Nonsense on Conflicts of Interest in Public Pension Case

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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.