The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has banned staff of state appellate judges from collecting legal fees, apparently in response to referral fees collected by the wife of Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in March that McCaffery’s wife, attorney Lise Rapaport had been paid six-figure fees for referring cases to law firms while she was employed as a top aide in McCaffery’s office. One of those fees became a public record, the paper reported, and it was $821,000.
In an interview in June, Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille told NewsWorks that the matter of the referral fees and a citation of McCaffery’s conduct in an internal review of Philadelphia Traffic Court represent “a distraction to the Supreme Court and an embarrassment to our court also.”
The Inquirer has also reported that the FBI has launched a criminal investigation of the McCaffery family’s conduct.
Lynn Marks, director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said in an interview that it undermines public faith in the judicial system if the wife of a justice is accepting fees from law firms with business before the court.
“It goes into the family pot,” Marks said of the fees, “and so a judge is benefiting from his or her spouse practicing law or making referrals, and that doesn’t make sense.”
Marks noted the Supreme Court order bans staff for any appellate court from practicing law, and that some may argue that collecting referral fees doesn’t fit that definition. She said the court should explicitly ban referral fees to court staff. Paying such fees is a common practice among attorneys in the state .
Neither McCaffery nor the couple’s attorney has responded to requests for comment, but in the past attorney Dion Rassias has said that the referral fees are legitimate and proper.
You can read the Supreme Court’s new rule on legal fees here.