Removal Urged for Oregon Judge Accused of Ethics Violations

Oregon’s Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability has recommended removal of Marion County Judge Vance Day, who declined to perform weddings for same-sex couples and who faced other misconduct allegations too (see Gavel Grab).

“Judge Day shows no outward sign of comprehending the extent or nature of his ethical violations,” the commission wrote in a report giving its recommendation to the state Supreme Court. “His misconduct is of such a nature as to impugn his honesty and integrity,” it said, according to (more…)

Pennsylvania High Court to Rehear More Than 25 Cases

With only three justices on its bench who presided over cases last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to rehear more than 25 cases from 2015, Law360 reports.

At its full strength, the court has seven members. Three justices seated on the bench now were elected in November and are new. Justice Michael Eakin, meanwhile, has been suspended as a scandal swirls about offensive emails (see Gavel Grab), and he faces ethics charges. (more…)

Will More Judges Face Ethics Scrutiny in Pennsylvania?

Will an ethics proceeding against a suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice over offensive emails bring scrutiny for more judges?

That was a theme of news reports following a pre-trial conference before the Court of Judicial Discipline. A lawyer for Justice Michael Eakin, the judge facing ethics charges, said that if unsolicited emails received by Eakin are treated as evidence against him, he would call as witnesses other judges who received — but did not send — such emails.

“If they determine unsolicited emails are admissible, I’ll do what I have to do,” attorney William Costopoulos said on Thursday, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  (more…)

Report: More PA Justices Received Offensive Emails

With one Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice suspended and facing ethics charges, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that two other justices also received emails that a state ethics board has labeled offensive.

Justices Max Baer and Kevin Dougherty were among a number of judges and court employees who received the emails, with Baer receiving eight and Dougherty — who just took office — receiving three, in a former post.

The newspaper said the emails were sent to Baer and Dougherty by then-Justice Seamus McCaffery, who stepped down in 2014 after his mailing “hundreds of pornographic and otherwise offensive emails” became known and caused a scandal. The emails sent to Baer and Dougherty did not contain pornography, according to The Inquirer. (more…)

Column Blasts Disciplinary Process for State Judge

New York Daily News columnist Shaun King, in a strongly worded commentary, blasts as racially biased a disciplinary proceeding under way in Kentucky and focusing on Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens. Stevens, who is African-American, is facing a “highly secretive, all-white, Judicial Conduct Commission” according to King.  “In a cruel twist of fate, Stevens, who became nationally known for striking down all-white juries with black defendants, is now going to appear before an exclusively white commission himself,” King writes.

King is unsparing in his criticism of what he describes as “the double standard” being applied, as well as “the ridiculousness of having an all-white panel playing such an important role in 2016.”

Stevens is facing disciplinary action for discussing the issue of all-white juries on his Facebook page.  According to reports, Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., in referring the case to the disciplinary body, wrote that Stevens “appears to flout the directives of the Code of Judicial Conduct, creating a social-media firestorm calculated to aggrandize himself by exploiting the deep-seated and widespread distrust of the criminal-justice system by minority communities.”


Scandal, Suspension Cloud Issue of Succession to Chief Justice Seat

Justice Eakin
Justice Eakin

With three new justices poised to be sworn in, and the ongoing investigation and suspension of the court’s second most senior member, Justice Michael Eakin, the Legal Intelligencer reports that questions are swirling about potential replacements for the retiring Pennsylvania Chief Justice Thomas Saylor.  Eakin remains on temporary suspension while investigators review his conduct surrounding the exchange of lewd and offensive emails. (See Gavel Grab.)

The Intelligencer reports that Eakin’s suspension could upset his designation as the justice “next longest in continuous service,” and if he returns to service, he may be bypassed in favor of Justice Max Baer.

Meanwhile, an absence of case law interpreting the phrase “continuous service” has created further confusion about who will succeed Chief Justice Saylor.

The issue could come down to a distinction between an interim suspension and one that could be imposed later following the adjudication of Eakin’s case, according to Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

The question of who will take up the mantle of chief justice is currently set to be answered one year from now, following Saylor’s retirement at the end of 2016. But the public is set to vote in April on a constitutional amendment that would raise the mandatory judicial retirement age to 75. If the amendment is approved, Saylor would be allowed to stay on the bench until the end of 2021, if he were to win a retention election.

Discipline Court Suspends Pennsylvania’s Justice Eakin

Justice Eakin
Justice Eakin

Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has suspended state Justice Michael Eakin, with pay, over lewd and offensive emails, saying they have “tainted the Pennsylvania judiciary in the eyes of the public.”

Eakin is charged with violating the rules of judicial conduct, and his suspension is effective until the same court makes a finding on those charges, The Philadelphia Inquirer said.

“Until the trial on the merits, when the actions of the Respondent can be more closely reviewed, the integrity of the Pennsylvania judiciary has been and continues to be subject to disrespect. The only means to ensure the public’s confidence in the Pennsylvania judiciary is to suspend the Respondent pending the full trial on the merits of the Complaint,” the discipline court said. You can read the court’s order by clicking here.

Eakin has apologized, while contending the email exchanges were intended to be private and did not affect his serving as an impartial judge. The accusations against him come as scandal has affected several members of the court, and amid calls — and proposed legislation — for Pennsylvania to stop electing its top judges and adopt instead an appointive, merit-based selection system (see Gavel Grab).

‘It Was in the Locker Room,’ Pennsylvania Justice Contends

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin, accused of misconduct in his exchanges of offensive emails, tearfully apologized before a judicial discipline court and said they did not affect his delivering justice. The court made no immediate decision about whether to hand him an interim suspension.

“I apologize to my brethren, to the judiciary, to the legal profession, to people who voted for me, to people who didn’t vote for me, for what I have allowed to happen,” Eakin said. “Perhaps my demeanor was ‘one of the boys. But what I sent was to people who were ‘one of the boys.’ It was in the locker room.” (more…)

Law Prof: Emails, Cases, Show Judge ‘Unfit’ to Serve

In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed, law professor David S. Cohen of Drexel University zeroes in on the implications for people who appear in court of an email scandal (see Gavel Grab) involving state Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin.

“To recap, the problem here is that Justice Eakin sent and received emails that, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, contained explicit sexual images of women; mocked gays, lesbians and feminists; lampooned African-Americans; discussed plans for visiting strip clubs; and made sexually suggestive comments about two women working for the justice. (more…)

Opposing Sides Sum Up on Ethics Accusations Against OR Judge

Excerpts of closing arguments have been published by The Oregonian in a proceeding to weigh accusations that a judge, who declined to perform weddings for same-sex couples, violated ethics rules.

The Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability recently completed a two-week hearing on the accusations against Marion County Judge Vance Day.

Said a special prosecutor for the commission, Victoria Blachly: “This case is not about religion. The First Amendment allows for freedom of speech, but it does not erase the consequences when one chooses to speak or act in a way that violates the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct, or state and federal law. A judge takes an oath to uphold the law, without an opt-out box to pick and choose which laws to abide by.” (more…)