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Public release of judges’ financial disclosures thwarted

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Secret Courts         Dec 8, 1999    

Public release of judges’ financial disclosures thwarted

  • A federal judge who chairs the U.S. Judicial Conference’s financial disclosure committee has blocked the release of the financial disclosures of federal judges to an online news service.

A federal judge instituted a moratorium at the beginning of December that indefinitely halted the public release of financial disclosure forms of more than 1,600 federal judges.

District Judge William J. Zloch’s action in Fort Lauderdale — which was taken at the beginning of December but which was made public on Dec. 7 — kept the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington from releasing the information to APBnews.com, which said that it planned on releasing the information on its web site. Zloch chairs the U.S. Judicial Conference’s financial disclosure committee, and he has called an emergency meeting of the committee for Dec. 10, according to a federal courts spokesperson.

The spokesperson told the Associated Press that Zloch’s actions were prompted by concerns that release of the financial disclosure forms on the Internet would lead to “universal and anonymous access” and that she did not believe that the moratorium would stay in place “much beyond the committee meeting.” The Washington Post quoted the spokesperson as saying that Zloch’s moratorium was meant to be a temporary stay while Zloch and his colleagues consider the potential security ramifications of releasing the forms on the Internet.

Twenty-six federal judges comprise the U.S. Judicial Conference, which is chaired by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and which makes policy for all federal courts. Zloch’s financial disclosure committee has 15 federal judges on it.

APBnews.com had submitted a request to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts for copies of the 1998 financial statements of all federal judges and intends to put all of the records on its web site, according to APBnews.com. The news organization said that it mailed a check for approximately $2,500 to cover copying fees for approximately 12,500 pages of documents in November.

A 1998 amendment to the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 allows a federal judge to temporarily withhold financial disclosure statements — which list stock holdings and other financial interests — from public disclosure “only to the extent necessary to protect” the judge.

Requests for a federal judge’s financial disclosure statement are not handled under the federal Freedom of Information Act, which only applies to the executive branch of government. Instead, a request must be made in writing to the administrative office in Washington, and the judge whose form has been requested must be informed of the request and the name and occupation of the person making the request before the information is released.


© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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