The Center for Public Integrity evaluated the disclosure rules for judges in the highest state courts nationwide. The level of disclosure in the 50 states and the District of Columbia was poor, with 43 receiving failing grades, making it difficult for the public to identify potential conflicts of interest on the bench. Despite the lack of information in the public records, the Center’s investigation found nearly three dozen conflicts, questionable gifts and entanglements among top judges around the country. Here’s what the Center found in Kentucky:
There are few strengths to tout about Kentucky’s financial disclosure requirements. However, the state does attach strong enforcement measures to its financial disclosure rules. Supreme Court justices who fail to file or who report fraudulent information risk losing their seat on the bench.
Kentucky’s financial disclosure form includes sections in which judges must disclose stocks, real estate and outside employers, but it also tells judges that they are “not required” to provide names of companies in which they have a financial interest. By omitting company names, it is practically impossible to identify possible conflicts of interest. Additionally, Kentucky fails to ask for information about the gifts or reimbursed expenses its judges receive.
Justice Will Scott’s form reveals ownership interests in dozens of tracts of Kentucky real estate, many of which he leases to coal, oil and natural gas companies. Unlike his colleagues, Scott does name the companies to which he leases land. In a phone interview, Scott said he would welcome more robust financial disclosure requirements. He said it would be important to know the names of companies because the disclosures are “a search tool for people coming up on appeal.” As for his own real estate holdings, Scott said he tries to stay aware of his oil and gas leases and to recuse himself in any cases in which companies have paid him royalties.