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Nevada 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 Nevada:

Strengths:

Nevada is one of just 12 states that puts at least some of its financial disclosures for its Supreme Court justices online. The Administrative Office of the Courts began posting justices’ 2012 financial disclosure reports in August. The Nevada Commission on Ethics has some older files online but is no longer required to post them. The latest filings can be found at the bottom of the justices’ online biographies, which also include a link to the secretary of state’s office, where separate campaign finance disclosures are filed. Caren Cafferata-Jenkins, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Ethics, said such forms should be located together, because it helps make the forms easier to cross-reference for possible conflicts of interest.

Weaknesses:

After The Los Angeles Times ran a damning three-part series in 2006 that found multiple cases in which Nevada judges awarded lucrative judgments to friends and former clients, the state formed a commission to reform the judiciary. But today the financial disclosures are less thorough than they were three years ago. The state no longer seeks information about judges’ debts, investments in real estate or businesses. The two-page forms do not seek information on gifts given to spouses, though in 2010 they used to ask for such information for any family members living in the household. Had the state kept the format of its old forms, it would have earned a D, with 68 points. The score has dropped to a failing grade under the new requirements.

Highlights:

In 2012, Justice Ron Parraguirre reported receiving a $250 gift from Be-Be Adams related to a Juvenile Diabetes Research gala. Adams is a registered lobbyist for Barrick Gold of North America. Less than two months later, the court received a case that is still pending, involving one of the company's mines. His assistant, Roxanne Doyle, told the Center there was no conflict with the gift. “That information was disclosed pursuant to the rules,” she said. “It has no effect on his rulings.”

Justice Mark Gibbons’ wife, Sandra Gibbons, was listed in his 2010 filings as a court reporter who earned “income from various law firms, insurance companies and Capitol Reporters." The firms who paid her were not detailed. Gibbons ruled on three cases that involved Capitol Reporters and recused himself from a fourth case, court records show.

Gerri Biegler, Gibbons’ assistant, said that Sandra Gibbons is an independent certified court reporter who was hired on occasion by Capitol Reporters but has no direct or indirect ownership interest in the company. She said Sandra Gibbons had nothing to do with the three cases that her husband ruled on and he recused himself from the fourth case for an unrelated reason. “To the best of his knowledge, none of the other deposition transcripts prepared by Sandra Gibbons for law firms or insurance companies have been the subject of appeals to the Nevada Supreme Court,” Biegler said.