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Maine earns ‘F’ for judicial financial disclosure

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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 Maine:

Strengths:

Tied for 11th place with Kansas, Maine scored well relative to other states largely because it asks for the same information about spouses and dependent children as it does for judges. It also asks for information about any pending litigation in which the judge may be involved.

Weaknesses:

Maine asks for limited information about assets and liabilities, essentially only seeking the name and description but no value or transaction information. The state asks for information about gifts and reimbursed expenses but fails to ask for the value. Justice Warren Silver, for example, did not have to report the value of private jet flights from Maine to Florida he and his wife accepted as gifts from author Stephen King, a friend and former client of the justice.

Highlights:

Justice Silver’s wife held about $28,300 in Idexx Lab stock in 2012, but the justice ruled on a case involving the company in a land dispute with its neighbors, Pike Industries Inc. v. City of Westbrook et al. After a disagreement between Pike, a quarry operator, and Idexx, the two sides and the city of Westbrook came up with an agreement to allow Pike’s ongoing quarrying to be grandfathered in under existing zoning laws if it met certain conditions. But other neighboring businesses challenged the agreement. The court took the side of Pike Industries and Idexx. Pike continues to use the quarry as agreed to in a consent decree. But the court said the city had no ability to enforce the agreement and sent the case back to lower courts to resolve.

“At the time that I made the ruling, I didn’t even realize she owned the Idexx stock,” Silver told the Center. “If I had realized it at the time, I would have recused myself.”

He said he noticed the ownership stake only when he filled out his disclosure forms. (He was not required to disclose the value of the holding but included the number of shares held anyway.) He said the stock ownership didn’t make a difference in his decision, especially given that he didn’t know he had a financial interest at the time. And because the case was ultimately a zoning question, he said he wasn’t sure how it impacted Idexx’s business. Still, he said, “It was a total oversight on my part.” Since the incident, he said he now monitors both his and his wife’s stock investments.