In an explosive exposé last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that 131 federal judges broke the law by hearing cases where they had a financial interest.
To uncover those violations, reporters reviewed the financial holdings of some 700 federal judges and compared them against tens of thousands of court cases.
The data the Journal used was compiled by the Free Law Project, a non-profit that works to provide free and open public access to court data, opinions, filings and other information.
Now, the Free Law Project is making that data available to all, creating the first online database of federal judges’ financial disclosures.
The database is a collection of over 250,000 pages of financial records gathered since 2017 through requests to the federal judiciary, Michael Lissner, executive director and CTO, said in a blog post today.
The files contain the disclosure records for every federal judge, justice and magistrate from 2011 to 2018, with the 2019 disclosures coming soon. It also has some files from 2003 to 2010, gathered from other sources.
The result is a database of roughly 1.5 million investment transactions, 14,000 reimbursements, 12,000 sources of non-investment income, and 1,700 gifts. It also contains data on agreements and debts of the judges and their spouses.
Until 2017, federal judges’ financial disclosures could be obtained only by requesting them individually by fax. That changed in 2017, when the Judicial Conference authorized disclosures to be released on “electronic storage devices … at no cost to the requestor.”
That is when the Free Law Project began requesting them.
As of today, the Free Law Project is making the data available in two ways:
- Through its CourtListener website, where you can look up any judge and see their disclosures. You will see a detailed page with all the data Free Law Project has extracted, including investments, gifts, spousal income, other sources of income and more. You can download disclosures as PDFs.
- Through an API, for those who would like to work with larger segments of the data. The API documentation is here.
Lissner told me that, even with the 2017 change by the Judicial Conference authorizing release of the disclosures electronically, the whole process of judges reporting financial data and then of the public requesting and processing the data remains onerous and slow.
He would like to see the Judicial Conference further modernize the process to enhance transparency and accessibility, and is hopeful that this data and journalists’ reporting on it will accelerate that.