Ginsburg Admits Errors, Amends Financial Disclosure

Article excerpt

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg admitted errors and amended her latest financial disclosure yesterday after The Washington Times asked why she denied judging two 1997 cases in which her husband had a financial interest.

In yesterday's statement, she concedes her husband's stock interest constituted the kind of "financial interest of my spouse" that other justices avoid by recusal from cases involving those firms.

She said the mistake in voting was discovered in July 1997 but does not explain why she certified on May 1 they did not happen.

The justice's letter to Ralph Mecham, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, effectively nullified her certified denial on the annual financial report released last Tuesday.

There is disagreement whether Supreme Court justices are strictly bound by zero-tolerance conflict of interest rules that apply to lower-court colleagues, but they sign a certification they have not done so under a law that provides criminal and civil sanctions.

Mr. Mecham's spokesman, Charles Connor, said yesterday such "self-initiated corrections" are routinely accepted without penalty. There have been 73 on this year's disclosure forms and 128 last year. He could not say whether any involved inaccurate certifications of judges voting with a financial interest.

Justice Ginsburg conceded she did not excuse herself from cases involving Exxon and General Electric Co. while her husband held their stock. Since disclosure forms offer only the range of investment values, Martin D. Ginsburg's holdings in those two companies can only be estimated as between $30,000 and $100,000.

"I was not marked recused in any case in the first half of 1997 because, prior to July, I was not aware that my spouse might be considered to have a financial interest in any public company," Justice Ginsburg said in a document titled "addendum to final disclosure report for calendar year 1997." She said she learned in July that she had a conflict.

Exxon won in conference because fewer than four justices voted to hear the federal government's appeal of a lower court ruling. Only another justice can know if Justice Ginsburg's actions in the secret conference were critical.

GE was the petitioner in its case and did get the necessary four votes in conference, then won a 9-0 ruling on the merits after the Ginsburg investment had been sold.

A source said the justice apparently forgot how last summer's flap over the family stocks would affect votes earlier in the same year. …