Vermont 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 Vermont:

Strengths:

Vermont scored poorly across the board, so it’s hard to find many bright spots in the state’s financial disclosure requirements. But the state did earn points for requiring judges to report exact dollar amounts when disclosing gifts and compensation. In the gift category, specifically, Vermont scored 7 out of 10 points. Judges must report the source and dollar value of gifts they or their family members receive, but they need not describe what they received.

Weaknesses:

Vermont earned no points in the liabilities category, because it does not require judges to report their creditors. The state received only half credit in the outside income section because judges only have to report details of their own compensation, not income earned by their spouses. When reporting investments, judges also aren’t required to report stocks and other investments held by their family members. Nor do they have to report investment transactions or the value of each investment. Vermont’s financial disclosure forms include a section where judges must report reimbursements they have received, but the state earned zero points in the reimbursements section because judges only have to disclose reimbursements “in excess of actual cost.” The form’s language, the Center concluded, effectively makes those disclosures gifts, not reimbursements.

Highlights:

Vermont’s tiny population — just over 626,000 people — makes ethically compromising personal ties more likely for the state’s five Supreme Court justices than in bigger states. In 2005, all five members had to recuse themselves from a suit that Justice John Dooley and his wife brought against a land developer over a planned multiphase housing complex that allegedly would have obstructed the couple’s alpine view from their South Burlington home.