Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial misconduct' Category

Mediator Brought in to Eakin Ethics Proceedings

A tribunal considering charges of ethics violations against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin (see Gavel Grab) has brought in a veteran lawyer, Richard Sprague, to explore a negotiated agreement that could mean Eakin would not be tried publicly.

The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news, and it also reported there was criticism of the latest development. “The public is entitled to hear the facts and the arguments discused openly,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. “. . .Public confidence in the integrity of the courts will not be strengthened by a private deal.”

Attorney General Kathleen Kane also criticized the action, according to a subsequent Philadelphia Inquirer article. A commentary by Dave Davies at was headlined, “Porngate: old boys network to the rescue.”

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A Judge, Baseball Tickets, and Impartiality: Do They Mix?

Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission does a good job overall of weeding out judges who might have character flaws or totally bad judgment, Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Lyon writes.

Lyon wonders, then, what will happen in a complaint brought by the commission against Manatee County Circuit Judge John Lakin. He reports  that Lakin is accused of receiving choice Rays baseball tickets from a law firm, which was handling a case before him. The case ultimately went the law firm’s way, after the judge overturned a jury verdict. Moreover, “Lakin allegedly got some of them after asking his judicial assistant to seek the tickets from the law firm.” Read more

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Court Scandals Send Dozens of Pennsylvania Cases Back to Square One

2000px-Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Pennsylvania.svgThe Citizens Voice reports that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced on Friday that it had ordered new arguments in nearly a third of the cases it heard in 2015 due to the disruption caused by internal turnover.

The new briefs and arguments required by the court will incur significant further expenses in lawyers’ fees for litigants in 26 cases. The turnover causing these additional costs are largely scandal related, as the court has had to deal with disruptions such as the suspension of Justice Michael Eakin in an email porn scandal (see Gavel Grab).

These delays have meant that the three newly elected justices have to rule on cases they haven’t heard before and, consequently, the three incumbent justices decided they didn’t want to rule with just half the court voting.

In response, the newspaper urges a merit selection system that “emphasizes ability and standards rather than political appeal, thus diminishing the prospects for scandal and justice delayed.” A proposal for the merit selection of top judges is in the legislature, and you can read about it from Gavel Grab.

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Removal Urged for Oregon Judge Accused of Ethics Violations

Oregon’s Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability has recommended removal of Marion County Judge Vance Day, who declined to perform weddings for same-sex couples and who faced other misconduct allegations too (see Gavel Grab).

“Judge Day shows no outward sign of comprehending the extent or nature of his ethical violations,” the commission wrote in a report giving its recommendation to the state Supreme Court. “His misconduct is of such a nature as to impugn his honesty and integrity,” it said, according to Read more

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Pennsylvania High Court to Rehear More Than 25 Cases

With only three justices on its bench who presided over cases last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to rehear more than 25 cases from 2015, Law360 reports.

At its full strength, the court has seven members. Three justices seated on the bench now were elected in November and are new. Justice Michael Eakin, meanwhile, has been suspended as a scandal swirls about offensive emails (see Gavel Grab), and he faces ethics charges. Read more

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Will More Judges Face Ethics Scrutiny in Pennsylvania?

Will an ethics proceeding against a suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice over offensive emails bring scrutiny for more judges?

That was a theme of news reports following a pre-trial conference before the Court of Judicial Discipline. A lawyer for Justice Michael Eakin, the judge facing ethics charges, said that if unsolicited emails received by Eakin are treated as evidence against him, he would call as witnesses other judges who received — but did not send — such emails.

“If they determine unsolicited emails are admissible, I’ll do what I have to do,” attorney William Costopoulos said on Thursday, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  Read more

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Report: More PA Justices Received Offensive Emails

With one Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice suspended and facing ethics charges, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that two other justices also received emails that a state ethics board has labeled offensive.

Justices Max Baer and Kevin Dougherty were among a number of judges and court employees who received the emails, with Baer receiving eight and Dougherty — who just took office — receiving three, in a former post.

The newspaper said the emails were sent to Baer and Dougherty by then-Justice Seamus McCaffery, who stepped down in 2014 after his mailing “hundreds of pornographic and otherwise offensive emails” became known and caused a scandal. The emails sent to Baer and Dougherty did not contain pornography, according to The Inquirer. Read more

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Column Blasts Disciplinary Process for State Judge

New York Daily News columnist Shaun King, in a strongly worded commentary, blasts as racially biased a disciplinary proceeding under way in Kentucky and focusing on Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens. Stevens, who is African-American, is facing a “highly secretive, all-white, Judicial Conduct Commission” according to King.  “In a cruel twist of fate, Stevens, who became nationally known for striking down all-white juries with black defendants, is now going to appear before an exclusively white commission himself,” King writes.

King is unsparing in his criticism of what he describes as “the double standard” being applied, as well as “the ridiculousness of having an all-white panel playing such an important role in 2016.”

Stevens is facing disciplinary action for discussing the issue of all-white juries on his Facebook page.  According to reports, Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., in referring the case to the disciplinary body, wrote that Stevens “appears to flout the directives of the Code of Judicial Conduct, creating a social-media firestorm calculated to aggrandize himself by exploiting the deep-seated and widespread distrust of the criminal-justice system by minority communities.”


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Scandal, Suspension Cloud Issue of Succession to Chief Justice Seat

Justice Eakin

Justice Eakin

With three new justices poised to be sworn in, and the ongoing investigation and suspension of the court’s second most senior member, Justice Michael Eakin, the Legal Intelligencer reports that questions are swirling about potential replacements for the retiring Pennsylvania Chief Justice Thomas Saylor.  Eakin remains on temporary suspension while investigators review his conduct surrounding the exchange of lewd and offensive emails. (See Gavel Grab.)

The Intelligencer reports that Eakin’s suspension could upset his designation as the justice “next longest in continuous service,” and if he returns to service, he may be bypassed in favor of Justice Max Baer.

Meanwhile, an absence of case law interpreting the phrase “continuous service” has created further confusion about who will succeed Chief Justice Saylor.

The issue could come down to a distinction between an interim suspension and one that could be imposed later following the adjudication of Eakin’s case, according to Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

The question of who will take up the mantle of chief justice is currently set to be answered one year from now, following Saylor’s retirement at the end of 2016. But the public is set to vote in April on a constitutional amendment that would raise the mandatory judicial retirement age to 75. If the amendment is approved, Saylor would be allowed to stay on the bench until the end of 2021, if he were to win a retention election.

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Discipline Court Suspends Pennsylvania’s Justice Eakin

Justice Eakin

Justice Eakin

Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has suspended state Justice Michael Eakin, with pay, over lewd and offensive emails, saying they have “tainted the Pennsylvania judiciary in the eyes of the public.”

Eakin is charged with violating the rules of judicial conduct, and his suspension is effective until the same court makes a finding on those charges, The Philadelphia Inquirer said.

“Until the trial on the merits, when the actions of the Respondent can be more closely reviewed, the integrity of the Pennsylvania judiciary has been and continues to be subject to disrespect. The only means to ensure the public’s confidence in the Pennsylvania judiciary is to suspend the Respondent pending the full trial on the merits of the Complaint,” the discipline court said. You can read the court’s order by clicking here.

Eakin has apologized, while contending the email exchanges were intended to be private and did not affect his serving as an impartial judge. The accusations against him come as scandal has affected several members of the court, and amid calls — and proposed legislation — for Pennsylvania to stop electing its top judges and adopt instead an appointive, merit-based selection system (see Gavel Grab).

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