Center wins first Pulitzer!

Black lung investigation honored

Get more award-winning investigations:

District of Columbia earns ‘F’ for judicial financial disclosure

By

 Updated:

y

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 District of Columbia:

Strengths:

The District of Columbia’s Court of Appeals — D.C.’s highest court — has fairly extensive financial disclosure requirements compared with most states. Judges must disclose income they receive outside their judicial salaries, as well as investments and gifts, on their annual financial disclosure forms.

Weaknesses:

The problem: Most of what the District’s judges report is concealed from the public. In fact, only two of the disclosure form’s 10 sections — “Business and Charitable Affiliations” and “Honorarium” — are open for public inspection. The rest is kept confidential and only reviewed internally by the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, an agency in charge of disciplining judges. As a result, D.C. tied for the lowest score out of the states that require some kind of financial disclosure from their top justices.

Highlights:

If D.C. released the entirety of its judges’ financial interest reports, the District would score a 65 instead of a 15, raising its grade to a D and ranking it among the top five states, according to the Center’s grading system. The disclosure reports that judges file with the Commission include exactly how much money judges earn from investments and employment. They also require judges to report the estimated value of gifts and the amount they owe their creditors.