Editorial Scorches Seeming PA Judicial ‘Arrogance,’ Also Backs Merit

A scathing Philadelphia Inquirer editorial rips the judicial discipline process that allowed Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin to resign amid a lewd email scandal and avoid a public trial and the penalties it might have brought. Eakin was fined $50,000 and allowed to keep his pension (see Gavel Grab).

“The unmistakable impression is that Pennsylvania’s entire judiciary suffers from an arrogance that prevents it from subjecting its own to the sort of unflinching judgment it imposes on others,” the editorial says.

The editorial voices disappointment “that the disciplinary court, particularly after one of its judges showed an encouraging grasp of the need for a public process, gave in to the system’s unhealthy proclivity for backroom bargains.” It goes on to say that another justice was a “more prolific porn-mail participant” than Eakin but enjoyed a “similarly quiet exit” from the high court less than two years ago. The editorial concludes by citing unanswered questions and urging adoption of merit selection of top judges: (more…)

Report on Ex-Judge’s Sentencing Quotes Justice at Stake

When U.S. District Judge Brian Miller sentenced former Arkansas Judge Michael Maggio to 10 years in prison for lowering a jury verdict after taking a bribe given as campaign money, he harshly criticized the former jurist.

“What is worse, a dope dealer on the phone talking about a dope deal or a dirty judge?” Miller said, according to The Times Record. “A dirty judge is by far more harmful to society than any dope dealer.”

The Times Record reported that a debate about reforming the selection of judges is under way in Arkansas, and quoted Justice at Stake Executive Director Susan Liss. (more…)

Ex-Justice Eakin is Fined, Can Keep His Pension

Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline concluded that former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin undermined public confidence in the judiciary. It fined him $50,000 in an ethics case arising from lewd emails, and permitted him to keep a $153,000 annual pension, The Allentown Morning Call reported.

“The common thread of the emails — with their imagery of sexism, racism and bigotry — is arrogance,” the discipline tribunal said. However, any bias reflected in the emails did not permeate his judicial opinions, it said. Eakin resigned recently, and his stepping down enabled him to avoid a public trial.

Eakin is the second justice to leave the court amid the email scandal, a series of events that has ignited calls and legislation for Pennsylvania to scrap its system for electing top judges and turn to a merit-based system for appointing them. “There is a need to reform the judicial system,” state Sen. Anthony Williams, a Democrat, said this week. “The general public is no longer confident of those who sit in judgment of others.” (more…)

Ex-Judge Gets 10 Years in Bribery Case; JAS Cites Need for Reform

maggio_arrivesFormer Judge Michael Maggio was sentenced by a federal judge on Thursday to 10 years in prison on a conviction of bribery arising from a campaign donations case, according to the Associated Press. Justice at Stake said the case shows the need to reform judicial selection in Arkansas.

“The bribery conviction of former Judge Mike Maggio, along with million-dollar-plus spending in this year’s Arkansas Supreme Court elections, spotlights the urgent need to reform the way Arkansas chooses its judges,” JAS Executive Director Susan Liss said in a statement. “We believe a merit-based system of appointing judges is the best way to select qualified judges and insulate them from politics and deep-pocketed donors.

“When the courthouse door is open for judicial election cash, the bankrollers may often expect something in return. We know that the flagrant criminal corruption in this case is unique, but unfortunately it flows from the same political culture that has fueled surging special interest spending in Arkansas judicial elections and elsewhere.” (more…)

Philadelphia Inquirer Takes Stock After Eakin Resignation

Two articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer reflect on the state of the courts after Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin resigned last week rather than face his upcoming trial in the Court of Judicial discipline (see Gavel Grab).

In “Flawed ethics reviews, sharp criticism, and a justice’s path to resignation,” staff writers at the Philadelphia Inquirer recount the sprawling saga of the email porn scandal, tracing it from the early retirement in 2014 of Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery all the way up to Eakin’s resignation last Tuesday.

Also writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chris Mondics asks if “the shocks, humiliations and embarrassments that have been plaguing the Pennsylvania judicial system for decades [will] ever come to an end” after Eakin’s resignation made him the third Supreme Court Justice in four  years to be forced to leave the bench for disciplinary reasons.

“Scandal has become an enduring theme of the Pennsylvania judiciary,” Mondics writes, but the recent overhaul in personnel which saw the appointment of three new justice reflects the potential for a brighter future. (more…)

Citizens Voice: Eakin Case Represents Need for Reform

Following Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin’s decision to retire on Tuesday (see Gavel Grab) the Citizens Voice Editorial Board argues that the case reflects a wider need to bring reform to a court system that has been dogged by scandal in recent years.

The newspaper writes that Eakin “became the third justice in four years to be forced from the oldest supreme court in the United States” and his resignation “indicates that the rest of the justice system finally has begun to take seriously the need to restore integrity to the courts.”

According to Citizens Voice, the email porn scandal also gives credence to Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s claim that she was “attempting to break up an ‘old-boy network’ within the justice system” when questioned about charges that she leaked grand jury testimony and lied about it.

“The legacy of her sole term will be not only her own travails, but the bizarre way that they have forced reform upon institutions that traditionally have resisted it,” the article concludes.

Justice Eakin Resigns From Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Justice Eakin
Justice Eakin

Justice Michael Eakin has become the second member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to resign amid a recent pornographic email scandal, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Eakin faced ethics charges. He had been suspended and had issued a public apology.

Eakin was to face a trial before a judicial ethics court later in March; Pennlive.com said it was uncertain whether his resignation would bring that case to an end. Additional coverage came from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Associated Press.

Pennsylvania elects its Supreme Court justices, in a system that last year delivered the most costly state supreme court election in national history and that has widely been associated with scandal in the Keystone State. The legislature is weighing a proposal to shift to a merit-based appointive system, supported jointly by the state’s current governor and all living past governors in a recent bipartisan statement. Editorial boards have seized on scandal to voice support for merit selection, and the latest resignation is likely to kindle more calls for reform.

Mediator Brought in to Eakin Ethics Proceedings

A tribunal considering charges of ethics violations against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin (see Gavel Grab) has brought in a veteran lawyer, Richard Sprague, to explore a negotiated agreement that could mean Eakin would not be tried publicly.

The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news, and it also reported there was criticism of the latest development. “The public is entitled to hear the facts and the arguments discused openly,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. “. . .Public confidence in the integrity of the courts will not be strengthened by a private deal.”

Attorney General Kathleen Kane also criticized the action, according to a subsequent Philadelphia Inquirer article. A commentary by Dave Davies at Newsworks.org was headlined, “Porngate: old boys network to the rescue.”

A Judge, Baseball Tickets, and Impartiality: Do They Mix?

Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission does a good job overall of weeding out judges who might have character flaws or totally bad judgment, Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Lyon writes.

Lyon wonders, then, what will happen in a complaint brought by the commission against Manatee County Circuit Judge John Lakin. He reports  that Lakin is accused of receiving choice Rays baseball tickets from a law firm, which was handling a case before him. The case ultimately went the law firm’s way, after the judge overturned a jury verdict. Moreover, “Lakin allegedly got some of them after asking his judicial assistant to seek the tickets from the law firm.” (more…)

Court Scandals Send Dozens of Pennsylvania Cases Back to Square One

The Citizens Voice reports that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced on Friday that it had ordered new arguments in nearly a third of the cases it heard in 2015 due to the disruption caused by internal turnover.

The new briefs and arguments required by the court will incur significant further expenses in lawyers’ fees for litigants in 26 cases. The turnover causing these additional costs are largely scandal related, as the court has had to deal with disruptions such as the suspension of Justice Michael Eakin in an email porn scandal (see Gavel Grab).

These delays have meant that the three newly elected justices have to rule on cases they haven’t heard before and, consequently, the three incumbent justices decided they didn’t want to rule with just half the court voting.

In response, the newspaper urges a merit selection system that “emphasizes ability and standards rather than political appeal, thus diminishing the prospects for scandal and justice delayed.” A proposal for the merit selection of top judges is in the legislature, and you can read about it from Gavel Grab.