South Carolina 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 South Carolina:

Strengths:

South Carolina is one of two states that achieved a perfect score for its gift and travel reimbursement disclosure. When reporting gifts, South Carolina’s Supreme Court jurists must disclose the donors, descriptions of the gift, the values and the dates they or their family members accepted the items.

Weaknesses:

The Palmetto State is one of 10 that fail to ask Supreme Court justices about their investments. Judges need not report any information about their financial liabilities, or the employment of their spouses.

Highlights:

In addition to the court system’s annual disclosure, South Carolina’s Supreme Court justices must complete the state Ethics Commission’s more thorough financial interest form. But justices must only complete that more comprehensive disclosure — which asks for specific values and addresses of real estate and government income — when they are up for election and screened every 10 years by a separate committee, according to Cathy Hazelwood, general counsel to the South Carolina Ethics Commission. The Center did not give South Carolina credit for the disclosure because the screening committee’s records aren’t filed annually and are largely unavailable to the public. To date, the ethics commission retains the form for only one sitting justice, Kaye Hearn, which Hazelwood did provide to the Center.