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May 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Authority Gives Some Protection From Unreasonable Risk

On May 3, 2007, the Judicial Disclosure Responsibility Act, was signed into law by the President as P.L. 110-24. The new law reinstates through December 31, 2009, the authority of the Judicial Conference to redact information from financial disclosure reports where the release of that information would endanger the filer. The Act also expands the authority to allow redaction where the release of the information could endanger a member of the filer’s family. The authority was needed to protect the safety of judges and their families.

“The purpose of the financial disclosure reports is to reveal to litigants where there may be potential bias or a conflict of interest by a judge,” said Judge Ortrie Smith (W.D. Mo.), chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure. “The reason for redaction authority is to allow judges to exclude information that, if made public, may expose judges and family to unreasonable risk.”

As an example, Smith said that judges are required to disclose revenue-producing assets. “However, excluding the location of a vacation home generating rental income,” he said, “does not generally interfere with this requirement. Revealing the location where a spouse teaches or works also would not be necessary to the disclosure requirements.”

Listing work locations or residences where they or family members might be found is a sensitive topic for judges, especially following the murders of members of the family of Judge Joan Lefkow (N.D. Ill.) in 2005.

“We deal with civil issues that affect large sums of money, and with criminal cases that affect an even more important issue—personal freedom,” Smith said. “Both often result in very passionate demonstrations that could result in a person doing or threatening harm to a judge or a judge’s family members. The ability to redact sensitive information may shield a judge and family members from that threat.”