Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lancaster City District Judge Kelly Ballentine removed from bench


Kelly Ballentine
A Lancaster city district judge suspended for dismissing her own traffic tickets  and failing to file tax returns has been removed from the bench.

Pennsylvania's Court of Judicial Discipline, in a 5-3 ruling, filed an order Tuesday that removes Magisterial District Judge Kelly Ballentine from her Locust Street office.

She held the post in the city's southeast quadrant since January 2006.

"Judge Ballentine has failed to conduct herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary," President Judge Timothy F. McCune wrote for the majority.

McCune added, "The hypocrisy inherent in judging others for tax violations while she herself was committing those same violations certainly contributes to causing disrepute."

"The cumulative effect of all this misconduct over a period of years mandates a severe sanction," he wrote.

Ballentine's attorney, Samuel C. Stretton of West Chester, called the ruling "awfully harsh and wrong" and said Ballentine will appeal to the state Supreme Court, which must take the case.

"I'm not saying she should do these things. Don't get me wrong," Stretton said. "But the offenses were relatively minor. I don't think it warranted removal. We have suggested a suspension of several months without pay."

He said Ballentine was "very disappointed, surprised and shocked" by the decision.

Ballentine becomes the 13th Pennsylvania magisterial district judge removed from office since the creation of the Court of Judicial Discipline in 1993, according to Robert A. Graci, chief counsel of the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania.

Removal "appropriate"

Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker, who oversees the county's district judges, called the removal "entirely appropriate."

"Her behavior represents a personal shortcoming and is, in no way, a reflection of the honorable service of the women and men who so ably serve our county as judges," Reinaker said Wednesday.
Ballentine was in the midst of her second six-year term, to run through 2018.

Senior district judges have been presiding over Ballentine's cases since she was suspended in February.

Ballentine pleaded guilty in February 2013 to three misdemeanors for entering the magisterial district judge's computer system and dismissing three of her own traffic tickets between Dec. 29, 2010 and Jan. 27, 2011.

She paid a fine, was placed on probation and was suspended from her duties for 16 months before returning to the bench in June 2013 on probation.

While under probation, she heard cases until February 2015.

Unpaid sales taxes

The Court of Judicial Discipline said Ballentine also engaged in judicial misconduct when she failed to file sales tax returns from 2009 to 2012 while she owned Walk-In-Style Fashion Footwear, 356 N. Queen St.

Because her store didn't sell many shoes, she failed to submit only about $130 in sale taxes during those years, according to the court opinion.

The state Revenue Department revoked Ballentine's business license in January 2012, but in September 2012 the state cited her for operating the business without a license.

For that summary offense, she was found guilty in October 2013 of a summary offense, and she paid $369.45 in fines and costs.

A Judicial Conduct Board inquiry then found that Ballentine failed to submit timely individual federal and state tax returns for five years — from 2009 through 2013.

Although she failed to file tax forms, Ballentine did pay taxes during those year through paycheck withholding.

"I saw no disrepute here in terms of the judge not filing her taxes when she did pay her taxes," said Stretton, Ballentine's attorney. "And there was never any complaint about her conduct on the bench."

Dissent issued

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Charles A. Clement Jr. wrote that Ballentine ran "an orderly and proper court while administering justice fairly."

"Judge Ballentine's conduct might be described as negligent or reckless," said Clement, adding tha the "ultimate sanction" of removal from office "is more properly reserved for intentional misconduct."

Clement said voters should have the final say.

Separately, a state House committee in June unanimously supported investigating Ballentine for possible impeachment. The bill moved to the full House.

State Rep. Bryan Cutler of Quarryville led the charge for an investigation.

Full Article & Source: 
Lancaster City District Judge Kelly Ballentine removed from bench

See Also:
District Judge Kelly Ballentine suspended without pay for failing to file taxes

Pennsylvania District Judge Kelly Ballentine Suspended From Practicing as an Attorney, But Continues to Sit on the Bench  

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