Kings and Queens and Financial Disclosure Reports

The time has come when the judges and Justices of the federal courts should make their financial disclosure reports easily and publicly available at the time of filing. As things stand now, if you are a reporter or just an ordinary citizen you have to make a request to Washington for a copy of the report. Then the judge who is the subject of report is notified. And sometime later you, the reporter or citizen, will get a copy.

We judges and Justices can make things easier. When we file, we can post our reports on our courts’ external web sites. Redactions can be made if necessary for security purposes. That happens now anyway. But I see no reason we as judges and Justices can’t make life easier for those who wish to see our reports.

I am tired of, and annoyed by, the bureaucratic hassle and delay we impose on reporters and the public now. There is no good reason for it. Mark Sherman of the Associated Press rightfully complains that 5 Weeks After Filing, Justices’ Finances Still Not Public, AP (June 24, 2015).* Mr. Sherman is right to bitch, and we have it in our power to avoid bad publicity by simply uploading our reports to our web sites on the day we file them. Easy. For example, see here.

We aren’t kings and queens, and we ought to stop acting like we are special. Most important to me, and like other inquiring minds, I want to know the financial details of the Austrian gig that my friend Tony enjoys each year. See, e.g.Justice Kennedy to Teach in Summer Salzburg Program, McGeorge School of Law (March 12, 2015). I doubt the accommodations mimic solitary confinement.

RGK

* A tip of my STFU cap to Brother Bashman at How Appealing. Indeed, Howard Bashman warrants high praise for providing us with a wide array of legal news in a timely fashion. Howard’s site is an absolute treasure!

14 responses

  1. Judges’ and Justices’ extracurricular junkets ought to be disclosed the moment they are booked, including a full itinerary, the location, and the cost of airfare, meals and lodging, and the posting of videos of any presentations given and especially, who is paying the freight. As many other Americans work under the watchful eye of video cameras every day, it is not an unreasonable imposition.

    A case in point is when, while the Court was in session and we were paying his salary, Scalia took a nine-day vacation halfway around the world. Antonin Scalia, Form AO-10 (2004) at 4 (attending conference in Auckland, NZ, Oct. 19-27, 2004). You know he didn’t fly coach. You know he didn’t speak for nine days straight. Who picked up the tab? He has three months’ vacation already. Why does he get an extra week?

    And then, there is the problem of Scalia and Thomas doing fundraisers. PoliticsUSA reports:

    For three years, at least, there have been nagging questions about Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia’s close ties to right-wing organizations and their funding mechanism the Koch Brothers, but without a rigorous code of ethics in place there was little chance they would be held to account for, or forced to stop, using their positions on the Court to promote the Koch brothers’ right-wing agenda. Two days ago, Clarence Thomas was at it again when he appeared at a Federalist Society “fundraiser” as a featured speaker that two other High Court justices, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito also attended. It is a violation of Canon 4C of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges who are forbidden from being “a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program” of a fundraising event, but because Thomas, a federal judge, sits on the nation’s highest court he is exempt, apparently, from adhering to any code of conduct. Just when it appeared no-one in a position of authority would take action and demand Thomas be held accountable for his recurring ethical violations, a lone elected representative once again spoke out for the American people.

    Who paid for Scalia’s trip to meet with the Queen? Who arranged his audience with the Pope? When are the Justices working on their own, and when are they writing books and speeches? I want time clocks. I want video in chambers. All speeches they give should be open to the public and videotaped. They work for me, rather than the other way around, and I want accountability.

    I wouldn’t be so anal about it, except that they have abused our trust so often in the past.

  2. You state: “I want video in chambers.” What a ridiculous comment. You want to be taken seriously and make a comment like that? Ha! You are ‘anal’ alright – some of us out here are thinking of a descriptive street term.

  3. I want accountability. I want transparency. If my boss has the legal right to watch every move I make on video camera and use that video to manufacture grounds for my dismissal, why do I, as their boss, not have the right to watch every move they make?

    But they’re “thhhhhpecial,” right? Make the case.

    What’s good for me should be good for them. We CAN make it a condition of their employment. We might even get coherent court decisions for a change.

  4. The comment on Kennedy teaching in Europe, which he has done for years, is infantile twaddle. What possible relevance does his accommodations have to anything. You pander to the nut cases and then banish them when they visit the same nonsense on the lower courts. Transparency is not the issue. People dislike or do not understand outcomes and are angry. No amount of financial disclosure will change that, because it will not change the unhappiness and misunderstanding. What Scalia and Thomas do maybe imprudent but it is not secret. In seeming to agree with you Anonymous in fact demonstrates that results are the issue. The opinions are there to read, he just does not like them. If you were Irish I would think Kennedy was the grudge.

  5. Yes but make it simple: income; amount and source. Stock and real estate ownership. Bond ownership except for U.S. Debt; bonds, bills and notes etc.

  6. “Infantile twaddle?” Perhaps you are right and I took a cheap shot. I confess that my Id and Ego are sometimes more powerful than my Super Ego.

    All the best.

    RGK

  7. It’s an absolutely egregious breach of ethics that the AO informs judges of when their financial disclosures are requested. The AO should not be acting as a judicial Stasi.

    All disclosures should be provided in machine-readable electronic format.

    Until the AO gets its head out of the East German sand, I will be starting to post judge disclosures on PlainSite (http://www.plainsite.org) where people can actually find them for free.

    Also, Judge, if you’re for free judicial disclosures, why not take the next logical step and advocate for your decisions and all legal documents on PACER (and in state courts) to be freely available as well? (I know, I know, decisions are already free. Except that’s a lie. Maybe 20% are marked properly in PACER, and it varies depending on the court and a judge.)

  8. Judge, my wife prevents me from allowing my grudge to show in public but as memory fades it shines more brightly. Your unfiltered approach will produce some excess but the rest is worth the price of admission.

  9. Alan,

    I am a big proponent of providing all documents on PACER (CM/ECF) to a member of public who seeks them at a cost equal to the cost of making them available. At present, that is not the case. If I were the Czar, I would make the change.

    All the best.

    RGK

  10. In light of today’s decusion on the ACA I fully expect CJ Roberts to make a number of well paid speeches to the insurance and hospital industry.

    The Clintons did it. Why not Roberts?

    The pay is better than umping.

  11. Rather unfair. Despite Scalia’s partisan screed, in the first ACA case a number of prominent conservative Con Law types predicted survival as a tax well in advance of the decision, and in this case the idea that interpretation the light of the whole text and not a fragment in isolation is fairly elementary law, though it does require effort.

  12. Applesauce futures. That’s what I want disclosed. Lord knows how much jiggery-pokery, higgity-piggity, zippery-zappery or HORRORS OF HORRORS!, slipperly-sloperly could be going on if the public doesn’t know about judges and their applesauce futures.

    On the other hand, since the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are, apparently, rapidly becoming deranged senile celebri-taints, does disclosure over what they spend on wine, Ensure and Depends really matter?

    But on the positive side, we’ll have a Ben and Jerry’s flavor named after a Justice and that’s immortal…well, until a marketing survey (or another Justice) can’t answer the question, “Who in the hell is Ruth Bladder Goldberg?”. The legal system is so, so, so, so very fucked…

  13. The masses are angry because the decisions seem irrational. I am furious because I know how poorly they are crafted.

    Transparency IS the issue. When judges dismiss valid cases because they can, and do so because “I said so, damnit!”, the system loses its legitimacy.

    Once the common people see the one-page summaries federal appellate judges (never mind SCOTUS) scarcely glance at when they issue opinions written by law students that were never even proof-read, their average life expectancy could begin to be measured in weeks, and justifiably so.

%d bloggers like this: