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North Carolina earned an “F” for judicial financial disclosure, according to a report released this morning by the Center for Public Integrity.

The Center looked at three years of financial records submitted by state supreme court justices and evaluated the enforcement of disclosure rules, making these findings:

  • Forty-two states and the District of Columbia received a failing grade in a Center evaluation of disclosure requirements for supreme court judges.
  • Judges in three states — Montana, Utah and Idaho — aren’t required to file any disclosure reports at all.
  • Despite the poor disclosure rules, the Center’s investigation found 35 examples of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads as well as other entanglements.
  • In 14 instances over the past three years justices participated in cases where they or their spouses owned stock in companies involved in the litigation.
  • Of the 273 supreme court justices required to disclose stock holdings, 107 reported owning stock.
  • Twelve states rely on self-policing disciplinary bodies — made up of high-court justices themselves — to enforce the courts’ ethical rules.

North Carolina fared relatively well among the states in terms of the disclosure required of supreme court justices (ranked 25th), but less so for judicial discipline, thanks to the “star chamber” bill passed by the General Assembly this summer which, as first reported by Policy Watch in July, allows the justices to discipline themselves in secret.

The report also highlighted instances in which Justices Paul Newby and Robert Edmunds participated in cases despite having financial interests in programs or companies before the court.

In one instance, Newby participated in cases concerning payments from the Tobacco Transition Payment Program, of which he was a beneficiary by virtue of a farm he owns.

In another, Justice Edmunds participated in a case decided in favor of Wells Fargo, despite owning stock in the company.

The Center’s findings come at a time when the transparency and impartiality of the state’s justices, Newby in particular, have been questioned in connection with the pending redistricting lawsuit.  Plaintiffs there had asked Justice Newby to step out of the case, given that his 2012 reelection campaign had received more than a million dollars in contributions from the Republican State Leadership Committee — one of the principal architects of the redistricting plan at issue.   That request was denied without any explanation from the court.

Read the full N.C. report here.