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NewsMarylandSun Investigates

Study rates Maryland's top court second in financial disclosure

Courts and the JudiciaryFinanceJPMorgan Chase & Co.

The judges of Maryland's top court are subject to the second-best financial disclosure rules in the country, according to a national study. But the report found that transparency is so bad nationwide that no state got a letter grade higher than "C."

Though the study by the Center for Public Integrity said the state compels Court of Appeals judges to submit plenty of financial data, it said that information is of limited use because it is difficult for the public to see. People must travel to Annapolis to request copies of a judge's financial disclosures in person.

In the study, Maryland was second only to California, based on the amount that Court of Appeals judges are required to disclose about their financial interests and those of their family members. They're also required to provide information on real estate holdings and transactions. The state also asks for information about holdings in public companies.

The ranking is not high praise, the center said in an article detailing its findings. No state ranked as well as the federal judiciary.

"In many states, it's practically impossible to glean any meaningful information from judges' financial disclosures," the article said.

Utah, which came in last, does not require judges to submit any financial disclosure information.

Maryland was also penalized for not requiring information about reimbursement expenses, such as airfare. The report noted that some judges did list such expenses as gifts, which must be disclosed.

The report cited one potential issue in Maryland with Judge Glenn Harrell Jr., who wrote an opinion on secondary mortgage loans in 2012. His opinion upheld a lower courts' dismissal, which was in favor of JPMorgan Chase, with which Harrell had a mortgage.

Harrell told the Center for Public Integrity that "It's true that I had the refinance loan on my home. There's no actual conflict. It's a commercial rate available to others. I always pay my bill on time and I hold no grudge against them."

He told the Center that his loan with the bank did not meet state's standard for recusal. "If I had owned stock in JPMorgan, that would be entirely different," he said.

He and other Court of Appeals judges were not available for comment.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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