Roberts asks federal judges to handle Kavanaugh complaints

WASHINGTON (AP) — Chief Justice John Roberts is referring ethics complaints against new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to federal judges in Colorado and neighboring states.

The complaints deal with statements Kavanaugh made during his confirmation hearings. They were filed originally with Kavanaugh's old court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Roberts took no action on them while Kavanaugh's nomination was pending. He received the first three of 15 eventual complaints on Sept. 20, a week before Kavanaugh's angry denial of a sexual assault allegation by Christine Blasey Ford.

It's possible the complaints will never be investigated if the lower-court judges determine they have no jurisdiction over a Supreme Court justice under the judiciary's ethics rules. The judges may be forced to conclude "that intervening events have rendered the allegations moot or make remedial action impossible," said Arthur Hellman, an ethics professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Another ethicist, Stephen Gillers of New York University, disagreed that the complaints are moot. Kavanaugh remains a federal judge and the complaints "allege misconduct that occurred while Kavanaugh was on the D.C. Circuit and subject to the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. Any violation of the Code does not disappear because he is now on another federal court," Gillers said in an email.

But Gillers said the complaints "may be found not to be meritorious in the end."

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U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Family members of of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, including his wife Ashley (R) and mother Martha (L), listen to him testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that shes 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Tom Williams/Pool via Bloomberg
White House Counsel and Assistant to the President for U.S. President Donald Trump, Donald McGahn, as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 27, 2018. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary committee regarding sexual assault allegations at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, U.S. September 27, 2018. Gabriella Demczuk/Pool via Reuters
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking members Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (R) and Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) question Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, left, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that shes 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Win McNamee/Pool via Bloomberg
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh arrives with his wife Ashley to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) presides over a hearing as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, leaves for a break from the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of a sexual assault in 1982, in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NB) speaks during U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in before testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, smiles during Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, on September 27, 2018. - University professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told a tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could make or break Kavanaugh's nomination she was '100 percent' certain he was the assailant and it was 'absolutely not' a case of mistaken identify. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW HARNIK/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) questions Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON D.C. - SEPTEMBER 27: U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) displays a judiciary committee document while questioning Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., on September 27, 2018. - University professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told a tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could make or break Kavanaugh's nomination she was '100 percent' certain he was the assailant and it was 'absolutely not' a case of mistaken identify. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW HARNIK/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Senate Judiciary Committee members (L-R) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) talk at the conclusion of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON D.C. - SEPTEMBER 27: Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images)
Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, wife of Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that she's 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Jim Bourg/Pool via Bloomberg
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that shes 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Andrew Harnik/Pool via Bloomberg
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) listens to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., on September 27, 2018. - University professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told a tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could make or break Kavanaugh's nomination she was '100 percent' certain he was the assailant and it was 'absolutely not' a case of mistaken identify. (Photo by JIM BOURG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images)
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The judiciary's rules allow members of the public to lodge complaints about federal judges. They typically are dealt with by experienced judges in the courthouse or region where a judge serves. Judges who receive complaints have a range of options that include dismissing them out of hand, having local judges investigate them or asking Roberts, in his capacity as head of the federal judiciary, to assign the complaints to judges in a different part of the country.

Roberts assigned the complaints to the ethics council of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to deal with the complaints, according to a letter posted Wednesday on the D.C. Circuit's website.

The first public word of the complaints came Saturday when D.C. Circuit Judge Karen Henderson acknowledged that complaints about Kavanaugh had been filed. They only "seek investigations ... of the public statements he has made as a nominee to the Supreme Court," Henderson said in a statement. Details of the complaints have not been made public.

Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit, typically deals with ethics complaints, but he apparently stepped aside from complaints against Kavanaugh. Garland had been nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, but Senate Republicans never acted on the nomination.

Roberts' letter was sent to Judge Timothy Tymkovich, the 10th Circuit's chief judge. Tymkovich was on President Donald Trump's list of possible Supreme Court nominees.

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