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"Justices are required to submit their Form 700s to the California Fair Political Practices Commission annually," said Conneely, referring to the disclosure documents I used for this report to identify which and how many judges own financial company stocks and bonds. "Judges and justices swear an oath; abide by a code of judicial ethics; receive two mandatory ethics trainings when they take office, followed by additional required ethics training once every three years; and they are subject to review by the Commission on Judicial Performance."
Geyh said the difficultly borrowers are having with banks in and out of court might be more likely due to systems outside the courts, and not under the control of the judges, that empower banks over their customers in lots of settings. "You can't blame the judge," he said. "You blame a regulatory structure that is entrenched.
"You have a period in time in which there's a lot of sympathy for homeowners," Geyh continued. "Add to that the judges own a significant chunk of the industry, it's bound to create bad feelings and perception issues."
These issues of fairness, real or perceived, reach down to California's trial courts as well. In Alameda County, fifteen superior court judges disclosed ownership of stocks or bonds in financial companies in their most recently available disclosure filings. Eight Alameda County judges own stock in Bank of America, four in Wells Fargo, and two in JPMorgan Chase, and two in GMAC, the mortgage lending arm of General Motors that is now named Ally Bank. One-third of Santa Clara County Superior Court judges own stock or bonds in financial companies, with the most common investments being JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citibank.
"It was very clear that there is one form of justice for the small borrower and another form of justice for the moneyed interests," said attorney Adams, who is retired and who, as a result, says he is now free to state these things publicly without fear. "It pains me to say that, but having seen the real estate debacle and the judiciary's protection of these fraudulent practices, I have reluctantly come to that conclusion."