The state’s major business lobby struck out Thursday in its effort to pass bills aimed at shedding more light on Louisiana’s judiciary.
Judges from the Louisiana Supreme Court to district courts opposed the measures, saying their personal finances and court spending already are open for all to see.
The House Judiciary Committee deferred action on three measures — one for online posting of judges’ personal financial disclosure reports and two involving reporting on where courts get their money and how it’s spent.
Louisiana Association of Business and Industry officials argued that the bills were necessary “to improve Louisiana’s legal reputation,” which they consider unfriendly.
But Louisiana District Judges Association President Jules Edwards III said the legislation’s purpose was “only to talk bad about the judges.” The perception that LABI officials talk about “is largely because of the comments they have been making,” Edwards said.
The bills would have required the following:
- The posting of judges’ personal financial disclosure reports online to make them more readily available for public viewing (House Bill 294).
- Preparation of an annual financial report detailing the sources of revenues for courts throughout the state and how it’s spent. (House Bill 698)
- Establishment by the Supreme Court of a website where information would be posted concerning contracts courts have in excess of $10,000 for goods and services (House Bill 293).
The judiciary has rules requiring judges to file annual personal finance reports that are public record. But Conoway said the reports should be available on the Internet, just like those of statewide elected officials, legislators and even those who serve on various state boards and commissions.
“It will open up taxpayer transparency,” said Will Green, heading LABI’s civil justice reform efforts.
But opponents said the legislative branch dictating to the judiciary is in clear conflict with constitutional separation of powers.
In addition, putting some of the information contained in the personal financial reports online could create security problems for judges, said a series of judges.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernedette Johnson said requiring those seeking records to go through a central clearinghouse allows judges to know who is inquiring about them.
“We have violence against judges. All we are asking for is the opportunity to be aware of who is asking for personal information,” Johnson said. Then, some personal information could be redacted, she said.
Justice Greg Guidry said people can make a records request via letter, email and phone call and get the information without charge.
“It’s a very thin veil of protection by not putting them online … but it’s something,” Guidry said.
HB294 sponsor state Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, asked the panel to defer action on the measure. He said he would file a resolution urging the judiciary, on its own, to provide for some kind of Internet records.
State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said seeking a financial report on state court operations was an effort to provide the Legislature with information as it looks at funding the judiciary.
But state District Judge Bob Morrison said courts already provide annual audit reports will the information Abramson’s bill seeks. “It’s readily available,” he said. “I don’t know what the purpose of this is.”
The committee voted 9-8 against reporting the bill with no action and a recommendation it be sent to House Appropriations because of a $600,000 price tag associated with the report preparation.
Then, Judiciary voluntarily deferred the bill.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.