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The first of a hard-fought batch of financial disclosure forms for federal judges went up on the Internet Thursday on the financially troubled APBnews.com. Redacted 1998 forms for all nine Supreme Court justices, filed more than a year ago, were the first to be posted on the Internet site, which is being operated by volunteers following an abrupt firing of the staff earlier this month. APBnews brought suit after the federal judiciary denied the news group’s request for the documents for presentation online. The nine forms posted Thursday were among 872 forms turned over to APBnews by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO). Another 800-plus 1998 forms will be released soon as a result of the lawsuit filed by APBnews last December. “This is the first sense of victory we’ve had,” said Mark Zaid of D.C.’s Lobel Novins & Lamont, a lawyer for APBnews. “It’s a victory for government openness and brings the judiciary in line with the other two branches of government.” APBnews’ future, of course, is tenuous. “We are making sure steps will be taken to continue the litigation” no matter what happens to the company, said Zaid. Even if the Web site goes dark, he added, “we will make sure the documents get posted somewhere.” Financial disclosure forms are filed annually by all federal judges, listing most assets and income for the judges and immediate family members. Members of the public can obtain them by requesting them in writing at the AO. But when APBnews first asked for the forms of all 1,600 federal judges last September, with the intention of posting them on the Internet, the judiciary balked, fearing the indiscriminate release would jeopardize the personal safety of judges. After the news organization filed suit, Chief Justice William Rehnquist persuaded the Judicial Conference, the judiciary’s policy-making body, to accommodate the request in a way that would respect judges’ privacy and security concerns. That launched a lengthy process in which judges were given a chance to redact their 1998 forms — some of which had already been edited before they were filed in the first place — before they were released to APBnews. In May, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., sent a letter to the AO asking why the release process was taking so long. On the Web site, the justices’ forms now share screen space with advertisements for e-mailed greeting cards. The justices’ signatures are blacked out — presumably to make forgery more difficult. Notations that certain financial holdings and income should be attributed to spouses are also blacked out, making the forms of bachelor David Souter and widower William Rehnquist the least edited by the justices. But other somewhat personal information — including nonresidence property owned in Iowa by John Paul Stevens and in Massachusetts by Stephen Breyer, for example — remain for all to see. All the redactions that appear in the justices’ forms were present when they were first released more than a year ago, except for one new change for Justice Clarence Thomas. A reference to the names of his wife’s parents, appearing in an entry on a joint real estate partnership, was blacked out in the version released for Internet use.

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