By Tom Aswell | Louisiana Voice | January 28, 2020
Regular readers of this site know of my often expressed frustration with the lack of transparency of our elected officials, particularly after Bobby Jindal so shamelessly gutted the enforcement powers of the Louisiana Board of Ethics back in 2008, just days after taking office—a move, by the way, that conveniently accommodated a couple of his supporters in the legislature who were experiencing ethics problems that suddenly went away with Jindal’s “reforms.”
Regulars also are familiar with my general angst regarding the judges of the 4th Judicial District (Ouachita and Morehouse parishes) and judges in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in particular.
Financial statements of elected officials—except judges—is relatively easily accessible on the Board of Ethics web page for those willing to do a minimal amount of digging. That’s how I learned of the questionable motives of one LEGISLATOR for voting in favor of a contract for a company whose stock he had only recently purchased and subsequently made a killing from.
As noted above, judges have somehow managed to hold themselves exempt from disclosure of any possible conflicts via their financial dealings—conflicts that can, and do, create an aura of distrust in our system of justice. (Financial disclosure reports are not to be confused with campaign finance reports, which even judges are required to disclose.)
So, I was more than a little thrilled today when I saw in my email inbox a press release from the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans.
The MCC, to fill void of accountability and transparency, has taken it upon itself to make financial disclosure statements available on nearly 300 judges, from district court levels all the way up to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Rather than write my own summary, I have opted to re-print the MCC press release in its entirety:
Today, the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) launched a new search engine on our website that enables the public to access the financial disclosure statements of all 289 Louisiana District Court Judges, Appellate Court Judges, and Supreme Court Justices for the past five years.
The MCC’s Louisiana judicial financial disclosure statement search engine is accessible here: https://metrocrime.org/judicial-financial-disclosure-statements/
Financial disclosures are required of all Louisiana elected officials and contain information regarding income, property and business ownership, non-profit affiliations, and major financial transactions.
Prior to today, there was no online access to financial disclosures filed by Louisiana judges. Rather, the only way to access judicial financial disclosures was by filing a public records request with the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judicial Administrator.
“The Louisiana Supreme Court’s fails to recognize that judges are just as accountable to the public as any other elected official,” said MCC President Rafael Goyeneche. “The cumbersome process that the Supreme Court has devised for the public to obtain judicial financial disclosures needlessly restricts citizens’ access to these records and undermines public confidence in the judiciary. Going forward, judicial financial disclosures will be accessible to the public in the same manner as all other Louisiana elected officials.”
The Louisiana Board of Ethics provides online access to all financial disclosures required of elected officials and public servants serving on boards and commissions, with the exception of the judiciary. Providing these records online brings financial transparency of the judicial branch of government in line with that of the legislative and executive branches.
Campaign finance reports for all elected officials, including judges, are already publicly available on the Louisiana Board of Ethics website via the following link:
The MCC obtained these records by making a public records request to the Supreme Court’s Judicial Administrator and asking for financial disclosures of state judges from the past five years. The Judicial Administrator promptly furnished these digital records, and the MCC found all judges had appropriately submitted the financial disclosures according to requirements of Supreme Court rules. The MCC notified the Louisiana Supreme Court that we are launching the judicial financial disclosure search engine in a letter accessible through the following link:
“By not making these records readily available as other elected officials, the Supreme Court does a disservice to the Appellate and District Court judges who are doing a good job,” Goyeneche stated. “Openly sharing judicial financial disclosures should provide confidence to the public that their cases are being considered without conflicts of interest.”
…To which LouisianaVoice can only add: Amen!