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April 18, 2014

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Nevada among many states to get F grade in rules of judicial disclosure

Nevada, along with 42 other states, gets an F grade in financial disclosure rules governing Supreme Court justices, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The center, a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization based in Washington, documents abuses in government.

In a statement released Wednesday, it reviewed the rules for financial disclosures in all the states and the federal government. It scored the states on a 100-point system; Nevada was given 42.5 points, or 31st in the nation.

Bill Gang, spokesman for the Nevada Supreme Court, called the report "somewhat misleading."

"The fact that 84 percent of the state court systems received a failing grade while none received a grade higher than C suggests that the test is not neutral," said Gang.

The website of the Supreme Court includes the annual judicial disclosures and contribution-and-expense reporting as required by law, he said.

Montana, Utah and Idaho had the lowest grades of zero. The highest grade — 84 points — went to federal judges for the rules of financial of disclosure.

The center said gifts to justices should be reported and it found cases where judges don't excuse themselves from the case involving the gift giver.

It cited one case in Nevada where Justice Ron Parraguirre received a $250 ticket to a charity event in 2012 from Be-Be Adams, a lobbyist for Barrick Gold of North America. And the court later received a pending case involving one of the company's mines.

Parraguirre's assistant Roxanne Doyle told the center the gift was disclosed following the rules and it did not pose any conflict. "It has no effect on its rulings," said Doyle.

The center gave zero grades to Nevada in not having rules to disclose investments including real estate of the whole family and disclosing the creditors for the entire family.

Gang said the test by the center "is written such a way that a court in a state whose law does not require family member disclosures cannot pass. Nevada, like most states, do not require this."

He said Nevada law addresses potential family-member conflicts case-by-case, requiring judges to step aside in cases that affect, or give the appearance of affecting, a judge's family member's financial interests.

The highest scores among the states were California with a 77 rating and Maryland with a 72.5 mark. Both received C grades.

Gang said Nevada's court "is one of the most transparent and user-friendly courts in the nation." Court documents are posted online and are free to the public. The court, said Gang, has made it "extremely difficult" for trial courts to conceal records and a recent judicial code change prohibits campaign fundraising by judges or judicial candidates who are unopposed.

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