On leaving the city's old Family Court building, The Inquirer recently reported, some judges saw fit to take the fixtures with them to their new chambers. This neatly illustrated the distance between judicial impropriety and criminal guilt. No one - including the city officials who promised the court's antique accoutrements to the building's buyer - is planning to make a federal case out of this. Nor should they. Still, many Philadelphians are no doubt dismayed that their designated arbiters of justice appeared to stoop to stripping a public facility for parts.
Because judges must be held to higher standards, they are necessarily
subject to special rules and a system for enforcing them.
Pennsylvania's judicial discipline system was sorely needed over the
past year - from the highest court, which defrocked a justice amid
scandal, to Philadelphia's lowly,disbanded Traffic Court, most of which
came under federal indictment. And while the state's judicial conduct
rules have been laudably strengthened, their enforcement remains
inconsistent at best and nonexistent at worst.
Traffic Court's implosion provided a classic example of the need for
judicial discipline as well as the shortcomings of Pennsylvania's
regime. While a jury found most of the judges guilty only of the least
serious federal charges, the prosecution and a state Supreme Court
review revealed Traffic Court to be a long-standing mockery of the
judiciary, replete with favoritism for the personally and politically
connected. And yet the judiciary's response has been halting and
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