Nebraska 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 Nebraska:

Strengths:

The state, tied with South Dakota in 27th place, asks judges to disclose gifts and compensation for performing any marriages. They also must report other gifts or reimbursements of expenses, a feature that the Supreme Court justices use frequently. Six of the seven justices reported trips to conferences paid by outside groups.

Weaknesses:

Despite asking for information about gifts, the state does not require judges to disclose the value of the gifts they receive. The state also does not ask for information about the financial interests of the judge’s spouse or dependent children except for their debts. Even then they are not required to report most mortgages or credit card debt if the loans were made on the same terms available to those who are not judges.

Highlights:

Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman ruled in at least three cases involving companies in which she owned stock. It is not clear how big her financial stake was in each company, as Nebraska does not ask for that information. But they were worth at least $1,000, the threshold the state requires for reporting the holdings. The decisions she participated in, though, were not uniformly in line with her financial interests. Miller-Lerman did not return multiple calls for comment.

In 2010, she reported owning Deutsche Bank stock and ruled in favor of the bank when affirming a lower court’s opinion in a case involving a foreclosure.

Last year, she ruled against United Parcel Service in a case about an injured worker, despite reporting ownership of the shipping company’s stock in 2012.

In 2011, she reported owning Union Pacific Corp. stock yet ruled on a case involving the railroad, which was sued by the mother of a 13-year-old killed by a train. She and the court reversed part of the decision in favor of the mother, despite the ownership interest, yet also affirmed part of the case in favor of the railroad.