Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did not report almost $700,000 of his wife's income on financial disclosure forms, according to a report from Common Cause and The Los Angeles Times.
Virginia Thomas earned $686,589 over a five-year period (2003-07) from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, according to a review of IRS records by the watchdog group Common Cause. Federal judges are required by law to disclose "spousal non-investment income," but Clarence Thomas checked "none" for the years in question.
Does this mean a justice on the nation's highest court has committed a crime? The answer probably is yes. Will the legal system kick into high gear in an effort to protect one of its most exalted members? The answer to that definitely is yes--in fact, it already seems to be happening.
Steven Lubet, an expert on judicial ethics at Northwestern University School of Law, said Thomas committed a minor oversight that is unlikely to result in any penalty. Reports the LA Times:
Although unfamiliar with the complaint about Thomas' forms, Lubet said failure to disclose spousal income "is not a crime of any sort, but there is a potential civil penalty" for failing to follow the rules. He added: "I am not aware of a single case of a judge being penalized simply for this."
Lubet might want to try telling that to Rachelle Thomas-Zuill, a former FBI employee in San Francisco, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to a government agency, which is a felony.
Lubet also might want to familiarize himself with 18 U.S. Code 1001, the statute under which Thomas-Zuill was prosecuted. The law makes it a crime to knowingly and willfully make "any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" in any matter "within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States."
How did Thomas-Zuill step in serious doo-doo? She stated on a financial disclosure form that she owned three properties with an outstanding mortgage debt of $866,000, when in fact she owned six properties and had a debt of more than $2.2 million.
That sounds an awful lot like what Clarence Thomas did in failing to disclose his wife's income.
At least one legal expert seems to consider the Thomas revelation a serious matter. Reports the LA Times:
Federal judges are bound by law to disclose the source of spousal income, according to Stephen Gillers, a professor at NYU School of Law. Thomas' omission -- which could be interpreted as a violation of that law -- could lead to some form of penalty, Gillers said.