Florida 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 Florida:

Strengths:

Florida, whose judges file the same financial disclosure reports as other state public officials, earned credit for requiring judges to report specific dollar amounts in various sections of its forms, a level of detail uncommon among other states. When reporting income, judges can either fill out sections of the disclosure asking for the source of income exceeding $1,000, as well as the exact amount, or they can attach a copy of their federal income tax return with their financial disclosure.

Weaknesses:

Florida lost points in most grading categories because it does not make judges disclose information about the financial interests of their spouses or children. The Sunshine State scored the lowest — 3.5 out of 20 possible points — in the section on gifts and reimbursements. The state does not require judges to report when they are reimbursed for travel, food and other expenses. As stipulated in Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are required to file additional financial disclosure reports with the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, disclosing the names of any businesses in which they have a financial interest. Those forms are kept sealed, though, except in certain circumstances when they may be reviewed by parties to a case.

Highlights:

Florida is the only state that requires judges to calculate their net worth on their financial disclosure filings. Included in the net worth calculation is the aggregate value of “household goods and personal effects,” such as jewelry, art and vehicles. Justice Barbara Pariente, with a 2012 net worth totaling more than $3.6 million, is the wealthiest of Florida’s seven Supreme Court justices. Justice Charles Canady reported a net worth of nearly $475,000, making him the least wealthy justice on the bench.