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 Alaska:
Alaska, ranked 10th, requires judges to disclose not only their own financial interests, but also the financial interests of their spouses/domestic partners and children. Judges must report the source of any gift worth more than $250, as well as a description of each gift. However, the state lost points because it requires gift values to be reported only in dollar ranges, rather than in exact amounts. The same reporting requirements apply for disclosing reimbursements of travel, meals and other expenses. The state earned full credit in the accountability category because judges who fail to file, or who knowingly file false or misleading disclosures, can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Alaska seeks little information about a judge’s financial liabilities. Judges report only the names of their creditors. But they don’t have to report how much they owe. The state also lost points for making judges report their income in broad ranges rather than in exact dollar amounts. But that wasn’t always the case. As recently as 2010, judges had to disclose their income in exact amounts. However, Jerry Anderson of the Alaska Public Offices Commission said the state changed to dollar ranges starting in 2011 after officials raised concerns that reporting specific amounts might force officials to reveal “proprietary bidding” pricing for certain jobs.
Rich with oil and natural gas, the state includes a section on its financial disclosure forms for judges and other public officials to report any natural resource leases they hold. Officials must report mineral, timber, oil and gas leases. Additionally, judges are required to disclose any “close economic associations” they may have with legislators, other public officials and lobbyists.