Judgment lapse for a Pa. jurist

    I knew Ron Castille when he was an assistant district attorney in the 1980’s, and watched him win the DA’s office in 1985 in an amazing, come-from-nowhere campaign.

     

    He was a good guy who did the right thing for the right reasons most of the time, and I wondered if he would change as he climbed the political ladder.

    An outstanding piece in the Inquirer by  Mark Fazlollah and Joe Tanfani notes that Castille, now Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, has been accepting trips and gifts from people and firms with business before the court.

    I don’t think Castille would corrupt his office for a freebie, and the story finds no evidence his rulings favor friends. But he’s wrong to be taking stuff like an $1,800 weekend in New York to attend the Pennsylvania Society.

    Four observations:

    1)      It almost doesn’t matter that Castille isn’t influenced by gifts from his friends. The appearance of conflict undermines the authority of the court.

    2)      When an honest judge takes free stuff, it sets a standard and creates an atmosphere that encourages real corruption among the dishonest ones.  “It’s no big deal,” they figure. “Look at the chief justice.”

    3)       I think hanging around Harrisburg has clouded Castille’s judgment. The culture of the capital is warped, maybe because lawmakers are so far from their constituents and spouses, that shady stuff just starts to seem normal.

    4)      Castille, who likes to play golf, noted in the Inquirer piece he has friends who belong to fancy country clubs he can’t afford. Ron, if you can’t afford them on your $191,000 salary, then play public courses like the rest of us. You chose a career in public service. The rich lawyers get the country clubs, and you get your reputation. Unless you choose to throw it away.

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