California judges seeking to keep their financial disclosure forms off the Internet scored a temporary victory Thursday.
After a lengthy discussion that included testimony from judges opposing the posting and government watchdog groups, the Fair Political Practices Commission decided to continue to hold off on posting the forms while staff drafts guidelines for redacting information that could present a security threat. Those guidelines are expected to come up at the May meeting.
The California Judges Association is fighting implementation of a 2010 regulation requiring that the forms filed by certain elected officials, including the governor, legislators and county supervisors, are posted online. While the forms of other officeholders are already online, the posting of disclosures by judicial officers had been delayed due to concerns expressed by the judges.
The association argues that online posting of the Form 700s could put the judiciary and their families in jeopardy if some information included in the disclosures, such as a spouse's place of business or a property rented by a child, could be accessed with a click of a mouse. The group rejected a proposal by the Administrative Office of the Courts to allow judicial officers subject to the disclosure rules to submit a second copy of their form that omits information for online posting.
CJA President David Rubin, a San Diego judge, told commissioners that the association feels that keeping the forms offline, where they are still available as public records, strikes the right balance between "the public right to know and the security of judicial officers and their families."
Rubin and other judges appearing in front of the commission said limiting access to paper filings would ensure a "cooling-off" period and other safeguards to prevent disgruntled litigants or their family members from using information from the forms to seek vengeance.
"My address or the address of our spouses at work or at home or our kids addresses can get us killed," said Sacramento Judge Ben Davidian, a former FPPC chair. "And that's not just a joke and its not said lightly. It's true."
But Commissioner Ronald Rotunda questioned why a change to the current practices, which allow redaction of sensitive information such as home addresses, phone numbers and signatures in online postings, is needed. Given the current redaction policies, he said a change in regulation would only make access to financial disclosures contained in the form, such as stockholdings and other business interests, more difficult.
"It looks like this is more of a situation where the judges don't want the voters to know how rich they are... because it's the financial information that is going to be disclosed," he said.