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 Kansas:
Kansas fell only two points short of earning a “D” for its financial disclosure requirements. Compared with other states, Kansas requires fairly detailed reporting of income, gifts, travel and conference reimbursements and personal liability information. The state’s requirement that judges report financial information about their family members bolstered its score. Kansas scored better than most states in the liabilities category because judges must describe each liability and disclose the name of each creditor.
Judges on Kansas’ highest court need to report little about their personal investments. Judges are not required to report investment income. Nor are they asked to disclose the value of their investments or report any transactions made during the reporting year. Also, Kansas’ reporting threshold for liabilities is fairly high compared to other states. Judges only have to list creditors to whom they or their family members owed more than $10,000 at any time during the reporting period. The state does not require judges to report how much they owe their creditors, either in exact amounts or ranges.
Kansas is one of many states that do not require judges to disclose when they acquire and dispose of investments, making it difficult to determine if a judge owned a particular stock when the company appeared before the judge in court. Marla Luckert’s 2012 financial disclosure, for example, shows she and her husband were shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway in 2012, suggesting that she should not have authored a court opinion involving a subsidiary of the company. But Luckert said the Supreme Court ruled on the case in May 2012 and she and her husband did not acquire the shares until August.