Mississippi 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 Mississippi:

Strengths:

Mississippi posts financial disclosures online, one of just 12 states to make at least some of its reports easily accessible.

Weaknesses:

Despite a bribery scandal in 2008 and 2009 involving lower court judges, the state has not tightened its disclosure rules. Currently, the state has rules limiting the ability of public officials to accept gifts but no outright gift ban and Mississippi does not seek any disclosure of gifts received. It also does not ask judges to list liabilities owed or real estate owned. In a few cases, though, it is clear that justices do hold real estate investments of some kind because Justices James Kitchens and William Waller both listed ownership of real estate holding companies.

Highlights:

The two-page financial disclosures do not shed much light on the justices, which is too bad. It might make them more interesting. Justice Jess Dickinson is a bluegrass musician who sells dulcimers on the side, and Justice Randy “Bubba” Pierce is a novelist, according to his online court biography.