A scathing Philadelphia Inquirer editorial rips the judicial discipline process that allowed Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin to resign amid a lewd email scandal and avoid a public trial and the penalties it might have brought. Eakin was fined $50,000 and allowed to keep his pension (see Gavel Grab).
“The unmistakable impression is that Pennsylvania’s entire judiciary suffers from an arrogance that prevents it from subjecting its own to the sort of unflinching judgment it imposes on others,” the editorial says.
The editorial voices disappointment “that the disciplinary court, particularly after one of its judges showed an encouraging grasp of the need for a public process, gave in to the system’s unhealthy proclivity for backroom bargains.” It goes on to say that another justice was a “more prolific porn-mail participant” than Eakin but enjoyed a “similarly quiet exit” from the high court less than two years ago. The editorial concludes by citing unanswered questions and urging adoption of merit selection of top judges:
“In addition to preemptively sparing the former justices further penalties, the settlements leave important questions unresolved. For example, did lurid communications with attorneys compromise the judges? And once they were revealed, why did the disciplinary system so repeatedly and insistently fail to do its job?
“Eakin’s is the high court’s third resignation in disgrace in as many years. Indeed, at the current rate of about one humiliated justice a year, the court would seem to require an accelerated election schedule just to maintain a full complement. Better yet, the legislature should do away with the expensive partisan elections that produced this bunch and institute merit-based appointments. And as former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis argued in an Inquirer op-ed last week, Gov. Wolf should use a pilot merit selection process to choose Eakin’s interim replacement.”