Pennsylvania Judge Deborah Griffin Removed From Bench for Concealment of Prior Crime

The controversy over Pennsylvania judge Deborah Griffin is over. The state supreme court has removed her from the bench due to her guilty plead to credit card fraud 25 years ago.

As discussed in an earlier blog, here, Griffin was found to be a former felon.

These crimes are treated as “infamous” and a bar to judicial service or “any other office of trust or profit” in the state. The Court’s 4-0 decision found that “the public trust and public administration of justice would be adversely affected were (Griffin) to remain in judicial office.”

In 1984, Griffin pleaded guilty and was given a suspended prison sentence, placed on probation and ordered to pay $1,200 restitution. In 1988, she was suspended from practicing law for falsely claiming on her bar application that she had never been arrested or prosecuted for a crime.

Despite the suspension, citizens still elected her to the municipal court in 2001 and then reelected her.

For the opinion, click here

12 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Judge Deborah Griffin Removed From Bench for Concealment of Prior Crime”

  1. This story is still continuing. THE HILL newspaper reported on May 6, 2008 that a group called “Chamworks” is lobbying for Deborah Griffin to get a pardon (pg 10 bottom).

  2. Michael Spindell:

    “God save us from the legal experts of the world, Justices Scalia and Bork for instance, who divorce empathy and humanity from their decisions.”

    I am reasonably certain that the two Judges mentioned never even met the two ideas you cite, or, if so, only in the context of their own social circle.

    I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. –Abraham Lincoln (1865)

    He who is merely just is severe. –Voltaire

  3. Mespo,
    Thank you for your clarification of Judge Griffin’s “crimes.” How easy it is for people to be draconian in their judgment of others. We live in a time of diminished compassion for others, although it can be argued that compassion has never been a dominant human trait. Were I in Judge Griffin’s position I may well have done as she had done. However,
    I am a middle-class white who grew up with more opportunities than she had. This is not to say my life has been without difficulty and as a father I know there were times I had to “cut corners” to keep my children safe. I can remember not paying certain bills because my children needed expensive medicine. Luck and generous in-laws helped me through those bad times. Judge Griffin didn’t have that benefit. It seems to me that were I being prosecuted, she would be the kind of judge I would like at my trial. God save us from the legal experts of the world, Justices Scalia and Bork for instance, who divorce empathy and humanity from their decisions.

  4. Patty C:

    I am thinking of injunctive relief, but seriously, I do like those avatars on the site you gave me. I may have to get a petition drive started with JT.

  5. XT:

    For a little more perspective in your judgment, maybe you will consider this information from the Philadelphia Weekly:

    “She tells how [Griffin] grew up in an East Harlem housing project and as a young woman got caught at the end of her husband’s abusive fist. Out of work with bad credit and two sons—one of them autistic—she made up a Social Security number to get a job. She also used it to get two credit cards. When her estranged husband (who later died of a drug overdose) got caught in one of his crimes, he once again turned on his wife.”

    and from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    “In its 1992 recommendation to the state Supreme Court, the lawyers’ board noted that she was “the widow of an abusive, drug-addicted man who encouraged her to commit the credit card fraud.In her own mailer to voters when she first ran for a judgeship, Griffin said of herself: “Judges bring personal perspective to their decision process. My perspective matured from everyday life experiences and a sense of compassion for people.”

    She would not be the first person done in by an abusive spouse, or out of desperation to support her children. There is stealing for the fun of it, and stealing to survive. You tell what happened here, and if you would treat them both the same.

    You apparently believe that she should be barred for life, I prefer a more humane response. Tell me this, would you rather be judged by someone like Judge Griffin, who has firsthand experience of life’s vicissitudes, or someone with your stern sensibilities. I would like a little more time in her moccasins before I become so dogmatic about her fate.

  6. How did you suppose she paid for her crime? She received a suspended sentence all those years ago, has practiced law, and became a judge. Further, when confornted with her crime does she show remorse and resign? No she continues to fight and is quoted in the paper today as saying “I could teach or lecture” “I may go back to practicing criminal law.”

  7. MS:

    “There is far too much history of DA’s forcing unfair convictions in the service of hoping for publicity to run for higher office.”

    a la Rudolph Giuliani and Eliot Spitzer for examples. However, I’m not confident that making the DA an appointed position would necessarily remove the aspirations for higher office.

  8. Supposedly a “criminal” is punished for their crime(s)and after paying the penalty one would expect that they have the right to reform their lives. This Judges crimes were certainly not “infamous” and one can infer that she has fully rehabilitated herself. Most of the laws that impose further penalties on felons were written by legislators trying to make political points by shooting at easy targets (ie: loss of voting rights)so they could seem to be “tough on crime.”

    Professor Turley and the other lawyers on this site know full well that our legal system is much less than perfect and often the innocent are convicted of crimes they did not commit. Many people are also browbeaten by DA’s and Law Enforcers into accepting plea bargains for crimes which they may not have committed, but are bludgeoned by threats of more severe punishments if they go to trial. I have no idea whether this is the case with this Judge, but given what we all know to be true those who have “paid their debt to society” should then have their full rights restored.

    I also agree very strongly with Mespo and his opposition to judicial elections, however, I would expand it somewhat. I believe that district Attorneys should also be taken out of the electoral system.
    There is far too much history of DA’s forcing unfair convictions in the service of hoping for publicity to run for higher office. The politization of Judges and DA’s besmirches our legal system and often convicts innocent people. How we de-politicize these appointments is a mystery to me and I would appreciate ideas from those with more legal training.

  9. I have concerns that the PA Supreme Court have overruled the will of the community that elected Judge Griffin, and then re-elected her, with full knowledge of her past. The concealment is troubling but will the crime remain a scarlet letter after all this time? There appears to be no evidence that she has done anything except fulfill the obligations of her office free from taint and corruption. If the decision is made to have elected Judges,* I think the citizens, who best know the work of this Judge, are entitled to choose the Judge they want without interference from another group. That’s basic democracy, and no one said that citizens don’t have the right to elect the wrong person. It happens all the time –even nationally.

    I also think that the Judge’s argument concerning latches should have carried the day. It is quite unbelievable that it took 25 years to resolve this matter, and the government’s dilatory practices should have been more of an issue since it was used to frustrate the public will. I certainly do not condone her actions 25 years ago, but I think this ruling is too harsh and unnecessary.

    * I am on record on this blog for opposing elected Judges.

  10. Susan:

    I agree on the concealment question. However, I am not sure that I agree with the legal bar on prior felons serving on the courts. If someone had a criminal act decades ago and rehabilitated herself, I would be willing to consider her eligibility for the bench. That is not the case here given the concealment, however.

  11. Well, JT, it shouldn’t have taken 25 years, but it finally did happen in this case. I’m glad it did, and I agree wholeheartedly with this court’s decision.

    In my view, jurists who purposely lie on their records — and engage in other forms of either criminal or judicial misconduct — are not to be trusted with the power of a judge, and need to be removed from the bench.

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