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 York:
New York asks for detailed information about the financial interests of the judiciary, including for its highest court, known as the Court of Appeals. (Unlike other states, what is called the Supreme Court in New York is actually a trial-level court with branches in each county.) The state requires judges to report how much income they earned from investments — such as rents, dividends or property sales — not just the name of the investment.
While New York asks judges to disclose such extensive information about their financial interests, it does not require all of that information to be publicly reported. The state redacts all dollar values, whether reported as actual amounts or in ranges, from the reports made publicly available. The Center did not give credit for such disclosures because they are not made public. The state also has one of the loosest standards for when judges need to report gifts: it asks for information only on items worth more than $1,000.
The rules for real estate disclosures are limited. For example, judges are not required to list ownership of a “secondary personal” home unless it is jointly owned with someone who is not a relative. Only two of the state’s seven high court judges reported owning any real estate by that measure in their 2012 filings.