|NMU||WASHINGTON, D.C.||Secret Courts||Mar 14, 2000|
Conference heeds Rehnquist’s call to release disclosure forms
- Financial disclosure forms for all federal judges will be released by the U.S. Judicial Conference after an online news service sued over access to the forms.
Reversing a decision made by its Committee on Financial Disclosure, the U.S. Judicial Conference voted 16-8 March 14 to release financial disclosure forms for all members of the federal judiciary to APBnews.com, a web-based news service that had previously announced that it would be posting the disclosure forms online.
According to Legal Times, the decision was announced at the Conference’s biannual meeting by Judge Ralph Winter, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit.
A press release issued by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts states that it has rescinded the Dec. 1999 decision of the financial disclosure committee “to withhold the release of judges’ financial disclosure reports where the requester indicates that the reports will be posted on the Internet.”
“This is a significant victory for advocates of government openness and the First Amendment rights of Internet publications,” said Mark Zaid, the attorney for APBnews.com.
The decision to release the data comes in response to a federal lawsuit filed by APBnews.com in New York City against the U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Financial Disclosure.
The Judicial Conference also released a six-page Feb. 15 “Memorandum to Members of the Judicial Conference” written by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The memorandum explains that the Conference’s Executive Committee “unanimously opposes the Financial Disclosure Committee’s decision” and adds five of the Chief Justice’s own “observations for your consideration.”
Included among Rehnquist’s observations were the following: that “it is to be expected that closer public scrutiny will be applied when judges decide issues affecting judges”; that although “some distinctions may be made with regard to a judge’s potential exposure to threats as compared with other government officials, on balance Congress as of now has determined that government officials from all three branches should file public disclosure reports”; that even if the APBnews.com lawsuit failed, “success in court could prove to be a Pyrrhic victory” because both Democratic and Republican Senate and House leaders had expressed support for passing additional legislation to ensure that all of the reports can be disclosed.
The Administrative Office’s press release also noted that the Judicial Conference was instructing three of its committees “to consider proposed legislative amendments to the Ethics in Government Act that would balance the public’s need for information on judges’ financial interests with judges’ security needs.”
It added that while those committees considered the legislative amendments, the Disclosure Committee will now invite a judge to review the information contained in his or her report when a request is made “that may result in dissemination [to the public] of the report” and that “the judge may request redaction of ‘personal and sensitive information that is otherwise confidential and could endanger the officer or other person if obtained by any member of the public hostile to the judicial officer.”
(APBnews.com v. Committee on Financial Disclosure; Media Counsel: Mark Zaid, Washington, D.C.)
- Rehnquist’s Memorandum to Members of the Judicial Conference (2/15/2000)
- Internet news service asserts ‘right to publish’ (3/10/2000)
- News service sues for access to financial disclosure forms (1/19/2000)
- Judges vote to deny Internet media access to financial disclosure forms (12/15/1999)
- Public release of judges’ financial disclosures thwarted (12/8/1999)
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press