Washington earns ‘D’ 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 Washington:

Strengths:

Washington, which boasts the third-highest score, attaches strong enforcement measures to its financial disclosure rules: judges can face civil, and potentially criminal, penalties for violating reporting rules. The Evergreen State also requires judges to disclose household income sources beyond their government salaries. Judges who own 10 percent or more in a business must report extensive information about such interests, including payments from government agencies and names of customers who generate more than $10,000 in income. Though the state fails to ask for the exact dollar values associated with various assets, judges must report such values in ranges. Washington’s five-tier value ranges are narrower — and subsequently more transparent — than in most other states.

Weaknesses:

Washington fails to ask judges about the gifts they and their immediate family members receive. The state seeks more detailed investment information than many other states but it doesn’t require judges to report investment transactions.

Highlights:

Though Washington fails to ask members of its highest court to disclose gifts, the state restricts all public officials from accepting gifts worth more than $50. Allowable gifts could include floral arrangements, plaques and trophies, according to Andrea McNamara Doyle, executive director of the state’s public disclosure commission. In a letter to the Center, Doyle wrote that disclosure of such low-value gifts is “arguably unnecessary” and felt it “hardly seems to merit a significant downgrading of disclosures systems that do not require the reporting of these de minimis items.” Still, Washington judges could receive “unsolicited tokens or awards of appreciation” worth more than $50 yet still not have to report them.