Report Blasts Financial Disclosure Rules For Judges

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Administrators of the Connecticut Judicial Branch were quick to point out flaws with the study, insisting that adequate rules of judicial conduct are in place to avoid what the center referred to as "questionable gifts and entanglements" of sitting judges.

"The grade given to Connecticut by the Center for Public Integrity fails to take into account that Connecticut judges have strict rules that govern their conduct," Carroll said.

"The Code of Judicial Conduct makes it very clear that judges must recuse themselves in any proceeding in which his or her impartiality might reasonably be questioned, for whatever reason, including financial interest," Carroll said. "And Connecticut's judges adhere to this rule."

On the Center for Public Integrity's website, the organization is described as "a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization." In a mission statement, its goal is "to serve democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions, using tools of investigative journalism."

Chris Young, a reporter with the Washington, D.C.-based center, said he and his colleagues pursued the project to look at the personal financial records of the nation's top judges "because nobody had really done it before."

"We wanted to take a closer look at how the disclosures are used in each of the states," he explained. They came up with a grading system, in which points were assessed for how much information was required for investments.

As a result of the broad financial disclosure rules for federal judges, the center gave the federal courts 84 out of 100 possible points, for a grade of "B." The 16 points docked were due to the fact that financial information for federal judges is not available online, and because exact amounts of their investments are not required.

When it came to the disclosure rules for the states, Young said, "it was practically impossible to glean any meaningful information from judges financial disclosures."

The center identified 14 instances in the past three years of various state supreme court justices participating in cases involving companies whose stock they or their spouses owned. None of those cases involved Connecticut justices.

Like federal jurists, state judges are permitted to own stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate and other investments. But state codes of conduct, modeled after American Bar Association guidelines, advise judges to manage their investment portfolios to avoid frequent recusals and limit their business associations with people who are likely to end up appearing in the judges' courtrooms.

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