was an offer to work with Republicans who accepted the election and a concession that “some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against” the lies. But even then he went only so far, quickly pivoting back to his harsher argument: “Too many others are transforming that party into something else.”

Biden seemed to understand that his words were unlikely to win him Republican converts and the risk of further politicizing the event. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, acknowledged in a statement Thursday that Jan. 6 that he “cannot believe that a mob was able to take over the United States Capitol during such a pivotal moment — certifying a presidential election.” He then blasted Biden’s speech on Twitter, saying it was a “brazen politicization of January 6.”

The president’s willingness to attack Trump, if not in name, will come as a relief to some Democrats who believe Biden’s determination to seek bipartisanship and convey normalcy has slowed his agenda. In particular, they believe his strategy has prevented him from articulating the full case for a voting rights bill in the face of Republican-led efforts at the state level to change the rules.

They point to senators like Graham, who once prided themselves as bipartisan dealmakers, as evidence of a changed party.

Biden has resisted giving up on his view that the parties can work together and will likely point as evidence to his $1-trillion infrastructure bill that he signed in November. But Republican leaders were absent from Thursday’s commemoration and are likely to drive an even harder partisan wedge as this year’s midterm elections approach.

Those who see this moment as an emergency for American democracy may have finally gotten the speech they wanted. As he was leaving the Capitol Thursday morning, Biden was asked whether calling out Trump would lead to more division than healing.

“The way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the wound,” Biden told reporters. “You can’t pretend. This is serious stuff.”
Staff Writer Eli Stokols contributed to this story.

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‘I Really Thought That I Was Going to Die That Day’

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WASHINGTON — 

For decades, many members of Congress believed the U.S. Capitol — with metal detectors, barriers and its own police force — to be one of the safest places in the country.

That comfort was shattered on the afternoon of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in hopes of overturning Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

In interviews, six members of Congress from California recount their stories from that deadly day: the surreal experience of realizing that their lives were at risk, that their workplace was being overrun and that the nation’s two-century record of a peaceful transition of power had crumbled.

‘All I could think of is: Get Out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run. And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.’

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told a Times reporter on Jan. 6 that “people are running for their safety.”
(Tom Williams / Associated Press)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) was in the gallery of the House chamber when the rioters breached the Capitol.

He and his colleagues were running across the gallery in hopes of escaping when he saw Capitol Police barricading the door the president uses to enter the chamber for the State of the Union. The rioters were too close for the lawmakers to get out safely.

“All I could think of is: Get out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run,” Gomez recalled. “And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.”

Once police cleared the hallways and escorted the lawmakers to safety, several members of Congress got together and committed to remaining in the building and finishing the certification of the electoral college vote.

“That’s when [Reps.] Hakeem [Jeffries] and Liz Cheney said we’re going to go back and finish the job,” Gomez said. “They brought buses to get the members out, and [Rep.] Ruben [Gallego] and other Democrats were like, ‘Do not get on the buses.’ They said that’s how a coup happens: when the electeds are evacuated out of the Capitol or out of the palace. … So everybody that I was talking to was committed to staying.

“It was a terrible, terrible day. I don’t know if I said this to [Times reporter] Sarah [Wire] or a different reporter, but I did say like, ‘This is how a coup happens and this is how democracy dies and Donald Trump should probably be brought up on treason.’ And I still believe that to this day. I’m glad we impeached him. But now we know that there’s more people involved.

“I remember actually flying back from D.C. and, you know, I was on the plane with a bunch of MAGA people that were with their gear, like they’re coming back from a Republican convention or something.”

Gomez’s experience getting caught in the gallery left him shaken, but he says his resolve to stand up for democracy has only grown since that day.

I’m a son of immigrants that believes in this whole idea of America, the idea of self-governance, the idea that you come here, you work hard, you believe in our values, you’re going to succeed, because I’m an example of that promise … in one generation. That doesn’t happen in a lot of countries. It doesn’t happen in Mexico, where my family’s from. So my resolve has been just more firm than ever.

“But it’s been tough, to be honest. I got triggered … a few months ago, and I didn’t really see it coming on, but I got hot and my vision got tunneled. So I had to kind of walk away. … But my resolve, it’s stronger than ever.”

~~~

‘I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.’

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona)

Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat from Pomona, was inside the House chamber when the attack began.

“It was a very violent day for me. I had never been in a situation where I felt so unsafe, and I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.”

A year ago, as Trump supporters rioted in the halls, Torres told Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire, who was reporting inside the Capitol on Jan. 6: “It’s horrible that this is America. This is the United States of America and this is what we have to go through, because Trump has called homegrown terrorists to come to the Capitol and invalidate people’s votes.”

Torres said she has changed since that day, noting that she no longer feels safe inside the Capitol complex and sees her GOP colleagues in a different light.

“There used to be a time in the past, before the Jan. 6 insurrection, where I could look and see somebody wearing their congressional pin and think, ‘That’s my ally.’ Even if they were Republicans, it was like, ‘OK, that’s my ally, and we’ll take care of each other no matter what happens.’ I don’t feel that way anymore about my colleagues. Not at all.”

~~~

‘Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy.’

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale)

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican from Richvale shown speaking on the House floor in 2020.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican from Richvale who was on the House floor when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, called the riot a “deplorable situation.”

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose, let alone trying to stop a process that we were going through, and we were going through it in good faith, no matter what side you were taking on the issue of the day.”

He said he wasn’t concerned about the long-term prospects of democracy, because the republic is built on people, not buildings.

“Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy. We’re not a democracy, by the way — we are a republic. Democracy is on election day.

“So our republic is not torn down by what building the meetings are held in, but by the heart and souls of the people that are elected to carry out the business of the government wherever that’s done.”

~~~

‘I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there. Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.’

Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, said that as he was trapped in the House gallery on Jan. 6, he was thinking, “How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country?”
(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, was in the House gallery when he saw something he’d never seen before: a nonmember of Congress at the rostrum.

“It was someone from the security force. He said: ‘Please stay in your seats. There’s been a breach in the Capitol.’”

“I didn’t know what to think at that point. I assumed that a few rogues had run by the metal detector. But I didn’t know how serious it was. Gradually I was kind of hurt that this was happening, thinking, ‘How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country? We should be ready for this.’

“At one point, members were about to be evacuated when they were told to ‘get to the floor.’

“So everyone kind of got down low. And that was a little bit of a sobering moment. Then at one point, we heard an explosion. It sounded like a gunshot or a tear gas deployment. We didn’t know. I think it might’ve been the shot that killed my constituent. Ashli Babbitt was from San Diego.”

Peters, who was first elected in 2012, added that he doesn’t feel as safe as he did in his first term as a member of Congress.

“I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there,” he said. “Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.”

~~~

‘No matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day.’

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, speaks in the House of Representatives in 2019. He called the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 “troubling.”
(Associated Press)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, was in his office in a nearby building, not in the Capitol itself, but was still disturbed by what he saw and called it “very regretful.”

“I mean, it was troubling. But I wasn’t here in the building. And I have a lot of friends that were. Certainly, no matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day. It’s a bad situation.”

He said he has hope that any changes to the institution of Congress and to relationships won’t be long-lasting.

“We have to get back to some kind of normalcy again. … I’m an optimist, I’m hoping we get back to some comity around here.

“These people are my friends. I may be in a different party and I don’t agree with them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t like each other. … We’re a divided nation, there’s no doubt about it, but people expect us to get together, get things done.”

~~~

‘Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?’

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) sheltered in a nearby office building during the Capitol riot.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had to make his way from one House office building to the next during the riot.

“It looked like kind of a refugee zone with all these staffers sitting on the other side of the hallway, stepping over people.

“I got a couple of texts asking if I was OK,” Takano said. “But up until now, I don’t really have a reality of what is happening because I’m not looking at the news, but I’m getting a couple of texts from people saying, ‘Are you OK?’ And I thought this was kind of strange.

“I felt a little insecure, but I was in an office complex that was sort of nondescript. We were sheltering for an extended period of time. But I don’t have any kind of lingering trauma, personal trauma. I do have concerns going forward about the political culture of the country and the political norms of the country.”

Takano said he believes “the biggest challenge to America is ourselves.”

“That’s our biggest challenge. Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?

“I don’t see this being solved in one year or one election. It’s going to take a lot of courage. Persistence.”

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Chief Justice Roberts Calls for Better Enforcement of Conflict Laws Involving Judges’ Stock Ownership

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WASHINGTON — 

Federal courts need to do much better at enforcing conflict-of-interest laws that are supposed to prevent judges from deciding cases in which they hold stock, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his year-end report on the judiciary.

He was responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal in September that from 2010 through 2018, federal judges participated in 685 cases involving companies in which they or their spouses held stock. When contacted, many of them said they were unaware of the stock holdings because a money manager handled their investments.

The chief justice said federal law requires judges to recuse themselves from a case in which they have a direct financial interest, no matter how small.

“Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule,” he wrote.

“We are duty-bound to strive for 100% compliance because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function,” he continued. “Individually, judges must be scrupulously attentive to both the letter and spirit of our rules, as most are.”

He said “professed ignorance of the ethics rule” or the failure of computer software designed to prevent such conflicts were no excuse. Most judges rely on a computer program to alert them when a case coming before them includes a company in which they hold stock. Sometimes a relevant company slips by the software if it is a subsidiary of a larger corporation.

Roberts said that may explain some lapses, but not for judges who had multiple violations. For them, “there is a more serious problem of inadequate ethics training…. our ethics training programs need to be more rigorous. That means more class time, webinars, and consultations. But it also requires greater attention to promoting a culture of compliance, even when busy dockets keep judicial calendars full,” he said.

He noted, however, that ethics violations appear to be rare. Of the 2.5 million civil cases handled by federal district courts in the nine years that were examined, he said the 685 violations account for less than three-hundredths of 1%. “That’s a 99.97% compliance rate,” he said.

Moreover, he said the newspaper story did not report that “the judge’s actions in any of those cases — often just routine docket management — actually financially benefited the judge.”

The chief justice said the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is working on improving technology and training to deal with the problem.

Judges are not prohibited from owning direct shares of stock. If their shares are held indirectly in mutual funds, they are not required to step aside.

He did not suggest imposing penalties for repeat violators. For the most part, federal judges are responsible for deciding when they should remove themselves from a case.

As chief justice, Roberts serves as the leader of the federal judiciary.

Roberts received the highest job approval rating of 11 U.S. leaders in a Gallup poll taken in early December and released earlier this week, with 60% approving of how he is handling his role.

Only two other leaders received positive job approval ratings from a majority of Americans surveyed: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell (53%) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden (52%).

Roberts was the only leader who received majority approval from both Republicans (57%) and Democrats (52%).

He fared much better in the poll than elected leaders. Biden was approved by 43%, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) by 40% and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by 34%.

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