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judicial corruption

Report: Over 1,500 American Judges Have Committed Misconduct

Reuters recently published a three-part series that appears to be the most comprehensive look at misconduct by American judges ever. Here's the scope of the project: "In the first comprehensive accounting of judicial misconduct nationally, Reuters identified and reviewed 1,509 cases from the last dozen years – 2008 through 2019 – in which judges resigned, retired or were publicly disciplined following accusations of misconduct. In addition, reporters identified another 3,613 cases from 2008 through 2018 in which states disciplined wayward judges but kept hidden from the public key details of their offenses – including the identities of the judges themselves." The series includes a database of judges who have gotten in trouble in every state.

As a practicing lawyer in a rural area, what is particularly important about this series is that judges in small towns and cities often have little accountability beyond their own moral compasses. There aren't reporters sitting in the courtroom. There aren't a high volume of cases where other members of the public are present. Recently, I was pleased to see that a local village justice (and attorney) was arrested for allegedly stalking his ex-girlfriend and violating orders of protection. But this series shows that may be the exception rather than the rule and having independent judicial conduct bodies with the power to investigate and discipline judges is important.

Here is the second installment of the series:

Here is the third installment of the series:

Why Is the Pennsylvania Judiciary Always in Scandal?

I continue to marvel at how the Pennsylvania courts always get ensnared in scandal. My law school commencement speaker--ex-Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane--has already been convicted of illegally leaking secret grand jury material to reporters, and I graduated in 2013. Several Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who I covered when working for The Legal Intelligencer have had to resign due to scandal or have faced judicial discipline or been convicted of crimes.

The Legal's P.J. D'Annunzio has a piece analyzing why Pennsylvania judges keep on getting in trouble. His answer: "a number of overarching factors contribute to Pennsylvania's judicial woes, from the election of judges to political cronyism, allowed to fester by a judicial disciplinary system that remains ineffective despite reform efforts." For example, one law school professor says that part of the problem is that the Judicial Conduct Board is not independent from the system it is supposed to regulate and discipline.

@SupremeCtofPA Justice Resigns Amid Porn Scandal; Justice Convicted of Corruption Drops Appeal

It's been quite a week for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. First, Justice Seamus P. McCaffery resigned from the court after he was suspended by his fellow justices amid allegations that he sent pornographic emails, attempted to fix his wife's traffic ticket, allowed his wife to receive thousands and thousands of dollars in referral fees from law firms and may have "attempted to exert influence" in judicial court appointments in Philadelphia, the Allentown Morning Call reports. Then today Joan Orie Melvin, who was convicted of using the resources of her chambers on her judicial campaigns, has dropped her appeal, the Associated Press reports. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Melvin's conviction and sentence, including the order requiring her to send apology letters to every judge in Pennsylvania. But the Superior Court rejected the part of the order requiring Melvin to write the apologies on copies of a snapshot of her in handcuffs. 


The Latest PA Judicial Scandal: @SupremeCtofPA Justice Suspended Over Pornographic Emails, Alleged Corruption

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery has been suspended by his own colleagues, among other reasons, because of allegations he sent pornographic emails to other governmental officials, because he allegedly tried to blackmail a fellow justice and because he may have tried to "exert influence over a judicial assignment on the Philadelphia common pleas bench outside the scope of his official duties," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Justice J. Michael Eakin says that McCaffery tried to get Eakin to intercede with Chief Justice Ronald Castille to stand down on the email issue in exchange for not releasing emails that were sent to Eakin's private email account in 2010.

When working for The Legal Intelligencer, I broke the story that McCaffery contacted Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas leaders about a judicial assignment. I wrote at the time: "According to several knowledgeable sources in the Philadelphia court system, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery contacted a high-level Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas leader about civil cases in 2012. Two of the cases, sources said, involved a law firm that had previously paid a referral fee to McCaffery's spouse."

And the Philadelphia Inquirer first reported that McCaffery's wife and chief aide, Lise Rapaport, had been paid 19 referral fees from law firms. The court said in its order that McCaffery "may have acted in his official capacity to authorize his wife to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in referral fees from plaintiffs' firms while she served as Justice McCaffery's administrative assistant." Also at issue for McCaffery are the allegations that he contacted a Philadelphia traffic-court official in connection with a traffic citation issued to his wife.

Castille said in his concurrence to the order that McCaffery sent an email depicting a "woman in sexual congress with a snake" that may violate Pennsylvania's obscenity law. Castille also called McCaffery a sociopath "who has the personality traits of not caring about others, thinking he or she can do whatever is in that person's own self-interest and having little or no sympathy for others."

In dissent from the decision to suspend McCaffery, Justice Debra Todd said "even a justice is entitled to due process" and the matter should be referred to the separate constitutional court, the Court of Judicial Discipline.


@SupremeCtofPA Justice Allegedly Sent Explicit Emails

The Allentown Morning Call's Steve Esack has a startling exclusive about Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery: "Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery forwarded at least eight sexually explicit emails to an employee in the state attorney general's office who later shared them with more than a dozen others, emails reviewed by The Morning Call show. McCaffery is the first judicial figure whose name has surfaced in an unfolding controversy over state employees' sharing the emails that Attorney General Kathleen Kane's staff found in a review of the Jerry Sandusky grand jury investigation."

The emails first surfaced as part of right-to-know requests from the media, but Kane only released poritions of the media, Esack further reports.

According to Esack, Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said earlier this week that a member of the judiciary could violate rules of conduct by sending pornographic emails on government-owned or personal computers. McCaffery's emails were allegedly sent from a personal account.

Prosecutors Suggest Jail Time for Former PA Justice

Now that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has thrown out a requirement that a former Supreme Court justice write apology letters to every judge in Pennsylvania on her picture showing her in handcuffs, prosecutors says that Joan Orie Melvin should be resentenced and face incarceration for using the resources of her chambers on her judicial campaigns, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Melvin is appeaing her conviction to her former colleagues on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

'More Dark Times Ahead' for Philadelphia Courts

The Legal Intelligencer's P.J. D'Annunzio and Hank Grezlak report on the latest judicial corruption scandal in Philadelphia: "The recent guilty plea of a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge to case-fixing charges and the suspension of two other judges, all occurring with the Philadelphia Traffic Court scandal still fresh in the public's mind, has seriously damaged the reputation of the Philadelphia judicial system, members of the legal community said."

Former Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. has plead guilty to fixing cases for donors who contributed to his campaigns. Other Municipal Court judges allegedly are under federal investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office is predicted to look at the entire court system.


Convicted Justice's Sentence Upheld-Except For Penning Apologies On Her Mugshot

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the conviction of former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on charges of misusing the resources of her judicial chambers on her political campaigns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Paula Reed Ward reports. The most unusual part of Orie Melvin's sentence was thrown out: an order requiring her to write apologies to every judge in Pennsylvania on her picture in handcuffs.

Instead, Orie Melvin just has to write apologies. The Superior Court rejected the idea that forcing Orie Melvin to write apology letters was a violation of her right against self-incrimination.

Philly Traffic Court Judges Acquitted of Most Ticket-Fixing Charges

At the conclusion of a judicial corruption trial, four Philadelphia Traffic Court judges were found guilty of perjury and giving false statements, but they were found not guilty of other charges, The Legal Intelligencer's P.J. D'Annunzio reports. All of the defendants were found not guilty of the wire and mail fraud, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy charges.

Did Internal Investigation Affect Federal Prosecution of Traffic Court Corruption?

Philadelphia Traffic Court judges facing federal charges for allegedly fixing tickets argue that an internal investigation influenced federal investigators in building their criminal case, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeremy Roebuck reports. Defense lawyers contend that their clients were promised that their statements to Investigator William G. Chadwick, who was commissioned to do the internal investigation, would remain confidential and they thus made incriminating statements, the Inquirer reports.

Another investigator Jessica Davis testified in federal court that they ensured their investigation was kept separate from federal law enforcement, the Inquirer also reports.

The federal judge has not yet ruled on the issue.


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