It’s a sad day when a judge admits to taking cash and then influencing cases.
“You run into a problem with any of your people, you get a hold of me,” former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joseph Waters told a generous donor on the phone, according to an FBI transcript. “Anything you need. Anything I can do to help you or anybody that you’re interested in. All you do is pick up the phone and call me .”
Waters was nailed in an FBI investigation and has pleaded guilty to fraud. He expects to go to prison.
But what’s most troubling about the story is that when a donor asked Judge Waters for help with a legal problem that wasn’t before him, he called two other judges who were apparently all too willing to help.
Neither of those judges, Dawn Segal and Joseph O’Neill are charged with crimes, but they’ve been suspended by the State Supreme Court while it investigates their conduct.
There will be miscreants in every walk of life, the proverbial bad apples. But if a judge willing to tamper with cases is a rare aberration, you’d expect he’d be reluctant to call fellow jurists for help, and you’d expect them to report the request to court administrators as they’re supposed to.
Apparently not in Philadelphia. When two judges think nothing of hearing a request for improper action from another member of the bench, it makes you wonder how widespread misconduct in the city’s court system is. In other words, if that’s normal, we have a problem.
We just saw Philadelphia Traffic Court cleaned out after investigators discovered the same thing – a casual willingness to tamper with justice when somebody you know needs a favor. While jurors in that case declined to convict the judges of ticket-fixing because they didn’t take money, it’s clear many jurors thought what they did was wrong. The legislature abolished traffic court after the investigation.
So remind me: we elect judges why?