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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Nonsense on Conflicts of Interest in Public Pension Case

Nonsense on Conflicts of Interest in Public Pension Case

Wednesday, 05 December 2012 05:25

The NYT's reporting on the finances of public pensions has been extremely partisan, giving extensive coverage to those who want to exaggerate the funds' liabilities (e.g. here and here). It continued in this vein today when it made a big issue of an alleged conflict of interest of a Rhode Island judge in a case involving Rhode Island's pension systems.

The alleged conflict is that the judge has several close relatives including her mother and son, who would potentially be affected by cuts to the state's pensions. While it is understandable that opponents of public sector pensions would make such arguments, it is routine for judges to rule in cases where they have comparable or larger conflicts of interests. For example, if a judge was ruling on eminent domain (the ability of the government to seize property without the consent of the property owner) or on the issue of uncompensated takings (measures that reduce the value of property, such as building restrictions), any judge who owned property would have a direct stake in the outcome.

According to the standard that makes the headline in this article, the conflict would be an issue if the judge had close family members who were property owners. Such alleged conflicts are usually not cause for major articles in the NYT. 

Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Tom Sgouros, December 05, 2012 6:58
But you overlook the value of having spent a few weeks questioning a judge's impartiality in public. In Rhode Island, it is virtually certain that all judges have equivalent "conflicts", so the best judge from the state's perspective might not be one without conflict, but might be the one most easily bullied. And that doesn't work without a few weeks of bullying.

In this case, the judges' pensions are not technically at issue, but that's only because accounting gimmicks and historical accident make their pension system, the worst funded of all the state systems, appear to be in the best shape. http://www.rifuture.org/judges...ality.html
written by Kat, December 05, 2012 7:43
Thank god for the New York Times. Why this has to be the most egregious case of conflict of interest in recent memory! Keep up the good work. I know I would like to know the background of any judge ruling on environmental regulatory law. Do they have family members who breathe air or drink water?
bias distribution
written by frankenduf, December 05, 2012 8:03
i did a little digging and it turns out that the judge doesn't get along with the mother at all- they had an angry falling out when the judge accused the mother of spoiling the grandkid with gratuitous gifts purchased with pension moneys
written by PeonInChief, December 05, 2012 1:21
Many judges own rental property, although not the property at issue in the cases they hear. If you look at the decisions they make in landlord-tenant cases, you can see their bias. But no one has ever been able to get a case transferred to a judge who isn't a landlord.
written by Last Mover, December 06, 2012 8:05
Another "liberal Democrat" converts to religion of debt hysteria:


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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.