By Kiran Chawla | WAFB9 | January 28, 2020
For the first time, forms filed by Louisiana judges that show their income from the bench as well as any side businesses will be made publicly available through an online database.
Previously, the forms were only accessible through public records requests filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court’s judicial administrator. Rafael Goyeneche, president of a Louisiana watchdog group called the Metropolitan Crime Commission, took issue with that process.
“I have spoken to attorneys that did not know the judges produced annual financial disclosure forms and I suspect that most citizens don’t know the judges do it, and if they do know it, most people do not know how to obtain it,” said Goyeneche.
Goyeneche says because the Louisiana Board of Ethics provides online access to all financial disclosures required of elected officials and public servants serving on boards and commissions, rules allowing the judiciary to be an exception are a “disservice” to the public.
“This is a symptom of the judges considering themselves different than other elected officials and I think that undermines public confidence in the judiciary,” said Goyeneche.
When asked if he thinks judges have the ability to change lives in ways similar to other elected officials, Goyeneche argued, “sheriffs, [district attorneys], legislators, the governor, they all have the ability to change lives. That’s why the legislature enacted [financial disclosure requirements]. That’s why other states publish online all of their financial disclosures, including the judiciary.”
Goyeneche further argues the potential for retaliation from judges who are made aware their finances are being reviewed, in addition to the often lengthy and expensive process of getting public records, create barriers that prevent accountability in the judiciary.
The information included in the reports, Goyeneche says, could prove vital to ensuring members of the public receive a fair hearing. The information can even be used by members of the public to arm themselves with the legal justification needed to request a judge be recused from a case.
“If, for instance, a judge, judge’s spouse has a contract with one of the parties that is litigating a matter before the judge, that may not have been readily available to the public. Now, you can look at that financial disclosure,” said Goyeneche.
The database can be accessed on the Metropolitan Crime Commission’s website.
Goyeneche says the website contains financial disclosure forms for all 289 district court judges, appellate court judges, and supreme court justices dating back to 2014. Searches can be narrowed on the website using the judge’s name, court, jurisdiction, or parish.