Still more transparency is needed
Justice is supposed to be blind but the public is supposed to have its eyes wide open when assessing whether the courts are impartial. To that end, the financial connections of judges are matters of vital public business.
A new study by the Center for Public Integrity of court systems in all 50 states has found that, regarding financial disclosure by judges, most are woefully opaque rather than transparent. None of the 50 states had disclosure rules as transparent as those for federal judges.
Pennsylvania's judicial system was among just eight to which the center's transparency test awarded a passing grade but, like the other seven, it was a "D."
The state system scored well on disclosure of household income, although it is not specific. For example, state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey acknowledges income generated by his wife, a lawyer and his chief legal aide, from referral pays paid to her by law firms that also do business with the court. State rules, however, do not require disclosure of specific amounts.
Pennsylvania also scored highly on detailed disclosure of gifts to judges and family members and for stringent filing requirements. It scored near the bottom on public access because the records are not filed online. And the rules do not require detailed disclosure of financial liabilities, which could create serious conflicts no less so than sources of income.
Those deficiencies are easily correctable. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille should embrace the opportunity, given a long series of scandals that have diminished public confidence in the courts.
Meanwhile, the study held the federal standards to be the gold standard, yet even federal disclosure reports are not available online. Lack of access seriously diminishes the value of disclosure; the U.S. Supreme Court should see to the posting of the information online.