Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island:

Strengths:

Rhode Island won full credit for its non-investment income disclosure requirements for Supreme Court justices. The high court’s jurists must file two forms — one with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission and another with the court itself — which ask for information about spouses’ income sources and the gift and travel reimbursements judges receive each year. Rhode Island also boasts strong accountability measures; judges who report incomplete or inaccurate statements are subject to fines and perjury charges.

Weaknesses:

The ethics commission asks five different questions about the business interests of a public official and his or her family, but only for investments valued at $5,000 or more. Additionally, no description or specific value of a judge’s investments need be disclosed — only the name of the business.

Highlights:

Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg is married to Robert Goldberg, former Republican state Senate minority leader and one of the state’s top lobbyists. Robert Goldberg reported lobbying fees of at least $765,000 in 2012, according to Rhode Island Secretary of State filings. His top clients were GTECH, a lottery and online gambling company based in Providence, and drugstore giant CVS Caremark, also headquartered in the state. Rhode Island’s rules of judicial conduct require justices to disqualify themselves from participating in cases where a spouse has a financial interest. “Justice Goldberg and her husband are both keenly aware of the other’s position and how appearances are important,” court spokesman Craig Berke told the Center.