Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial misconduct' Category

Will Another Porn Email Scandal Affect Pennsylvania High Court?

Will the Pennsylvania Supreme Court be affected by another email porn scandal? The latest headlines suggest that, less than a year after then-Justice Seamus McCaffery resigned following  his apology for sending sexually explicit emails, which he had described as private and personal (see Gavel Grab).

The latest headlines are based on statements by Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is facing criminal charges that she leaked confidential grand jury information to damage a critic. Here are some of the headlines, involving Justice J. Michael Eakin: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Kane says Justice Eakin exchanged porn emails on state servers”; Philadelphia Daily News, “New emails surface in Kathleen Kane saga”; and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Attorney General Kane: Sitting state justice sent, received ‘racial, misogynistic pornography’ on state computers.” Read more

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Watchdog Group Accuses Moore of Judicial Ethics Violations

Chief Justice Roy Moore

AL Chief Justice Roy Moore

The Southern Poverty Law Center accused  Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Wednesday of violating judicial ethics through his public criticisms on the Obergefell decision, reported Associated Press.

Earlier this year, the SPLC had filed a complaint against Moore after he advised judges in Alabama not to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples, mentioned the same source. Moore argued probate judges were “part of an independent judicial branch” and “not bound by a federal judge’s order overturning Alabama’s  ban on gay marriage.”

Now, the SPLC has filed a supplement to its complaint, contending that Moore has committed ethics violations by “improperly commenting on pending cases” and “saying that he couldn’t accept the gay marriage ruling as binding precedent and would recuse himself in future cases.”

The complaint states that Moore’s “open and blatant disregard for judicial ethics” makes him “unfit to be judge.”

“If Chief Justice Moore wants to make political speeches or be an activist in opposition to same-sex marriage, he is free to do so, but he cannot simultaneously hold his current position on the Alabama Supreme Court,” SPLC President Richard Cohen wrote in the complaint.

Moore did not comment on the filing.



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Judge Reprimanded in Part Over ‘Psychopaths’ Remarks

The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded a trial judge, Michael Thomas Seiler, in part because the judge decried the “psychopaths” who appear before him in court. Judge Seiler was talking to a Texas Patriot PAC audience, and he also held up a photo of Hannibal Lecter, a fictional serial killer in the “Silence of the Lambs” movie.

According to an ABA Journal article, the  commission said the judge’s remarks “could cause reasonable observers to perceive he would not be fair and impartial while presiding in … civil commitment proceedings.” It also said he was “impatient, discourteous and undignified” in statements to attorneys representing sex offenders. Read more

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Federal Court: Ex-Judge’s Emails Must be Preserved

In a long-running controversy involving former U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull of Montana, a U.S. judge has ordered federal officials to preserve hundreds of his emails.

Then-Judge Cebull got in trouble after forwarding a racist and sexist email about President Obama from his courthouse computer (see Gavel Grab), and Indian petitioners asked another federal court to locate and preserve Cebull’s emails as evidence.  They want to challenge prior rulings he issued.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has ordered that the emails be kept until January 2019, according to the Associated Press. She did not rule yet on an argument by lawyers for the judiciary that the emails may not be disclosed under federal law.

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Two Philadelphia Judges Face Ethics Counts

Two Philadelphia Municipal Court judges,  linked with a scandal that sent a third judge to federal prison, are now the target of ethics counts lodged by the state’s Judicial Conduct Board, according to

Judges Dawn Segal and Joseph O’Neill face seven ethics counts, and the Board seeks to suspend them. At issue, according to the article, are their conversations about cases before their courts, conducted outside the courtroom with Judge C. Waters Jr., and for not reporting the conversations. Read more

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For a Facebook Post, Court Recommends Judge’s Suspension

The Florida Supreme Court has recommended suspension for 30 days of Seminole County Judge Debra Krause, on top of a separate election-season punishment, for a Facebook post suggesting the challenger who defeated her husband in a judicial contest had lied.

The recommended suspension came on top of an earlier penalty set by the Judicial Qualifications Commission of a $25,000 fine and a reprimand for violations tied to her 2012 campaign for office, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

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Ex-Judge Pleads Guilty to Bribery Count in Contributions Case

1372349497-maggioEx-trial judge Michael Maggio of Arkansas has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of bribery lodged in connection with  a campaign contribution to his then-campaign for the state Court of Appeals.

According to the Arkansas Gazette, Maggio acknowledged “he accepted a bribe in the form of a campaign contribution in exchange for reducing a jury’s negligence verdict against a Conway business.” At sentencing, he could receive up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Last year, the newspaper said in summing up the case, “[Q]uestions arose about contributions Maggio’s campaign accepted from several political action committees financed largely by businessman and nursing-home owner Michael Morton. … Days after some of those donations were made, Maggio reduced a jury-awarded $5.2 million judgment against one of Morton’s nursing homes to $1 million.” Read more

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Judge Suspended For Accepting Free Trip From Lawyer

A Louisiana judge who accepted a free trip from an attorney acted in ways that “harmed the integrity of and respect for the judiciary,” the Louisiana Supreme Court said.

District Judge Robin Free was suspended for 30 days without pay, according to The Advocate. The judge accepted the three-day trip to a Texas hunting ranch  “from a Texas attorney whose client was awarded a $1.2 million settlement in a personal injury lawsuit tried in the judge’s court,” the newspaper said.

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Judges Behaving Badly Are Disciplined in Michigan

A spate of high profile scandals involving sitting elected judges has resulted in cracking down by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission. A Detroit Free Press article examines the misconduct and invites readers to reach their own conclusions.

“I think you can make the point that this is a troubled judiciary,” said Charles Gardner Geyh, a professor of law at Indiana University. “But there is a counterpoint to be made. Michigan is doing a fairly aggressive job of rooting out misconduct.”

The article recounts a rather sensational side to the scandals:

“They lied, stole, forged bank documents, padded expense accounts, drove drunk, slept with litigants and jailed innocent people. Michigan judges have been in big trouble in recent years. The number of judges disciplined — about 35 per year — has not gone up, but the level of chicanery has soared.”

Read more

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Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Drops Appeal


Former Justice Joan Orie Melvin

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin has dropped her appeal and has begun serving her sentence, according to an article by the Associated Press. Her sentence on public corruption charges includes sending apology letters to other state judges and three years of house arrest. (For more background see Gavel Grab.)

Melvin has submitted drafted apology letters, but has been met with contention by District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. “[A]ttempting to deflect blame for her actions to members of her staff can hardly be considered an apology,” Zappala said. His concerns deal with a specific paragraph in Melvin’s draft that reads, “In reflection, I wish I had been more diligent in my supervision of my staff and that I had given them more careful instructions with respect to the prohibition on political activity.” Zappala has forwarded his comments to the sentencing judge, but no response has been received.

Melvin was convicted of using her judicial staffers, who are paid with taxpayer money, for her own state Supreme Court campaigns. This scandal involving the court has been quickly followed by another which resulted in the resignation of Justice Seamus McCaffery, leading some to question the process of electing judges.

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