Members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have voted to remove Chief Justice Ron Castille from a key post supervising Philadelphia courts just weeks after the release of a controversial report that detailed ticket fixing in the city’s traffic court.
Judges are elected in Pennsylvania, and judicial politics can be cutthroat.
Though the court’s deliberations are private, a source familiar with events told me the justices didn’t even invite Castille to the meeting at which they removed him from the post of liaison to the Philadelphia court system.
The source said justices were angry with Castille because a report on ticket-fixing in Philadelphia was made public — a report that detailed a trip Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery made to traffic court the day his wife had a ticket dismissed.
Castille’s removal was reported Thursday by Craig McCoy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who said sources had told him that anger at Castille over the release of the traffic report “set the stage for the power play against him.”
Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said reports that justices may have punished Castille for releasing the report are troubling.
“If the Supreme Court is mad at Chief Justice Castille for releasing a report that was paid for with public money, does this mean that they don’t want it released in the first place?” Marks said. “I think it’s really important in terms of transparency and public accountability that reports are made public.”
A statement from the Supreme Court released Thursday afternoon made no reference to the traffic court study or the court’s deliberations. It said the new liaison, Justice Michael Eakin will continue Castille’s reform efforts in Philadelphia courts.
When I spoke to Castille for a radio interview Wednesday, he spoke with pride of his efforts to reform the operation of Philadelphia’s criminal courts. He said that, at some point, the justices may want to appoint someone else to supervise Philadelphia’s courts, since he had many statewide responsibilities.
He kept mum about the vote to replace him, which I’m told occurred in December.
It’s interesting that while the justices voted to remove Castille from the Philadelphia liaison post, they did not appoint the court’s other Philadelphian, Justice Seamus McCaffery, who’s widely believed to covet the job.
When I spoke to Castille Wednesday, I asked if he and McCaffery were, in effect, rivals for control of the Philadelphia courts. Castille said no, that the justices had appointed him to the job five years ago.But he added a thought.
“One of the things you have to be careful of is the connection to the court,” he said. “And Justice McCaffery has come up through that court system, so he has a lot of, perhaps, friends over there, or perhaps enemies, who knows? So he might not be able to give a non-jaundiced view of what’s going on over there.”