The amount of information disclosed to the public about the finances of District of Columbia judges is under review.
The District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure had a “thoughtful discussion” about the amount of information made public from judges’ annual financial reports during its meeting on Jan. 8, according to executive director Cathaee Hudgins.
The review was prompted by a recent report by the Center for Public Integrity grading states on how much financial information state high court judges must disclose to the public. The District of Columbia received an “F.” The center first reported the discussion by the commission.
The 1970 federal law creating the local court system in Washington required judges of the D.C. Superior Court and Court of Appeals to file annual reports disclosing a substantial amount of financial information each year. Most of it remains confidential, however.
The public sections of the reports filed by D.C. judges don’t include information on income, investments, liabilities, gifts or expense reimbursements. What the public can see are the judges’ affiliations with private organizations, charities and businesses, and honorariums received in excess of $300.
The seven-member commission, chaired by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, is conducting “fact-finding” and didn’t decide whether to recommend changing how much information is made public, Hudgins said. Congress would ultimately be responsible for changing the rules.
Hudgins said the commission members reviewed how California and Maryland handled judges’ financial reports. Both states received a “C” in the Center for Public Integrity’s report, the highest of any state. The federal judiciary received a “B.”
“I don’t think that [commission members] are opposed to continuing the discussion, but there was certainly no vote taken or decision made as to how they want to proceed,” Hudgins said.
If the commission members decided to formally make recommendations to Congress, Hudgins said, it would be the first time that’s happened since the commission’s inception.
As previously reported by The National Law Journal, congressional records show the rules were modeled after disclosure requirements in place at that time for the U.S. Senate. The Senate eventually opened up its financial reports to greater public scrutiny, but never changed the disclosure rules for the D.C. courts.