Pa. Supreme Court justice from Philly under scrutiny

     The Inquirer reports that the FBI is investigating Justice Seamus McCaffery over fees his wife received for referring cases to law firms while she was part of her husband's staff. (NewsWorks file art)

    The Inquirer reports that the FBI is investigating Justice Seamus McCaffery over fees his wife received for referring cases to law firms while she was part of her husband's staff. (NewsWorks file art)

    This isn’t what you’d call a banner year for judicial ethics in Pennsylvania.

    With the Pennsylvania Supreme Court already down a justice due to a corruption case and a stack of Traffic Court judges facing felony charges, we have a report that another justice of the state’s highest court is the subject of an FBI investigation.

    You may remember that Justice Seamus McCaffery of Philadelphia was cited in a November report as having met with a Traffic Court administrator the day his wife’s moving violation was dismissed.

    Now Craig McCoy of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the FBI is investigating McCaffery over another matter — fees his wife received for referring cases to law firms while she was collecting a public paycheck as part of her husband’s staff.

    Lynn Marks, director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said the revelation is troubling, “especially because the investigation comes so close on the heels of the conviction of another Supreme Court justice for campaign corruption, and the indictment of nine Traffic Court judges for ticket-fixing.”

    Justice Joan Orie Melvin resigned this spring following her conviction on charges that she used state workers for political campaigns.

    FBI investigations can take years, but quicker action could come from the state Judicial Conduct Board, which can investigate and seek sanctions that range up to removal from office.

    Zachary Stalberg, president of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said the board ought to pay attention to the case.

    “The big red flag, of course, is that the family of the justice is benefiting and therefore the justice is benefiting,” Stalberg said. “The conduct appears to be really worrisome, and the Judicial Conduct Board should be taking a hard look at this.”

    Federal authorities declined comment on the McCaffery probe. McCaffery didn’t respond to a request for comment. His attorney, Dion Rassias, has said the legal fees in question are legal and proper.

    In other judicial scandal news, the Pennsylvania Senate has passed the bill eliminating Philadelphia Traffic Court, which now goes to Gov. Tom Corbett. He’s expected to sign the measure, eliminating the Traffic Court bench and sending those cases to Philadelphia Municipal Court.

    The Inquirer also reports that the FBI is investigating Municipal Court, though the nature of that probe is not clear.                           

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