In his 2020 and 2021 annual disclosures, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk wrote that he held between $5 million and $25 million in “common stock” of a company – a significant majority of the judge’s personal wealth. The name of the company he held stock in is redacted, despite the fact that federal law only allows redactions of information that could “endanger” a judge or their family member.
CNN obtained a previous financial disclosure for Kacsmaryk – which is not available online – from 2017, when he was a judicial nominee.
On that unredacted form, Kacsmaryk reported owning about $2.9 million in stock in the Florida-based supermarket company Publix. It’s not clear whether that’s the same holding as the redacted stock, although Publix’s share price had significantly increased by 2020 and 2021 and the company is no longer listed on his more recent disclosures.
CNN reported that the stock holding accounted for at least 85% of Kacsmaryk’s total reported wealth in 2021, and potentially more. Kacsmaryk told CNN that the redactions were duly approved by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts “after reviewing the relevant rules and applicable threats.” He said the private company does not do any business in Texas and has never been a party to any case before his court in the Northern District of Texas.
It appears likely that Kacsmaryk obtained the Publix stock through his paternal grandmother, Mary Lacek Kacsmaryk. Her May 2017 obituary said she “joined the Publix team early in its history and worked 25+ years. Anyone who knew Mary K, as she was known at Publix, knew her passion and pride for being a Publix team member.”
Publix, whose stores are located in Florida and other southeastern states, is the largest employee-owned supermarket chain in the U.S. Its stock is only available to current and former employees and executives. Members of the founding Jenkins family hold about 20% of the shares. It was founded in 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida, by George W. Jenkins. With a net worth of $8.8 billion, the Jenkins family was ranked the 39th wealthiest family in the U.S. by Forbes Magazine in 2020. The current CEO, Randall Todd Jones, is the first non-Jenkins family member to hold that position, but at least three members of the family sit on the board of directors.
The Jenkins family is known for its support of right-wing causes. Federal Election Commission records show multiple heirs of Publix’s founder maxed out their donations to Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign and gave even more money to pro-Trump Political Action Committees.
George Jenkins’ daughter, Julie Jenkins Fancelli, donated nearly $2 million to the Republican National Committee and Trump’s failed reelection campaign in 2020, according to Forbes. Last year, Fancelli donated $50,000 in seed money to the political committee set up by the anti-LGBTQ Florida-based Moms For Liberty, the right-wing parental rights advocacy group that is supporting school board candidates and book bans.
And Fancelli was the largest publicly known donor to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally at The Ellipse outside the White House that preceded the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, The Washington Post reported. Fancelli testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, but declined to answer most questions, citing the Fifth Amendment. Asked in her interview with the committee whether she intended the rally on Jan. 6 to be anything but peaceful, Fancelli responded “no,” according to the Post.
The House committee released a document titled “Fancelli Budget and Trip Plan Monday January 4 Wednesday January 6, 2021” that shows she was willing to pay as much as $3 million to people and groups protesting certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
Fancelli had reserved a room from Jan. 4-6 at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.—the site of a “command center” run by Trump’s top lieutenants, including Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman (founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a public interest law firm affiliated with the conservative think tank Claremont Institute), and former Trump White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who were working to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She cancelled her planned trip to Washington and did not attend the rally.
The transcript of Fancelli’s testimony reveals that the Publix heiress paid $1.25 million to groups linked to Charlie Kirk—head of conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA—to pay for social media influencers and buses to transport Trump supporters to Washington, the Post reported. Turning Point USA used $60,000 of Fancelli’s money to cover a speaking fee for Donald Trump Jr.’s fiancee, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who briefly addressed the crowd at The Ellipse rally.
Fancelli also paid $200,000 to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who used his InfoWars platform to support efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and provided a private flight to Washington to longtime Trump aide Roger Stone, according to the Post. She also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups behind the Stop the Steal rally, including the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association and Women for America First.
When reports of her financial support for the Jan. 6 rally first surfaced, Fancelli released a statement: “I am a proud conservative and have real concerns associated with election integrity, yet I would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded on January 6.” Her financial support for the Jan. 6 rally prompted some customers to call for a boycott of Publix in early 2021.
Until 2017, Fancelli owned a food imports company that sold millions of dollars’ worth of products to Publix. The supermarket chain said she no longer is involved in the company in any way. On Jan. 20, 2021, Publix called the events of Jan. 6 “a national tragedy,” adding that “the deplorable actions that occurred that day do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets.”
Publix itself has been embroiled in controversies over other issues. In the aftermath of the February 2018 Parkland school shooting, survivors and their supporters staged “die-ins” at Publix supermarkets to protest the company’s donation of $670,000 through its political action committee to the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Adam Putnam, who had strongly opposed stricter gun laws. Putnam lost the 2018 Republican primary to Ron DeSantis.
In early 2021, Publix donated $100,000 to DeSantis’s reelection campaign. Shortly afterward, the governor awarded Publix a lucrative and exclusive contract to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in its stores, which put some Black and rural communities at a disadvantage.
And that brings us back to the question of why Kacsmaryk redacted the name of the stock of the company that had provided the lion’s share of his personal fortune. Were those the shares in Publix he had previously acknowledged holding? If so, what, if any, are his relations to the Jenkins family, and in particular Julie Fancelli?
There have been lots of questions about transparency in the federal judiciary, particularly after questions were raised about whether Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas violated federal ethics laws by failing to disclose his lavish travel and real estate deals with Texas billionaire and mega-GOP donor Harlan Crow.
RELATED STORY: The Clarence Thomas scandal keeps growing
Kacsmaryk’s redactions have caught the attention of advocates for judicial transparency, The Washington Post reported:
Legal ethics experts characterized Kacsmaryk’s redactions as highly unusual and said withholding the name of a stock undermines the purpose of the disclosure system. Stephen Gillers, an ethics expert at New York University Law School, said litigants need to know the identity of the investments a judge holds to decide whether they should seek that judge’s recusal from a case.
“Removing that name is exactly contrary to the reason we want it revealed,” Gillers said. “If there’s one thing you want to know in a financial disclosure form, it’s where the judge has his or her investments.”
Under federal ethics laws, redactions are allowed to “protect the individual who filed the report or a family member” for “as long as the danger to such individual exists.” That raises the question of whether the judiciary committee that signed off on Kacmaryk’s redactions had a serious security concern about making the name of the company public.
The Post reported:
William Edward Palin, a software developer and lawyer at the Free Law Project
, which created a public database of the financial disclosure forms, told the Post that he has reviewed thousands of forms and said very few have the entire name of a stock blacked out. “Kacsmaryk’s entire net worth seems to be wrapped up in the one stock that is redacted,” Palin said. “It negates the entire purpose of the financial disclosures if 96 percent of this judge’s net worth is hidden from the general public. It’s clear as day.”