Pennsylvania Chief Justice Threatens Parties and Lawyers for Filing Action Alleging Judicial Misconduct

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille has threatened sanctions against the League of Women Voters and disciplinary measures against its attorney, Paul Rossi, for being judicial misconduct charges related to his predecessor. The League has alleged that former Chief Justice Ralph Cappy had “secret negotiations” with legislative leaders in 2005 before the Court upheld the 2004 slots law and the Legislature passed a controversial pay-raise for judges. It is not clear what is more outrageous: the original allegations or Castille’s use of his office to threaten litigants and lawyers seeking a hearing. This is particularly troubling when Castille himself is implicated in the allegations.

Ultimately, it does not matter what the outcome of the lawsuit is. The League quotes members that a sweetheart deal was discussed and it is entitled to a hearing. According to the lawsuit, “at some point during the Pay Raise Negotiations defendant proclaimed to members of one of the legislative caucuses that ‘he needed the pay raise to secure the votes of Republican justices’ on cases important to that legislative caucus.” The complaint quotes a House member as saying that he “had run into Justice [Ronald] Castille at the Golden Sheaf restaurant at the Harrisburg Hilton Hotel and inquired about the Act 71 Litigation, to which Justice Castille gave a ‘wink and a nod’ to House Member A which he/she interpreted as clearly indicating and communicating that Act 71 would be held constitutional.” He also said that he “witnessed Justices Castille and Eakin leaving a closed door meeting” held in the offices of then-Majority Leader Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney.

It is one thing for Castille to call the lawsuit unfounded and even for his lawyers to seek sanctions. However, he should have a modicum of sense before making public calls for the sanctioning of lawyers to accuse him of misdeeds. Here is an alternative that most ethical judges would consider: “I welcome the lawsuit and look forward to the full exoneration of this Court and myself. The public should see all of the facts and will conclude in time that this is a meritless and even malicious lawsuit.” That is a bit better than threatening lawyers with discipline in some imperial judicial snit.

Cappy retired in January but also denies the allegations.

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2 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Chief Justice Threatens Parties and Lawyers for Filing Action Alleging Judicial Misconduct”

  1. For me as a concerned citizen, any judge who goes as far as to threaten people, be they lawyers or not, for officially reporting actions of judicial misconduct, merits being investigated. Next to a prosecutor, judges have positions of serious power. That’s why judicial commissions exist, to investigate judges reported to the commission for allegations of misconduct, and possibly obstruction of justice.

    When a judge threatens people for filing such allegations, any reasonable person has to wonder WHY that judge found it necessary. Isn’t it one of the Judicial Canons of Ethics that “judges must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety at all times? In VA, I believe that is Canon #2 or #3. I would think that threatening people falls into the “impropriety” category, in any state.

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