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|Jurists adopt financial disclosure rules|
New financial disclosure requirements crafted by the state Supreme Court mean judges throughout Louisiana will be required to disclose all sources of income beginning in 2009.
Fourth District Court Judge Benjamin Jones served on the committee that drafted the new judicial ethics rules, which also limit the value of gifts received by judges, including lunches.
Jones said the rules were in line with ethics reform measures passed by the Legislature in March.
"The judges were included in the legislation originally, but the justices felt that judges should be given the opportunity to do what they have done in the past, and that's regulate ourselves," Jones said.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero pledged to place stricter disclosure rules on judges if legislators refrained from imposing ethics reforms on the state judiciary without the input of judges.
Legislators agreed to give judges the opportunity to develop their own set of ethics and disclosure reforms. That led to Calogero establishing a committee of judges from around the state to draft the new ethics rules for the judiciary.
Under the new rules, judges and justices of the peace serving in Louisiana will have to file their first income disclosure by May 15, 2009, to cover all income received in 2008.
The annual, mandatory filings will include listings of all income sources of judges, including names and addresses of those who provide any funding to judges or their immediate families.
Also, judges must provide a list of any gifts received and are forbidden from accepting free meals in excess of $50 per day.
Jones said the rules mirror the ones imposed by the Legislature on members of the executive and legislative branches of government.
Jones said the committee worked quickly to adopt rules that he said were in line with the intent of reforms passed by the Legislature during Gov. Bobby Jindal's special session on ethics reform.
Calogero signed off on the new ethics rules, affective March 26, or only weeks after the conclusion of the special legislative session on ethics reform.
"So we had it done before the beginning of the regular legislative session," Jones said. "We did not wait to do what was promised by the chief justice to the legislators."
Jones said judges were receptive to ethics reforms and saw that the need for ethics reforms in the judiciary were necessary.
"I have not heard any significant bellyaching or opposition to compliance by judges with the disclosure requirements," Jones said.
Judges who do not comply with disclosure rules in a timely fashion could face fines of up to $100 per day, according to Jones.
"In some respects, the rules could be said to be stiffer" on judges than on members of the Legislature, Jones said.
"It doesn't take long to rack up a significant fine," Jones said.
Though Jones said there are not any specific "traps" for judges, the new rules will require judges to keep accurate records of income and expenditures as well as to keep tabs on any gifts they receive.
"We didn't try to play any games," Jones said. "We were determined to, in good faith, follow through on the promise to impose these disclosure rules on judges."
Jones said judges needed to be aware that the new rules are in effect now and that, even though the rules do not require judges to disclose incomes until 2009, the judges will be reporting on income received in 2008.
"I want judges to know that we need to be keeping our records this year in very good order so that we can report accurately in our financial statement that we have turn in by May 15 of next year," Jones said.