Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma:

Strengths:

Despite its failing grade, at least in some areas, Oklahoma asks its Supreme Court justices to disclose income information in detail. Judges must separately report government and non-government income, including income earned by their spouses. The form also asks for the mailing address of the employer, identifying information that many states do not require.

Weaknesses:

Oklahoma’s meager investment and liability disclosure contributed to its failing score. The state ethics commission requires only that the names of financial instruments worth $5,000 or more be disclosed, leaving real estate investments and securities below that value threshold a mystery. Judges are not asked to disclose any liability information. Additionally, Oklahoma does not require judges to report the gifts they receive. But the Oklahoma Ethics Commission does prohibit judges from accepting gifts above $100 from donors with economic interests before the court.

Highlights:

When asked about his state’s failing grade, Oklahoma Justice Steven Taylor said he would support more rigorous financial disclosure requirements for his court and had no objection to filling out a more detailed form. “If that federal disclosure form became our disclosure form tomorrow, it’d be fine with me,” Taylor told the Center. “The more info people know about us, the better off we are.”

The Center based its grading criteria largely on the form that federal judges are required to file, however, that form has some shortcomings. Investment values are reported in a wide range and the forms are only available through a written, mailed request.