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Pennsylvania earns ‘D’ 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 Pennsylvania:

Strengths:

Pennsylvania was one of only eight states to post a passing grade in the Center’s study. The state earned 17 out of 20 points in the gifts/reimbursements category. Judges are required to disclose who gave gifts to them, their spouses or any dependent children and the exact value of the items. The same requirements apply for reimbursements for travel and other expenses, although the state lost points because it does not require judges to provide a description of the reimbursements. Pennsylvania scored 15 out of 20 points in the outside income category because the state requires judges to report their sources of income, including income earned by their spouses. Judges must also report any honoraria they receive. But the Keystone State lost five points because judges aren’t required to report how much income they earn from each source.

Weaknesses:

Judges must disclose real estate interests, but there are no requirements for them to disclose stocks or other investments. Pennsylvania also scored poorly in the liabilities section, because the state requires judges to report only their creditors’ names and the interest rates of their liabilities. The state does not require judges to describe the liability or provide its dollar value.

Highlights:

Justice Seamus McCaffery and his wife, Lisa Rapaport, are reportedly the subject of a federal investigation stemming from referral fees that Rapaport — who works as her husband’s chief aide — accepted from some of the state’s top law firms, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer investigation. McCaffery’s lawyer has told reporters that the referral fees did not violate the state’s judicial codes. McCaffery’s 2012 financial disclosure reveals that his wife earned income from Harrisburg firm Schmidt Kramer and Philadelphia firm Silverman & Fodera while employed by the court. It is not clear how much was earned, though, because the state does not require disclosure of specific amounts or types of income.