South Dakota 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 South Dakota:

Strengths:

South Dakota received a perfect score for its non-investment income disclosure. Judges file annual disclosures with the Supreme Court and with the secretary of state’s office just before taking their oaths; combined, these agencies seek specific values of any income that judges earn outside of their judicial salaries and the sources of spouses’ and children’s income. The court form also asks for the source, description and value of any gifts received by the justice during the reporting year.

Weaknesses:

Supreme Court justices in South Dakota must reveal only minimal information about their investments. The statewide form, which all elected officials file, only asks for business interests in which a filer or household member controls more than 10 percent of the stock. Such a high threshold shields ownership of most publicly traded stocks — a common cause for recusal in other states — from the public.

Highlights:

South Dakota earned full points for its accountability measures. The secretary of state’s office can fine judges who fail to file, according to Garrett De Vries, the office’s state elections coordinator. If Supreme Court justices — or any public officials — report “fishy” financial interests, De Vries said, the secretary of state can refer them to the state attorney general.