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Sotomayor Rose High, with Few Assets

By Joe Stephens
Congressional staffers tend to begin the vetting process for Supreme Court nominees by looking for fatal flaws in their personal finances -- anything from shady business partners to holdings in corporations that might have business before the court. Experience has proven that financial holdings can prove fertile ground for digging.

Not so in the case of Sonia Sotomayor of New York, who is considered a front-runner to replace the retiring David H. Souter.

Although Sotomayor earns $179,500 a year as a judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York and worked for eight years as a private attorney in New York before joining the bench, in recent years she has reported having virtually no assets.

For 2007, Sotomayor, who is divorced, reported that she had no financial holdings that needed to be reported on her personal financial disclosure report, save for a checking account and a saving account with Citibank. Combined, the accounts were worth $50,000 to $115,000. That was more than she reported as assets during the previous four years, during which the value of the accounts at some points was listed as low as $30,000.

Since at least 2003, she has reported owning no stocks and having no investments in real estate.

The judge's reportable net worth has hardly changed at all since she was appointed to the bench in 1992, according to a source in a position to know. The modest increase in her net worth in 2007 may be attributable to a home equity loan she took out to do some renovations, the source said.

Disclosed assets may not tell the whole financial picture, as federal rules do not require judges to disclose the value of their personal residences. Sotomayor has listed no outstanding loans or other liabilities in recent years, except for four credit cards.

Some of Sotomayor's disclosure forms appear incomplete or have included jumbled value codes. Sotomayor has filed at least one amended report to correct the problems, the source said, but that report was not immediately available to reporters and the public.

Experts on the federal judiciary said that a small but significant number of federal judges file reports as sparse as Sotomayor's.

"It's a little sad that someone at the top of the legal profession has so few reportable assets, but that's the reality of living on a federal judicial salary in Manhattan," said Doug Kendall of the nonprofit Constitutional Accountability Center.

Sotomayor brought in some extra income in 2007 by working as an adjunct professor at New York Law School and lecturing at Columbia Law School. Those jobs paid her nearly $25,000 that year. She also has traveled frequently to conferences. In 2007, she reported being reimbursed for expenses related to six trips, such as a stint teaching at the University of Puerto Rico and a trip to a judicial clerkship institute at Pepperdine University.

Junkets for judges have become a point of criticism in recent years, but Kendall said Sotomayor's trips appear to have come from reputable sources, and that Sotomayor may have exceeded disclosure requirements by including trips underwritten by the federal government.

Kendall added that any apparent glitches Sotomayor may have made on her reports appear, on the surface, to have been minor and fairly common place.

Posted at 11:15 AM ET on May 7, 2009  | Category:  Supreme Court
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People seem to be saying she has no assets, therefore she will have no problems with the financial part of the vetting process. On the other hand, you have to wonder about a 54 year old single person with a salary of $179,000, supplemented by salary from teaching, no children or other dependents that we know of, with zero savings. What does she spend the money on? What about post-retirement planning or the prospect of a rainy day? It makes you wonder about her character and values in the most basic sense.

Posted by: sbgivens | May 9, 2009 7:26 PM

No, I think the "whisper campaign" was more along the lines of "she's lazy and hot-tempered."

Posted by: JakeD | May 8, 2009 11:45 AM

I suspect Judge Sotomayor has different priorities than many people who enter public life. She has chosen to focus on jurisprudence instead of attaining wealth or power.

Posted by: query0 | May 8, 2009 5:47 AM

Isn't there some "whisper campaign" about her that the WaPo should be reporting on?

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 9:23 PM

Shouldn't the obvious question for reporters be "what's missing?" Where is her money going? Don't assume that the forms tell the whole story.

Posted by: tomtildrum | May 7, 2009 11:53 AM

As a financial adviser working in Newton, MA, I am sadly not surprised. The number of highly compensated, high responsibility professionals who have amassed no significant wealth through investing is shockingly high. The truth is that most Americans don't begin to save until their fifties. I would expect that that is even more true for minorities who tend to be less trusting of the financial world.

Posted by: LeRiverend | May 7, 2009 11:49 AM

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