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.
Citing Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, Mondics argues that the intense media coverage of the scandals and the fact that court reform was such a hot topic for candidates of both parties in last year’s elections indicate that the “ethical climate might be slowly improving.”
“Judges now are on notice that ethical breaches such as the sending and receiving of offensive emails could cost them their careers,” he writes. But Mondics goes on to note that the turmoil surrounding the ethics of the board tasked with reviewing Eakin’s case coupled with the amount of money spent by outside groups in the last election have led to calls for scrapping judicial elections in favor of a merit selection system.
“People who want to defend the current system are having more and more trouble doing so,” the newspaper quotes Marks as saying. The article concludes by referencing the argument put forward by those in favor of merit selection – that a system in which judges are vetted and held accountable in a transparent way would lead to higher ethical standards. Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization.