Georgia 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 Georgia:

Strengths:

Georgia is one of 12 states that posts the statements for judges online. Georgia also seeks justices’ household income sources beyond their judicial salaries.

Weaknesses:

The state fails to ask judges about gifts they and their immediate family members receive, trips and meals paid for or conference fees waived. In January, Georgia will begin imposing limits on gifts elected public officials, including judges, can receive from lobbyists, although the gift restrictions have been criticized for having too many loopholes. Judges also do not need to report any household debt. While Georgia requires judges to report the investment interests of their spouses and dependent children, disclosure is only required if the family member owns more than 5 percent of the business, if the value of the investment exceeds $10,000 or if the family member serves as an officer, director or trustee of the business.

Highlights:

In addition to filing financial disclosures , full-time judges must report when they receive compensation for services outside of their judicial duties, such as officiating a wedding or speaking at a law school graduation. However, those reports are kept under seal, “available for inspection only by the Justices of the Supreme Court of Georgia and the members of the Judicial Qualifications Commission,” according to the state’s code of judicial conduct.