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No change – yet – in the ‘no change’ rule

Under Maryland Judiciary rules, judges may list “no change” on their annual State of Financial Interests if the asset or liability has not changed from the prior year. Judges are also permitted to list “no change” for consecutive years. No other branch of the government has that option.

A Daily Record review of the Court of Appeals judges’ disclosure forms last year revealed that Judge Clayton Greene Jr. made the most frequent use of the “no change” option.

Greene did not use the phrase at all in his 2012 financial disclosure statement, covering calendar year 2011.

“I feel that there was change, so I recorded it,” Greene said. “Was I too specific?”

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, by contrast, continued to make wide use of “no change,” particularly with regard to his real property and corporate interest.

With regard to real property, Bell’s use of “no change” goes back to calendar year 1995, when he listed his interest in three properties in Baltimore, on Lee, East 33rd and East Chase streets.

To find any of Bell’s interests in corporations, one must look to his statement for calendar year 2000, when he disclosed his interest in a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter tax-exempt securities trust. In that statement, he listed no change with regard to two other investments.

His interest in those other properties are listed in the statement for calendar year 1989 and involve Independent Federal Savings Bank and Allstate Municipal Income Trust.

Accessing the financial disclosure documents was made easy by Roxanne P. McKagan, director of administrative services for the Maryland courts. McKagan had the papers from 2012 and earlier years waiting to be examined within a few hours of a request by telephone to review them.

This was in stark contrast to the difficulties The Daily Record had in gaining access to the disclosure forms for the first time last year. Finding the forms last year required frequent trips to Annapolis over a five-month period.

Greene and Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. said the high court is considering whether to change the rules regarding the use of “no change” on disclosure forms.

“Whether we’re going to change the format to expand or contract [the required information] will shake out over the next several months,” Harrell said. “It’s an ongoing dialogue.”