Special Report: Judicial Transparency
The NLJ's analysis of judges' 2012 financial disclosures.
Last summer, Zoe Tillman, who covers federal courts for The National Law Journal, began working to obtain and review required financial disclosure reports for 258 federal appellate judges for 2012, the latest year available.
The arduous process—one distinguished, perversely, by paper trails in this digital age— yielded 257 (paper) reports. Only one judge’s report was not provided; the judiciary declined to comment on why.
The financial reports reveal a trove of individual details: judges who obtained free legal services or who were reimbursed for speaking engagements in distant lands, for example, and one who reported money earned from record sales and performance fees for a folk group he’s played with since the 1950s.
Our most compelling findings, however, highlight the special relationship between judges and law schools, which pay significantly for the experience and prestige an active or senior judge delivers. Five law schools—NYU, Yale, Cooley, Georgetown and Columbia—paid a combined total of more than $1 million for the privilege of listing appellate judges among their faculties; NYU’s School of Law alone comprised half of that, according to our research.
Then there are the redactions. Of the 257 reports, 112 featured redacted information—all done to protect the personal and financial safety of judges and their families, which is the only reason judges can ask to keep information secret.
Forthcoming stories will examine the travel reimbursements paid to judges for teaching, speaking and other events, as well as judges’ financial ties to law firms.
At a time when financial disclosure reports of many public officials and election candidates are typically available through searchable online databases, these federal judges’ reports, in contrast, require another level of patience and persistence to access. The National Law Journal has made all 257 reports available here. We urge readers to review our stories and findings, and to peruse the reports and share your comments with us. — Beth Frerking, Editor in Chief
PAYING FOR PRESTIGE
Law schools paid federal appeals judges anywhere from several thousand dollars for a lecture to nearly $278,000 for full-semester teaching in 2012 — at once buying prestige and giving students a direct line to some of the judiciary's top legal minds.
JUDICIAL DISCLOSURE REPORTS DON'T TELL ALL
Nearly half of the financial reports federal appellate judges filed last year included redacted information, according to a review of the annual disclosures.
In 2012, four federal appeals judges enjoyed free legal services from law firms — including Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit, for the sixth year in a row — and another 14 had financial agreements with firms they worked for before taking the bench.
CHART: Judges' Law Firm Ties, By The Numbers
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This database features financial disclosure reports filed last year by federal appellate judges, which
cover judges' activity in 2012. Search by typing in a circuit or a judge's first or last name.