This editorial appeared in The Houston Chronicle on December 18, 1999

Judicial disclosure

Financial reports are important
to open government

By Dr. G. Alan Robison, Executive Director, Drug Policy Forum of Texas

It is perfectly reasonable in these days of international terrorism and bloodthirsty Colombian drug lords for federal judges to be concerned about their safety and that of their families. But it is totally unreasonable for the judges to refuse in the name of security to release copies of their annual financial disclosure statements to a company that wants to post them on the Internet.

What physical danger is posed to judges in publicly revealing their stock purchases and property holdings? That's a lame excuse.

For the past two decades Congress has required federal judges and other high-ranking federal officials to file yearly financial statements reporting their stock holdings, family assets, gifts and other income. There is no requirement that the judges' home addresses or other information clearly involving matters of security be listed.

The reports, for years routinely made public to the news media and anyone requesting them, help provide a more open window on the nation's federal judiciary. They serve also to expose any potential conflicts of interests that judges may have regarding cases.

Nevertheless, a panel of federal judges this week refused to release the financial disclosure statements of approximately 1,600 active and semiretired federal judges and magistrates to a news organization, The news operation wants to place them on the Internet. Some news organizations already have the financial disclosure reports of some judges online.
It's true that Congress amended the Ethics in Government Act last year to enable federal courts to withhold any report temporarily for security reasons. But the operative word is "security."

The court committee is terribly wrong in its decision to sit on these public reports. Home addresses aren't necessary, if that is what the judges are worried about. These financial disclosure reports are meant to be open records for the public to see-even on the Internet.

Drug Policy Forum of Texas
Houston, Texas
713-784-3196; FAX 713-784-0283