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US Courts Begin Posting Judge Stock Disclosures Online

Nov. 7, 2022, 9:42 PM

An online database for tracking stock and other financial disclosures by federal judges went live Monday, a congressionally mandated site aimed at making information about courts more accessible to the public.

The database includes annual financial disclosure reports and periodic disclosures for transactions over $1,000 for federal judges for 2021 and 2022. It comes two days ahead of a deadline set by Congress to create such a database as part of a law, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act (P.L. 117-125), enacted in May.

“We need to restore confidence in our judiciary, and this database is an important step towards increasing transparency, accountability and public trust in the American promise of blind justice,” Rep. Deborah Ross (D-North Carolina), who sponsored the House version of the bipartisan legislation, said in a statement.

The database was praised as progress by advocates, who also pointed out shortcomings like the number of steps users must take to access records. Currently, 600 of about 2,400 reports have been filed, with more coming, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the US Courts said.

The process of filing, review, and vetting, which didn’t change under the new law, “can go several rounds and take several months,” the spokesman said. “We have posted all documents that have completed that process, and expect more to be added regularly as the vetting is finished.”

The database is also “forward looking,” meaning financial disclosures from before 2021 have to be accessed under the old system, the spokesman said.

The database housed on the US Courts’ website prompts users for their name, occupation, email, phone, and address to access records. Once a user enters the database, they can search by judge, court, type of report, and year. Users can download selected reports as PDFs in a “Zip” folder, a type of compressed file.

Fix the Court, a judiciary watchdog group that supported the legislation, applauded the database but criticized some of the steps it takes users to get to the records, such as having to download the reports instead of being able to view them online and provide information like a street address.

Congressional efforts to require the judiciary to create a financial disclosure database came after the Wall Street Journal reported that more than 130 federal judges failed to recuse in cases where they or a family member had a financial stake.

The law requires the courts’ Administrative Office to make disclosures available online within 90 days of their filing and reports for securities transactions over $1,000 within 45 days of their filing. The law is similar to a 2012 law known as the STOCK Act that applies to members of Congress and certain executive branch officials.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com