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judicial discipline

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.

After Justice's Resignation, Doubt Deepens About Pennsylvania's Judicial Discipline System

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin has resigned from the court amid an ethics probe into a multitude of sexist, racist and pornographic emails he received. However, his resignation has deepened the skepticism about Pennsylvania's judicial discipline system. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Craig R. McCoy, Angela Couloumbis and Mark Fazlollah report. After Eakin resigned, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board asked for permission to drop the most serious charge it had brought against Eakin, which would let Eakin keep his $153,000 annual pension.

Eakin was cleared the first time the JCB reviewed the emails. But the JCB began a new investigation when Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane (facing her own criminal charges for allegedly leaking grand jury material to the press) raised "additional questions about his email with jokes that mocked women, minorities, immigrants, and others," The Inquirer reports.

Supreme Court Justice Faces Discipline Over Porn Emails

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin is facing misconduct charges because he exchanged emails with images of nude women and jokes that were demeaning to religious groups, women and minorities, The Inquirer's Angela Couloumbis, Craig R. McCoy and Mark Fazlollah report. The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board said those emails had the appearance of impropriety and brought the court into disrepute.

Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, who is embroiled in her own fight to stay in office, was the one who raised the public profile of the fact that Eakin had exchanged pornographic emails with allegedly racial, misogynistic tones. The board already reviewed Eakin's messages and cleared him in the first review. But the JCB revisited the emails after Kane raised the issue again.

The emails were exchanged between judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and other law enforcement officials, the Inquirer reports.

Supreme Court Mulls Its Power To Suspend Judges

In the wake of a ticket-fixing scandal and ensuing federal prosecution, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on whether the justices, along with the court that hears judicial discipline cases, can suspend judges that get into trouble, @zneedlestli reported for The Legal Intelligencer.

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