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!

Ralph Waldo Emerson: When you strike at a king you must kill him.

“In a bombshell diversion from his contempt-of-court proceedings, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio testified under oath Thursday that his attorneys had hired a private agent to investigate the wife of the federal judge who ruled that the Sheriff’s Office had engaged in racial profiling.”  Megan Cassidy, Arapio: PI Hired to investigate judge’s wife, The Republic | azcentral.com (April 24, 2015) from How Appealing (April 24, 2015). Sheriff Joe shot at the judge and appears to have missed.

Although somewhat different, this reminds me of the “nuke” dump case where I awarded around $151 million to low level nuclear waste generators against Nebraska because Nebraska had grievously breached the duty of “good faith” under an agreement between states created under the Compact Clause of the Constitution. Entergy Arkansas Nebraska v. Nebraska, 226 F.Supp.2d 1047 (D. Neb. 2002), aff’d 358 F.3d 528 (2004). The decision was wildly unpopular in Nebraska.

During the course of the trial, and pursuant to standard practice, I was informed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts that a reporter from the Nebraska Public Television and Radio system had requested, and was supplied with copies, of my financial disclosure reports that must be filed annually. Since NETV&Radio is an organ of state government, and the State of Nebraska was a defendant, I immediately advised counsel that a representative of Nebraska (or some one closely related to Nebraska) was investigating my financial disclosure reports and that I was aware of such activity. I received no response from the litigants, and the trial proceeded apace.

Since my financial disclosure reports indicate that I have never owned stocks or bonds in any corporations (I was probably the “poorest” judge nominated by Bush 41 and that situation has not changed much), the reporter evidently found nothing of interest. Ironically, the reporter could have gotten my disclosure reports from our Clerk of Court and would I not have been the wiser as I deposit a copy of that report with Clerk and I have instructed her to make copies available to anyone without notice to me.*

Federal judges know that from time to time litigants investigate their backgrounds to find embarrassing information about the judge. It comes with the territory. My only advice about doing so is captured in the title to this post, particularly if you have any reason to think your investigation will become public. Otherwise, you risk the appearance of being both slimy and ham–handed. Not unlike Sheriff Joe.

RGK

*For my most recent financial disclosure report, click here. It is a quick read.

PS. By the way, I love Nebraska Educational TV.  It is my main source of TV viewing, and each year Joan and I contribute a little money to it. That said, and despite rumors to the contrary, we do not watch the Lawrence Welk show when ETV rebroadcasts it.

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