Two years after John Roberts’ confirmation as the Supreme Court’s chief justice in 2005, his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, made a pivot. After a long and distinguished career as a lawyer, she refashioned herself as a legal recruiter, a matchmaker who pairs job-hunting lawyers up with corporations and firms. Life was good for the Robertses, at least for the years 2007 to 2014. During that eight-year stretch, according to internal records from her employer, Jane Roberts generated a whopping $10.3 million in commissions, paid out by corporations and law firms for placing high-dollar lawyers with them.
That eye-popping figure comes from records in a whistleblower complaint filed by a disgruntled former colleague of Roberts, who says that as the spouse of the most powerful judge in the United States, the income she earns from law firms who practice before the Court should be subject to public scrutiny.
“When I found out that the spouse of the chief justice was soliciting business from law firms, I knew immediately that it was wrong,” the whistleblower, Kendal B. Price, who worked alongside Jane Roberts at the legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, told Insider in an interview. “During the time I was there, I was discouraged from ever raising the issue. And I realized that even the law firms who were Jane’s clients had nowhere to go. They were being asked by the spouse of the chief justice for business worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there was no one to complain to. Most of these firms were likely appearing or seeking to appear before the Supreme Court. It’s natural that they’d do anything they felt was necessary to be competitive.”
The complaint, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, accuses the chief justice of failing to acknowledge the full extent of his wife’s work in his ethical disclosures, presenting her as a salaried employee of her firm rather than one who receives commissions from law firms, some of which have cases before the Supreme Court.
Jane Roberts’ placements included at least one firm with a prominent Supreme Court practice, according to the complaint, which also includes sworn testimony from Roberts herself, in which she notes the powerful officials — whose agencies have had frequent cases before her husband — for whom she has worked.
In an analysis filed along with the complaint, Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman writes that “it is plausible that the Chief Justice’s spouse may have leveraged the ‘prestige of judicial office’ to meaningfully raise their household income.”
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.”