Update: January 18, 2014, 12:01 PM
When federal appellate court judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. announced his retirement in July, he was praised as “one of the giants of the Kentucky judiciary.”
But what was unknown publicly until Friday was that Martin left the bench under a cloud of accusations that he had racked up “questionable travel expenses.”
The details came out in a decision filed by five members of a federal panel on judicial conduct. The decision was in response to a petition filed by Boyce in August asking that his name be kept confidential and that his case not be referred to the Justice Department. Both requests were denied.
Martin’s spokeswoman Claire Parker emphasized in emails to TPM on Saturday that the retired judge had “a lifetime commitment to public service and integrity” and that he still hoped to be able to move on from the investigation quickly.
“Judge Martin looks forward to working with the Department of Justice to resolve this matter expeditiously,” Parker wrote. “Judge Martin continues to participate in activities focused on improving the court system on which he served with distinction for nearly thirty-five years.”
The panel’s decision said that Martin had offered to pay back nearly $140,000 in expenses after questions were raised about his travel.
Parker said the sum Martin was paying back included all of his travel expenses, “not simply those in question,” from an almost five-year period, and that he was doing so “voluntarily.” She declined to disclose how much money was in question in the case but described it as “a fraction of the total travel expenses incurred.”
Martin is a Democrat who was first appointed to the 6th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. At the time of his retirement, he was the court’s longest serving judge.
In an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal in July, Martin talked fondly of his time on the bench but also said both he and his wife were battling cancer.
“It is time to go,” Martin told the newspaper. “I want to go out at the top of my game rather than having to be carried up and down from the bench.”
Behind the scenes, Martin was apparently trying to put to rest a court investigation into his travel expenses. A judicial committee looking into the matter even notified him that it planned to take his testimony about the spending.
Before the investigation could go any further, according to Friday’s decision, Martin submitted his letter of resignation to President Obama. Because of that, the court investigators halted their inquiry and never reached a conclusion about the expenses.
He told the court he planned to pay back the travel expenses in three installments, concluding in August 2013, and hoped that would be enough to make the matter go away.
In its decision, the panel said that Martin had paid the first two installments but had yet to make the third. His spokeswoman told TPM on Saturday that a mistake had been made and Martin was working to correct it.
“He mailed the third installment on August 16, 2013 and learned yesterday for the first time from the court that it did not receive the check,” his spokeswoman wrote in an email. “He immediately stopped payment of the original check and reissued a new check to complete the reimbursement.”
The panel’s decision also noted Martin had blamed the travel expenses on “administrative errors” despite his plans to pay them back. Additionally, it said he disputed that a number of the expenses were inappropriate.
In its decision, the panel wrote that the court’s efforts to disclose Martin’s name and refer his case to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section were appropriate under federal rules.
Update: This post has been updated to include comments from Martin’s spokeswoman, including her description that the nearly $140,000 in repayments to the court include travel expenses beyond those that were questioned in the case.