New Jersey 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 New Jersey:

Strengths:

New Jersey is one of the few states to seek financial information about both the judge’s spouse and dependent children for all questions on its forms. The state also has a three-member advisory committee to respond to inquiries from judges about how to interpret the judicial financial reporting requirements.

Weaknesses:

Similar to 11 other states, the Garden State has a self-policing form of oversight, with the Supreme Court having ultimate say in disciplinary matters of judges even if a justice is involved. Furthermore, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct must ask permission of the Supreme Court to investigate if a Supreme Court member’s ethics are questioned. Still, the court has done so, disciplining one of its own. In 2007, the justices censured fellow justice Roberto Rivera-Soto after the ethical conduct committee found he had improperly used his standing in a legal dispute involving his son and a high school classmate. He continued to serve on the bench until 2011. The state also does not seek any information about judges’ financial liabilities. New Jersey has one of the highest reporting thresholds for gifts. Judges only have to disclose gifts worth more than $1,000 without specifying their exact value.

Highlights:

The state asks for the disclosure of real estate holdings, but with a caveat: It primarily seeks information about real estate situated in Atlantic City — and only for properties that are not the judges’ primary residences. Atlantic City, with just 10.75 square-miles of land, represents less than 0.2 percent of all the land in the state. The forms also ask for rental income information, regardless of the location of the property.

This summary has been updated to reflect state requirements for disclosure of rental income.