Taking steps to increase transparency and public access, the federal Judiciary’s policy making body today approved automating the release of judges’ financial disclosure reports, amending its conflict screening policy, and expanding the scope of its audio streaming pilot project.
At its biannual meeting in Washington, D.C., the Judicial Conference authorized the online release of certified financial disclosure reports for judges in a way that will allow immediate access to the reports without endangering filers or their families. For several years the Judicial Conference’s Financial Disclosure Committee has been discussing posting judges’ financial disclosure reports online to increase transparency and help improve public confidence in the Judiciary without compromising safety. A new electronic financial disclosure system currently is under development that will include features needed for filing as well as for redacting and releasing financial disclosure reports. The system will include the ability for the Administrative Office to automate the release of judges’ reports online. The Conference delegated to the Financial Disclosure Committee the authority to set the parameters and develop a timeline for implementation.
In other action, the Conference amended its conflict screening policy, adopted a model conflict certification statement that judges will sign twice a year, and approved a model conflict screening implementation plan. Highlights include:
- A statement that the mandatory conflict screening policy, which requires the use of automated conflict screening, applies to financial conflicts of interest, and that courts and judges are also encouraged to use automated conflict screening for other types of conflicts that would require a judge to disqualify from a proceeding;
- A Model Conflict Review Certification Statement that a judge would submit twice a year, or more frequently if required by the circuit council, confirming that the judge reviewed his or her financial holdings and the financial holdings of a spouse and any minor child residing in the judge’s household, and that the judge has prepared or updated his or her financial recusal list to include all financial conflicts known to the judge; and
- A Model Conflict Screening Implementation Plan that each circuit council would implement, consistent with the mandatory conflict screening policy.
The Conference also agreed to expand the scope of its audio streaming pilot project to authorize participating pilot courts to post audio recordings of livestreamed proceedings online for up to one year following the proceedings, subject to the discretion of the presiding judge. Twenty district courts, 13 bankruptcy courts, the Court of Federal Claims, and the Court of International Trade are participating in the pilot.
The objective of the pilot is to identify the policy, technical, operational, budgetary, and administrative issues associated with livestreaming audio of proceedings in civil cases, which will inform the Conference’s Committee on Court Administration and Case Management when deciding whether to recommend an amendment to the Conference’s cameras and broadcasting policy.
The 26-member Judicial Conference (pdf) is the policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute, the Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer and its members are the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade.
The Conference convenes twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system, and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. The Conference met today in person at the Supreme Court for the first time since September 2019. The last four regularly scheduled Conference sessions took place by teleconference due to the pandemic.