This story does not make me feel good:

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ special investigative committee investigating alleged misconduct by the 9th Circuit’s Chief Judge Alex Kozinski has hired Robert C. Heim, head of Dechert‘s litigation department, to run the probe.

A Dechert spokesperson confirmed that a team from Dechert and Morgan Lewis has been hired to conduct the investigation and has assigned Heim to lead the operation.

[Dechert] also declined to discuss the number of cases it may have pending before the 9th Circuit or how it would deal with potential conflict.

[Morgan Lewis] declined to elaborate or comment on potential for conflicts with cases pending in the 9th Circuit.

That won’t do. Judge Kozinski is a duly-appointed federal judge, whose office is specifically protected for life by the Constitution. If the process is not transparent, it may as well be a farce.

Neither of these firms have irreplaceable skills essential for a full and fair evaluation of Kozinski’s conduct, nor is there any compelling reason to permit them to operate under the appearance of impropriety.

If there is no conflict, they should say so, and say how they’ll either avoid or handle future conflicts. If there is a conflict, they need to get out or come up with some safeguards before they do any work.

We are not working in a gray area here: everyone else in the law exercises an abundance of caution at all times with regard to conflicts. If there’s a conflict, you don’t do it. Simple.

Why shouldn’t that apply here, when we’re tugging at one of the very threads woven into the fabric of our democracy?