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 Louisiana:
Louisiana reformed many of its ethics rules statewide in 2009, including for the judiciary. Today, the state asks judges to file two additional annual disclosures about gifts and reimbursements for expenses, but judges are only required to file the forms if they received anything that requires reporting. Louisiana also asks for information about the purchase or sale of investments, which is unusual, and asks judges to report dollar values for income earned and properties owned in ranges but not exact amounts.
The rules are vague enough that the disclosure of ownership of “rural properties,” as Justice Jeffrey Victory reported, does not shed any light on potential conflicts of interest. Another part of his 2012 report shows income of between $5,000 and $24,999 in oil and gas royalties but the state does not ask for the source of the payments. Victory told the Center he receives royalties from three companies — one of them energy giant Chesapeake Energy. He said he recuses himself “if anyone is giving me money.” Records show Victory did indeed disqualify himself from a case involving Chesapeake.
The state also seeks information about liabilities, but only when they are greater than $10,000, a higher threshold than many states.
Both Chief Justice Bernette Johnson and Justice Greg Guidry reported receiving paid trips to France from the Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel in 2011 for the group’s annual continuing legal education courses, totaling $9,466 for Johnson and $9,115 for Guidry. In 2010, Guidry also reported receiving a trip worth $3,498 from the defense lawyers group to attend their annual meeting in Buenos Aires. The justices attended those conferences to give talks, which is permitted under Louisiana’s judicial rules as long as the content relates to the legal field, court spokeswoman Valerie Willard said. “The rules don’t make any distinction of who you can or cannot speak to.”