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 Iowa:
It’s tough to find any strengths in Iowa’s financial disclosure requirements. The state, according to The Center for Public Integrity’s grading system, ties for fourth from the bottom. However, it does require that judges disclose some information about their investments and income earned beyond their judicial salaries.
Iowa lost 40 points for not requiring judges to report gifts, reimbursements or liabilities. Although judges don’t have to disclose gifts, the state prohibits them from accepting gifts from certain people, particularly parties in cases pending before them, and imposes some restrictions to what they can receive. But the judicial ethics rules have loopholes. For example, judges are allowed to receive gifts worth any amount on their wedding or 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries. Iowa scored just 2.5 out of 20 possible points in the investments category. The state does not require judges to report investment transactions or the amount of income earned from investments. Judges do not have to disclose any information about their family members in their annual financial disclosures.
Iowa’s real estate reporting requirements are particularly poor. When disclosing their real estate interests, judges are only required to report “the nature of real estate that generated more than $1,000 in annual gross income.” The form instructions state that they should not list “the location, address, or legal description of the property.” Justice Daryl Hecht’s 2012 financial disclosure is evidence of those unspecific reporting requirements. Under the real estate section of his form, he states: “Farm real estate.”