By Staff | KPLC | May 26, 2020
LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) – For years the public has been able to access financial disclosures of elected officials through the State Ethics Board, except for judges.
But after being nudged by a watchdog group, the State Supreme Court is making such information more easily available to the public.
Rafael Goyeneche is president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
“I think sometimes it takes a general nudge. Some people call it a shaming to bring about this type of change. But I think this is something the judiciary, more particularly the Supreme Court, failed to, in their responsibility, to be accountable and transparent to the public to the detriment of the reputation and image of judges throughout Louisiana,” said Goyeneche.
Financial information disclosed by elected judges has been available, but not easily, and required a public records request to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Plus, making a request might cause a judge to find out who wants to know. But the MCC has been pushing to make that information more easily available to the public and succeeded.
“The Supreme Court basically acknowledged, by posting these online, that they in fact do owe the public, this degree of accountability and transparency,” said Goyeneche.
The information on judges is now easily searchable on the State Supreme Court web site using the judge’s name or judicial district, while other elected state officials are on the Board of Ethics site.
“The whole purpose of these financial disclosures for elected officials is to reduce the potential and discourage legislators and executive branch elected officials from having financial conflicts of interest, and that same principle applies to the judiciary,” said Goyeneche.
He says the information will now allow the public to find the answers to often nagging questions.
“Invariably we get complaints, ‘A judge ruled against us. How can i find out if the judge has a financial interest?’ One of the ways you do that is to have the annual financial disclosures,” Goyeneche said.
And he doubts that any judge would run the risk of not reporting what is required.
“I’m a former prosecutor, and if a judge omits meaningful information from these annual disclosures, those are public records that are submitted. When you falsify a public record, that’s a state offense, a criminal offense,” he said.
The financial disclosure may be especially relevant this year, since judges are on the ballot November 3rd, along with district attorney and president.