The trial of former Superior Court Judge, Michael T. Joyce, on criminal fraud is now set but will be held in Pittsburgh in a venue change. The case, involving claims of false insurance claims, presents an interesting intersection between torts and criminal law — as well as judicial ethics.
Presiding judge Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr. agreed that the publicity surrounded the trial could taint the jury pool and moved the trial to Pittsburgh. The prosecution will focus on actions taken before and after the August 2001 slow-speed collision that Joyce said left him severely injured. The accident brought Joyce $440,000 in an insurance settlement.
The case is likely to bring out some rather bizarre elements, such as the fact that Joyce was basically living in his chambers before the accident after breaking up with his girlfriend and telling his landlord that he could only afford $100 a month in rent.
After the accident, however, the prosecution alleges that Joyce went on a spending spree buying a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a plane, a house and a hot tub, and spending $6,000 for cosmetic surgery for his girlfriend. The prosecutors will also show that Joyce went in-line skating at Presque Isle State Park on Sept. 2, 2002, while his insurance claims claimed that he was severely injured with debilitating neck and back injuries.
Erie Insurance settled Joyce’s claim within three months and most notably never demanded an independent medical examination.
The case will also involve a claim of being an “eggshell thin skull” claimant — saying that, while the accident was at a low speed, he was susceptible to severe because he had undergone cervical-fusion surgery in 1992. It could be a stretch since the accident occurred at the not-so-break-neck speed of 5 miles an hour.
The government was barred from introducing evidence of a May 2003 crash at between 25 and 30 mph when Joyce walked away unharmed to rebut the eggshell claim. The judge however said that the evidence was irrelevant.
Some of the claims made by Joyce were allegedly contained on judicial letterhead — a violation of basic rules of ethics. He had been suspended after the indictment before he resigned.
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