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Delays plague US judiciary's financial disclosure database



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Federal judicial financial disclosure database lacks many reports still

Judiciary cites additional workload for delays

Updates paragraph 8 with new data on disclosure reports

By Nate Raymond

Nov 7 (Reuters) -A new online database of federal judges' financial disclosure reports has been plagued in the year since its launch by delays in the filings being made public, hampering a tool meant to bring greater transparency to the courts.

Tuesday marks one year since the judiciary unveiled the database, which was mandated by a bipartisan bill in Congress aimed at making it easier for the public to see if a judge has a financial conflict of interest warranting his or her recusal from a case.

The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act was prompted by a Wall Street Journal report in 2021 that more than 130 federal judges had failed to recuse themselves from cases involving companies in which they or their family members owned stock.

The law, which President Joe Biden signed in May 2022, requires judges to report any stock trades of more than $1,000 within 45 days, rather than just in their annual disclosure reports.

Reports, including annual financial disclosures judges already were required to submit, must now under the law be posted publicly within 90 days of being filed.

Yet an analysis by the judicial reform advocacy group Fix the Court found that hundreds of disclosure reports are still not online in the database the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts was mandated by the law to set up.

"The database is not where it needs to be," said Gabe Roth, Fix the Court's founder.

Around 2,500 federal judges and U.S. Supreme Court justices are required to file annual disclosure reports. Yet as of Tuesday, the database contained only 1,138 annual reports for 2022 and 1,943 for 2021, according to Fix the Court.

While 600 periodic stock trade reports are in the database for 2022, only about 40 stock trade reports in 2023 had been posted by the end of October, Fix the Court said.

The Administrative Office said in a statement that it was "in the process of increasing timely public access to judges’ financial disclosure reports" and was processing them as quickly as possible.

But it said processing the new reports and establishing the database had resulted in a "significant additional workload."

The judiciary received additional funding for the 2023 fiscal year that allowed it to hire more staff to implement the new law, and it is seeking another $297,000 for 2024 to support 10 staffers focused on financial disclosures.

Sarah Turberville of the independent watchdog group Project on Government Oversight in an email said that while she was sure implementing the new law had challenges, the judiciary had demonstrated "continued resistance to scrutiny."

"I think that if the judiciary was truly committed to complying with the new disclosure regime recently signed into law, we would not see this kind of lag," she said.

U.S. Representative Deborah Ross, a North Carolina Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said she would work with her colleagues in Congress "to address any lingering issues with ensuring that the database operates as intended."

"While I have been assured that this is the result of staffing shortages, I am working to ensure that the AO is adequately prioritizing compliance with this new law," she said in a statement.


Read more:

U.S. judiciary launches online database of judges' financial disclosures

U.S. judiciary warns judges of security risks from new financial disclosure system

Congress approves tougher financial disclosure rules for U.S. judges


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