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Judicial Conflicts of Interest

Judicial Conflicts of Interest

Our legal system requires a fair and independent judiciary. In order to maintain public trust in our system of justice, judges must conduct themselves in an ethical manner. Codes of conduct, which set standards of behavior for state and federal judges, are aimed at assuring the impartiality of judges and reducing the possibility of conflicts of interest.
A judicial conflict of interest refers to a situation in which a judge has competing professional and personal or financial interests that could compromise the judge’s decisionmaking. Even if a judge’s personal or financial interests do not actually influence the judge’s decisions, any appearance of impropriety or improper behavior is considered a conflict of interest.

Financial Disclosure by Federal Judges

The Ethics in Government Act requires judges to file annual financial disclosure reports that list outside income, gifts, business contracts, debts and stocks. In 1998, the Judicial Conference of the United States, which is the policy-making body for the federal courts, approved reforms aimed at decreasing conflicts of interest. The reforms also improved access to judges’ financial disclosure reports, which alert the public to possible conflicts of interest. The reforms were made in response to media disclosures that federal judges had presided over 300 cases in Kansas City involving companies in which the judges owned stock.

In 2006, the Judicial Conference approved a policy on mandatory conflict screening for federal judges other than Supreme Court Justices. The Judicial Conference also has adopted regulations concerning gifts to federal judges.

Law Allows Removal of Certain Information

The Ethics in Government Act allows federal judges to request removal of certain information from their financial disclosure reports prior to public disclosure of the reports. Information that could endanger a judge or put the judge’s financial investments in jeopardy has been deleted from public versions.

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