Archive for the ‘judicial discipline panel’ Category

Court’s question: Which judges can suspend judges?

September 15, 2013

Right after Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Mark A. Bruno was indicted in a federal ticket-fixing probe, the state Supreme Court landed on him hard, suspending him without pay.

But then, another judicial oversight organization weighed in. Not so fast, said the state Court of Judicial Discipline.

In May, that panel ruled that the federal case against Bruno was weak and ordered his pay – but not his duties – reinstated until his criminal trial.

With those rival rulings as a backdrop, a lawyer for the Judicial Conduct Board, the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the judicial court, stood in court Tuesday to argue that the Supreme Court needed to butt out – that it was the job of the conduct board and its judicial court to suspend judges.

In one of the day’s many ironies, Robert A. Graci had to make this argument to the very body whose actions he was challenging, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Graci also argued that the Supreme Court had overstepped its bounds and wrongly sought to discipline another Traffic Court judge, Christine Solomon. In April, the justices put Solomon on notice that they planned to suspend her without pay for three months – a $22,000 cut – for allegedly stonewalling an internal inquiry into Traffic Court corruption.

The report from that inquiry gave Solomon some notoriety: She was quoted as having told investigators she was aware of ticket-fixing, but did not want to incriminate others by providing details.

The same report strongly suggested that a state Supreme Court justice, Seamus P. McCaffery, had fixed a ticket for his wife. McCaffery has denied this.

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Court’s question: Which judges can suspend judges?

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Pa. CJD suspends indicted administrative Phila. Traffic Court judge without pay

August 20, 2013
Court of Judicial Discipline Judge Bernard L. McGinley

One of the jurists caught up in the ticket-fixing scandal at the now defunct Philadelphia Traffic Court has been suspended without pay.

Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has granted a petition by the Judicial Conduct Board to keep Judge Michael Sullivan off the bench without compensation until further notice.

Sullivan was one of nine judges who were indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia earlier this year over allegations that they tossed motor vehicle citations for friends, relatives and the politically connected.

Sullivan, who sat on Philadelphia’s Traffic Court for a half-decade, had been administrative judge of that bench since 2011.

In an opinion accompanying its Aug. 9 order, the CJD drew contrast between its decision to grant fellow Traffic Court Judge Mark Bruno’s request to continuing receiving a paycheck during his suspension, and its ruling to have Sullivan’s paycheck canceled while his criminal charges are pending.

The CJD had earlier suspended Bruno with pay.

Essentially, the disciplinary court determined that the crimes with which Sullivan is being charged are more serious than those faced by Bruno.

“When Bruno and Sullivan are viewed alongside each other what is noticeable is their differences, not their similarities, so our decision that Bruno should be suspended with pay rather than without pay carries no precedential weight or influence in our deciding that question hear,” the CJD wrote in its opinion. “The extent and nature of the differences between the cases is easily recognized by reading what the Indictment alleges about the respective participation of Bruno and Sullivan in the illegal scheme described there.”

The disciplinary court also pointed out the differences between the various levels of involvement in the day to day operations of Traffic Court as justification for its decision to suspend Bruno with pay, and Sullivan without.

Bruno is an out-of-county magisterial district judge who occasionally heard Philadelphia motor vehicle cases on a per assignment basis while Sullivan was the administrative judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court who was there day in and day out, the CJD noted.

The court also stated that the federal government’s indictment doesn’t allege that Bruno ever placed anything in the mail or participated in any interstate phone calls or wire communications in furtherance of the allegedly illegal ticket-fixing scheme, while Sullivan is alleged to have used his position in the community to “fix” tickets for family members, friends, a former politician, a Philadelphia political ward leader and customers of the Fireside Tavern, a business owned by Sullivan, the CJD’s opinion states.

Federal prosecutors allege that Sullivan directed Fireside customers to leave their traffic citations or related documents at the city bar for him; tavern employees supposedly placed the documents in a box behind the bar.

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Pa. CJD suspends indicted administrative Phila. Traffic Court judge without pay

Fiduciary Watch: California Judges Claim They are Over Disciplined

January 21, 2013

California Judges want the Commission on Judicial Performance to leave them alone. How arrogant can California Judges be to think that they should not be monitored?

Tension between California’s jurists and the Commission on Judicial Performance? That’s nothing new. Fits of judicial pique against the watchdog panel have spiked and ebbed ever since state voters created it in 1960.

But 52 years later, frustration — one justice described it as “palpable anger” — with the 11-member commission has grown to such a high level that there’s now open, albeit cryptic, talk by two judges associations of forcing changes upon the disciplinary agency.

“There seems to be a scope or mission creep to their work,” said California Judges Accociation then President David Rubin, a San Diego trial court judge. “There seem to be significant instances of over discipline. And there seem at times to be issues of discipline for errors of law over real substantive violations of canons of ethics.”

The CJP appears to offer one of the few topics where the CJA and the Alliance of California Judges share similar views. Alliance Director Thomas Hollenhorst, a justice on the Fourth District Court of Appeal, echoed Rubin’s critiques and added what he said is judges’ growing resentment over a pointed tone in both the commission’s advisory letters and disciplinary proceedings.

“What you’re hearing from judges is a concern over what appears to be an attempt to sort of rub judges’ noses in offenses,” said Hollenhorst, who teaches judicial ethics and has served as a special master for the commission.

Commissioners and CJP Director Victoria Henley say they’re perplexed by the claims of over disciplining. They note that the numbers of admonishments, advisory letters and even ousters ordered each year by the CJP have changed little over the past decade. And with five judges and lawyers serving on the panel, they add, there’s significant empathy for what it takes to run a courtroom today.

“Everyone is very aware of the personal effect discipline has on judges,” said seven-year commissioner Judith McConnell, the administrative presiding justice of the Fourth District. “The commissioners take their job very seriously.”

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Fiduciary Watch:  California Judges Claim They are Over Disciplined

Disciplinary case filed against former Fernley judge

January 7, 2013

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline has filed a formal case against a former Fernley Municipal Court judge, accusing him violating judicial canons when he pulled over a woman and presented himself as a police officer.

Judge Daniel Bauer resigned in February after Lyon County prosecutors charged him with two misdemeanors stemming from the September 2011 incident. The criminal charges were then dropped.

But Bauer, a retired Nevada Highway Patrol trooper, now faces a hearing before the judicial discipline panel.

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Disciplinary case filed against former Fernley judge