Colorado earns ‘D’ for judicial financial disclosure

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 Updated:

F

The Center for Public Integrity evaluated the disclosure rules for judges in the highest state courts nationwide. The level of disclosure in the 50 states and the District of Columbia was poor, with 43 receiving failing grades, making it difficult for the public to identify potential conflicts of interest on the bench. Despite the lack of information in the public records, the Center’s investigation found nearly three dozen conflicts, questionable gifts and entanglements among top judges around the country. Here’s what the Center found in Colorado:

Strengths:

Colorado, one of just eight states to earn a passing grade, requires judges to report the source of income earned by themselves, their spouses and their minor children. Judges must also name any businesses in which they, their spouse or their minor children have a financial interest of more than $5,000. When it comes to reporting gifts, Colorado goes above and beyond annual reporting requirements, requiring instead that judges file quarterly reports detailing gifts, honoraria and other benefits they receive. The gift reports are posted online for public inspection.

Weaknesses:

Colorado doesn’t require judges to report how much money they or their family members earn from investments. Nor are they required to report the value of their assets, either in exact amounts or in ranges. Similarly, when reporting liabilities, judges must disclose the name of the creditor to whom they or their family members owe more than $1,000, as well as the interest rate. But they do not have to report how much they owe, either in exact amounts or ranges. Another problem is that the state requires judges to file three different financial disclosure forms, complicating the reporting process for judges and the reviewing process for the public. Two reports — the annual statement of financial interest and the quarterly gift disclosures — are filed with the Secretary of State’s office, while a third report disclosing income earned beyond judges’ judicial salaries is filed with the state Supreme Court. Unlike the gift reports, the two other financial disclosures are not posted online.

Highlights:

In October 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled on a class-action case involving Unocal Corp., a subsidiary of Chevron, which was accused of contaminating Colorado landowners’ property with asbestos after the company removed an oil pipeline from the ground. In 2011, according to Justice Michael Bender’s financial disclosure, Bender’s wife earned royalty interest from Chevron, the parent company of Unocal. Similarly, Justice Nathan Coats’ 2011 disclosure shows that his spouse also earned income from Chevron. Both ruled with the majority in the case — in favor of the landowners. Colorado’s Code of Judicial Conduct advises judges to disqualify themselves from ruling on cases where they have a financial interest in one of the parties. Through a court spokesman, both Bender and Coats declined to comment.