Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Eakin case shows need for reforms

Even attempts to discipline wayward appellate judges in Pennsylvania have run head-on into the fundamental underlying ethical problem inherent in electing, rather than appointing, them.

Suspended Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin faces a March 29 trial before the state Court of Judicial Discipline for his role in the pornographic email scandal that has roiled state government.

Last year, Robert Graci, chief counsel for the Judicial Conduct Board, stepped down from the Eakin case after it was revealed that he had been a lawyer and spokesman for Justice Eakin’s 2011 retention campaign.

Last week, Justice Eakin’s lawyer, William Costopoulos, raised another troubling matter involving judicial campaigns.

Judicial Discipline Judge Carmella Mullen had not disclosed publicly or to the parties in the case that she and her husband had been paid about $14,500 for their work on former Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery’s appellate judicial campaigns, for Superior Court in 2003 and Supreme Court in 2007.

Mr. McCaffery, who was forced from the high court bench in October 2014 for his own role in the email scandal, basically ratted out Justice Eakin. He asked Justice Eakin to intervene with then-Chief Justice Ronald Castille or face the revelation of his own role in the fiasco. Justice Eakin declined and Mr. McCaffery departed.

That Judge Mullen had a financial relationship with Mr. McCaffery certainly is of interest to the parties in the case. The issue isn’t whether that relationship would cloud her judgment in the Eakin case, but how the lack of transparency magnifies the perception of potential impropriety — all the more so in a high-profile ethical inquiry such as Justice Eakin’s

Former Justice Joan Orie Melvin was forced from the bench after being convicted in 2013 of theft of services and other crimes for misusing publicly paid judicial staff and other resources in the service of judicial campaigns.

These cases demonstrate that political tentacles have reached deeply into the appellate judicial mechanism, which operates best when free of such entanglements. Legislators should make that happen by approving a pending constitutional amendment to switch from election to appointment of appellate judges.  (Continue Reading

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Eakin case shows need for reforms

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I hope the continuing media coverage in PA brings these needed reforms.